5 Reasons The Biggest Loser Is Bad For The Fitness Industry

Today’s post is a bit longer than usual, but I think it’s worth the read.

I’ll admit, I used to be a huge fan of The Biggest Loser.  I would watch it regularly, and I would even record it if couldn’t watch it when it aired.  Even in my first year or so of training, I would watch the show.  I found it entertaining and liked that people were losing weight and seemingly getting healthier.  However, the more I trained people, the more I read articles from those who are the top minds in the fitness industry and the more I thought logically about it, the less I liked the show.  Below are a few of my biggest issues with it.

1. It gives trainers a bad name

Screaming, yelling, swearing and being mean…these are the things that Bob and Jillian, the trainers on The Biggest Loser, are known for.  I’ve actually had people (who know me well) ask me if I scream at clients, or if I’ll yell and bully them if they train with me.  I’m not a yeller or screamer, in any arena of life really (well maybe at a Justin Bieber concert), but certainly never at a client.  I don’t care how Bob and Jillian treat their clients.  They can do whatever they want.  What I have a problem with is that these two people give all trainers a bad wrap.  The perception is that to be a good trainer you’ve got to do ridiculous things like belittle clients.  And new trainers, who don’t know any different, adopt the same philosophies. I would argue the opposite.  A good trainer knows that good coaching, teaching, and encouragement will go a lot further than screaming or yelling.

2. It creates unrealistic/unhealthy expectations

Unhealthy weight loss can be a dangerous thing.  It is widely accepted that  a couple pounds of weight loss a week is healthy, if someone is really overweight, maybe somewhere along the lines of 5 pounds or so a week initially, but any more than that can be dangerous.  On the show, contestants regularly lose between 10-20 pounds weekly.  This makes for great entertainment, but it’s really frustrating when I have clients coming to me with the expectation that they will lost 40-60 pounds in a month.  I quickly tell them that if that’s what they want, I’m the wrong guy to be training them.  I don’t want any part of the unhealthy behaviors that must be engaged in to meet that kind of weight loss (excessive training, very low calorie consumption, dehydration, etc.).

3. Crappy training

I’ve heard both Bob and Jillian say that they are the best trainers in the world.  I’ll be honest with you, I wouldn’t let either one of them potty train my dog.  I know they’ve helped a lot of people lose tons of weight, and that is a great thing,  but in my humble opinion, they go about it the wrong way…completely.  An overweight person should not be running on a treadmill let alone running a marathon.  Most can’t perform a squat correctly, let alone do a jump squat.  Most overweight clients have incredibly poor stability, so why in the world would you put them on an even more unstable surface like a Bosu Ball to train them.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a contestant with the range of motion to perform a deadlift correctly, yet I see the contestants doing them over and over and over.  Seriously, if you’re the best trainers in the world, you would understand that there are appropriate progressions to everything and if a client can’t perform an exercise with flawless form, they should be regressed to a modified version of that exercise.

4. Extrinsic motivation

I’ve trained a lot of people, and hands down the ones that make lasting changes are the ones that really buy into their health for themselves.  They aren’t making changes for their spouse or for their kids, and certainly not for a big cash prize and 15 minutes of fame.  I really think that part of the reason that so many of the contestants on The Biggest Loser fail to keep their weight off is because, for the length of the show, they are completely extrinsically motivated.  If there were no cameras, no magazine interviews and the sole reward for winning was not feeling like crap anymore and being comfortable walking around in a swimsuit, there might be a much higher success rate after the show ends.

5. Puking and passing out.

One of the features of each episode of The Biggest Loser is the “last chance workout”.  This is the montage of trainees getting yelled at, getting bullied, puking, screaming, crying and almost passing out all in an effort to lose as much possible weight before they weigh-in.  While this makes for great drama on TV, the truth is that this perpetuates the notion that a training session needs to end with a client barely able to move.  I have to spend a great deal of time with some clients trying to convince them that it’s really OK to leave the gym feeling pretty good.  They will work hard and work up a good sweat, and may even want to quit at times, but I don’t want them to feel like they’re going to throw up or pass out.  Some trainers think that getting a client to puke is a good thing, almost a badge of honor.  I think it’s the result of bad programming, crappy training and an insecure trainer who doesn’t understand what a client really needs to be healthier.  I will say their are times when I will really run a client in to the ground, but never to the point that they want to vomit or pass out.  And these cases are rare and are more geared towards increasing mental toughness rather than getting those last few calories burned.

Sure it makes great entertainment, but please please please don’t think that the show speaks for everyone in the fitness industry.  Please don’t think that The Biggest Loser is an accurate picture of what you need to endure to become a healthier individual.  After all, the bottom line of the show is to entertain and make money, and when that’s the goal, quality is always compromised.


6 thoughts on “5 Reasons The Biggest Loser Is Bad For The Fitness Industry

  1. I must confess I have never seen that show in its entirety. I do, however, wonder if the folks keep the weight off. I want a “where are they know” type show.

    I KNEW you had Bieber fever.

  2. Pingback: Totally Random | John Hartman's Blog

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  4. Hey, I watch the English version, firstly on many levels I agree with you, I do think at least it is all shock training such as intervals, circuits and at least lifting which are the best workouts for overall fitness, weightless and boosting the metabolism. But I’m hoping you could help me get my head around a few things that I’ve been thinking… If they start overweight at that level of intensity and stripped diet, when they get to let’s say 13 stone (maybye higher) for women and around 15 for men.. how can they shift those last few stone when their already training at their max and have cut their calories to extreme?

    Also, regarding the weighins.. We all know that the more you weigh the faster you lose weight.. And with the workouts their doing, the amount a day and every day… Their muscle mas will be dramatically affected – so the weighins are surly a pretty inaccurate way to measure how well someone has done. Measuring body fat % would be a far superior way of keeping a realistic log of the improvements contestants have made. To be honest I personally think every household should have what I call ‘body pincers’ instead of scales. Be obsessed with checking that not your weight! Because water is the biggest fluctuation in our bodies. Therefore you think you’ve put on 3 pound of fat when it’s water or muscle for example.

    Interesting post! Thanks for putting it up.

    • @Nesh: I think we are only beginning to understand the catastrophic damage that this kind of morbid obesity has on the body. I think there is a tremendous change to the bodies hormonal system that greatly effect an individuals ability to shed those last pounds without drastic and often unsafe measures.

      I completely agree with you that people are waaaaay too focused on the number on the scale and should be focused instead on composition and overall wellness.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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