Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Commitment Follows Competence

"Believe In Yourself, Trust The Process, Change Forever."
- Bob

[sarcasm]Way to go Bob.[/sarcasm]

I've never seen a complete episode of "The Biggest Loser"... ever. Something else more important always comes up while I'm watching it, like dishes, or, well, just about anything. Morbidly obese people put themselves through starvation diets and torturous exercise programs to stay on TV, get their fifteen minutes of fame, and maybe win enough money so they can loaf around carefree for a few years.

I used to think "Well, maybe it's a good thing. Maybe the contestants are being taught (off-camera) how to truly enjoy food and an active lifestyle. Maybe they will have long-term results." A lot of 'maybes' that, the more I heard, gradually became 'probably nots'. Maybe Bob was just having a bad day, I don't know. But, it troubles me to think that some athletes and trainees (not to mention coaches and trainers!) will actually think Bob's methods are sound.

Here's a biggie that we, all of us as coaches and trainers (not just Bob), need to review from time to time:


As much as we'd all like to believe it's the other way around, it just doesn't work out that way. If you have a group of obese clientele that you want to help lose weight, you cannot expect them to endure pain and torture without first giving them success and competence. If, as a trainer or coach, you yell at your clients and athletes without having built up an extraordinary measure of trust and goodwill, how do you think the message (no matter how true) will be received? What has Bob taught Joelle in that exchange? Will she come away from the experience more motivated, or less motivated? Will she now have positive associations with healthy exercise, or will the association of physical exertion with humiliation and failure be strengthened?

"For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."
- The Book of Matthew

In assessment circles, the "Matthew Effect" refers to the great divide of haves and have-nots, and how this becomes a vicious self-perpetuating cycle; the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. In education, kids from affluent families, with a reading-rich enviroment, taught to be intellectually tenacious and curious will hit the ground running in kindergarten and never look back. Their classmates will start out behind and, even if they make up ground with the best teachers and work-ethic, will fall behind again every summer break. Many will come to associate reading and writing with discomfort and disappointment. They may never learn to enjoy reading, and will never choose picking up a book as fun way to spend a few hours.

In athletics, kids who are older (and bigger) get more playing time and, consequently, more meaningful practice and praise (see "Outliers" for a fuller illustration of how this process plays out in all levels of sport). In fitness, the fat will avoid exercise because of social factors and physical discomfort and it will only get worse as they gain more and more weight. Physically trim people will go to the gym, or join a team and, with positive reinforcement in the mirror, from peers and from others, will be encouraged to continue and progress.

If you start on a long journey absent a nurturing environment that you've happened upon, or been given, or created (naturally, or 'artificially', it doesn't matter), chances are pretty good it's not going to last. We've all seen "Field of Dreams", right? The phrase "Build it and they will come" is cliche now because everyone realized its genius - you must build the foundation of competence BEFORE commitment will truly come around. No kid commits to walking until they've built competence and strength. If a child was learning to walk and a parent pulled a Bob every time their child fell, how well would that work? Even IF (and it's a big if) the child did learn to walk, what consequences would it have?


Steve Corso said...

That is one of the best blog entries I've ever read. As a teacher and coach for nearly 30 years, you couldn't have been more on-the-money in my view.

Faizal S. Enu said...

I can even watch this 4 minute clip, much less a whole episode.

He is talking about "outside the box" when he has the heard on treadmills.

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I watch the show...partially because I recognize the importance of knowing what not to do as well as what to do. Biggest Loser is an example of the former.

Also it gets me real fired up which makes for good writing on my blog

Boris said...

You're absolutely right. I think most of us would question having 300+lb people doing :30 sprints on a treadmill anyway... Yes, high-intensity interval training is hot right now, but is the right tool for the job here? When all you have is a hammer...

I've seen parts of the show and it's easy to get wrapped up in it! It's popular because it's well done!
I'll have to take a look at your blog.

Boris T said...

Boris great post and observations. Making positive association between action and reward is key. This is classic negative re-enforcement that will lead to the destruction of the persons self-worth.

This show in general is like a bad joke, or more like a car crash. you know it's wrong but it's hard to look away sometimes. It amazes me what people are will to do and endure for the sake of TV time.

Unknown said...

I agree with Faiz, can't stand this kind of display. In 35 years of martial arts I never had a sensei behave like that (although there are some out there). Have to remember as coach and teacher that you are there to help the student achieve success not notch up another win for your own ego.

I was once told that Olympic caliber athletes need 2 positives for every negative you give them, professional athletes need 10 positives for every negative. The question was then asked "How much negative reinforcement do people who are out of shape, coming back from injury, struggling with arthritis or obesity need?"

Franklin said...

Great post Boris.

When I was kid they had "Queen for Day", a similarly twisted show .. times haven't changed, just the presentation.

I advice all my clients to unplug as a means to a healthier life style .. too much passive entertainment is bad for ones mind and body.

Gubernatrix said...

Great post, Boris. It's not just people new to training either. I thrive with positive reinforcement. I'm often doing the negative part all on my own (the little voice in my head telling me I'm rubbish) so the last thing I need is an outside voice simply reinforcing that. The teacher/coach needs to be the positive voice to counteract the negativity that lots of people have deep inside.

Fatguy said...

If you watch the show, they use this methodology to break down the person. They put up walls, and emotional blockage to prevent being able to get to the root of the problem. Once the person breaks (vomits, bawls) they get re-approached with tenderness and love.

Once they get to the root of why they put the weight on in the first place, they can conquer it together.

It wouldn't work in a personal trainer session, the client would curse you out and go home. The reality show gives them more reason to stay.

Boris said...


I get the impression that you like the show and that's fine. But, you make it sound like Bob and her-name-escapes-me-right-now are therapists... They're not and I don't see much evidence of getting to the root of anything. Maybe I'm wrong - as I mentioned, I've never seen a full episode.

Exercise of that intensity (which is what I question above all else) is absolutely foolish for people who are morbidly obese. It's becoming cliche in S&C circles to say "You can't outrun a donut" but it's absolutely true. Yes, they need to exercise, but run your heart out for a half hour and caloric expenditure still won't make up for more than a couple donuts. Not only that, but they are setting themselves up for burnout and a host of joint issues combining high intensity with horrific form and technique.


Fatguy said...

I can't say I like the show a whole lot, I've seen few episodes. And before I found kettlebells, I actually showed up at their "auditions" for it.

I agree with you about the intensity, I know I couldn't handle it. But I DO find it motivational. It reminds me that I give up too quickly sometimes when I'm working out.

If you watch the first couple episodes, where they start working out, the trainers "break them", emotionally. The the point where they're going to quit, or where they break down and cry. Then, they start an open dialogue. I don't know the facts of the show, but they've done stories on a lot of the former competitors, and a LOT of them have continued with a healthy lifestyle, once the show's over. I'm sure you're aware of the failure percentages of morbidly obese people continuing with weight loss beyond 2 years, and an even worse success rate beyond 5 years. I think they might be on to something.

Boris said...

I know a lot of people find it motivational and that's fine, but I don't think the trainers are "on to" anything.

I think we'd have to have hard numbers to define "a lot of them" actually continuing w. a healthy lifestyle. I would be willing to wager that of all the people that have been on the show, the "success rate" is not so impressive. We'll probably never see solid numbers in that regard...

Breaking down someone is the first step in any kind of indoctrination. An abusive relationship starts out the same way... They need to lose weight desperately for their health, yes. But, does it leave these people healthier mentally and emotionally? Will they be better equipped to deal w. life outside "the ranch"? I really, really doubt it.