Thursday, September 24, 2009

IDEA Writer Weighs in on The Biggest Loser Discussion

Behind "the Making of" The Biggest Loser IDEA article

The article I wrote for IDEA Fitness Journal on The Biggest Loser is getting attention. A number of media outlets have picked up the topic (they're going with variations of the headline "why fitness pros criticize The Biggest Loser").

Last time I checked, AOL Health had 202 comments to a post about the IDEA piece.

I suppose it's time for me to weigh in on my own article.

I won't rehash what's already out there. Instead, consider this a behind-the-scenes look at The Biggest Loser IDEA article.

Here are six observations I made before, during and after writing about why some fitness experts question what they see on NBC's The Biggest Loser.

OBSERVATION 1. There's a wee disconnect between the fitness industry and the general public about what endorses a fitness expert to be a fitness expert.

Is it a high profile? Products that sell well? Current certifications? How much a trainer cares about clients? How a trainer acts with clients? Opinions vary, and what counts for one person might not hold weight for another.

OBSERVATION 2. A lot of Biggest Loser fans defend the show on blogs by saying the industry sources quoted in my article are overlooking one important point: The Biggest Loser is television, not real life. Duh! I think we're all clear on that, thanks.

It's television that has a very real impact on the perceptions, practices and expectations of SOME viewers. And those viewers might come to our gyms, fitness classes, boot camps and training sessions.

If it's true that people are inspired by a television program, why can't they also be influenced by what they see on that TV show?

OBSERVATION 3. This is just a hunch: The Biggest Loser isn't used to press that isn't bend-over-backward full of praise. This might be why some fans of the show don't understand it when fitness pros get all worked up over details like industry certifications and trainer conduct.

OBSERVATION 4. It seems like some fitness pros who've formed a negative opinion about The Biggest Loser refuse to see anything remotely good about the show. Come on, just try.

OBSERVATION 5. Parts of the fitness industry have stuff to work on, too, and this has nothing to do with The Biggest Loser or its trainers. I mean, when you make false promises over and over, it draws considerable attention to whatever you're trying to skirt around. (See: sidebar, page 35.)

OBSERVATION 6. Hats off to The Biggest Loser folks who spoke to me for the story. We're talking about a blockbuster show from a major television network, and here I am a reporter (in Canada, no less!) from a membership-only fitness trade magazine. (Of course IDEA is an important, respected association, but it's not Entertainment Tonight.)

When I wanted to know why the trainers yell so much, Bob Harper called and gave me an answer!

I told executive producer Mark Koops how some fitness pros accuse The Biggest Loser of being "an embarrassment to the fitness industry"; some say it's "dangerous." That's harsh criticism! Yet, Koops spoke respectfully and candidly as he defended the show.

The Biggest Loser folks could have easily brushed me off! Actually, one of them sort of did, but thankfully, everyone else chose to engage in the conversation.

What About a Second Chance?

In case it wasn't clear in the last section of my IDEA article, I think The Biggest Loser could learn from the fitness industry in terms of how it depicts exercise and trainer conduct.

Likewise, the fitness industry as a whole could learn from The Biggest Loser in terms of how the show inspires people to get moving.

What do you think? Do any of my observations stand out?

Permalink to this post.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fitness Photos, You Let Me Down (One Woman's Blog Rant)

I've been a fitness pro for 16 years, and I'm done with teaching just regular group exercise classes for just the regular group exercise wage (read: too low).

Personal trainers are out there with group training and boot camps and enjoying a higher profit margin. Now I'm doing the same, but with group exercise.

So as I market two new revenue-generating fitness events this Fall - one's a 6-week circuit interval program for gym members, and the other's a step/strength
workshop for fitness instructors - I'm thinking about that old cliché, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

I'm a writer, so you know I love words, but I also recognize the value of using carefully selected, targeted images in fitness blog posts and fitness marketing material.

To that end, I logged onto to download a couple of fitness shots.

It's at times like these that I'm glad I have a fitness blog so I can rant about this irksome fact: A lot of fitness images of women are so ... hard to love.

I want a photo that pushes emotional buttons but looks cool to fitness folks and doesn't disappoint those of us who are way beyond stereotypical, outdated advertising images.

Dear iStockphoto, here's what I don't want (and what, unfortunately, you've got a lot of):

  • Scrawny women who appear to have never exercised, gazing either seductively or passively at a couple of hand-weights that they clearly have no intention of ever lifting.

  • Modern, fit-looking women waving around pink, Barbie-sized dumbbells.

  • Women exercising with cringe-inducing form (note: lunges don't involve hyperextending the spine so the ribcage juts as far forward as possible).

  • People lifting weights wearing socks, no shoes.

Did I miss anything?

Sure I rant, but I still heartily recommend

One of iStockphoto's newsletters includes free downloads, which is how I get a lot of the images I use on this blog - at no cost. (They're not usually fitness photos, but with creativity, you can still make them work for a fitness blog.)

Other places to get free photos:

Anyone else have tips about where to get budget-friendly images for a fitness blog and fitness marketing?