Is YouTube Making You Dumber?

Recently I was provided with several examples via clients and just various internet sources of people who are “fitness experts” on YouTube throwing up videos on various topics.  Most of them centred around exercise and technique for the best possible application for whatever body part they are focusing on.  I’m not even going to get into the amount of nutrition videos that exist (and have information that would make you laugh) because we would be here all day.

Just as an example, one was provided by an IFBB Figure Pro and was talking about changing the angle of the leg press in order to “isometrically” stimulate the glutes.  Not only did she realize that isometric doesn’t mean isolation when it comes to exercise, but she also stated such gems as “this is all glute – no quad and hamstring at all” (hmm, I wonder what was helping your knee extend and flex during that press?) and also had you positioned on a leg press lying on your side – something that is not only risky, it could also be really harmful for somebody’s back if the load was high enough.  A gimmick position designed to take a regular movement, and make it fresh and new – and potentially dangerous.

Another was a video about bicep curls.  Very slick, very well produced and of course full of buzz words like “kinesiology” and “biomechanics” and “concentric” but at the end of the day, it was about bicep curls.  Barbell bicep curls.  And it was over 6 minutes long.  The person who produced it used pretty much every buzz word they could pronounce, and made it seem like something as simple as using a barbell to perform elbow flexion was something that required a ton of attention from the average gym person.

Pretty much every YouTube fitness “expert” has videos of the “best [insert body part here] workout”.  These videos will typically show you a circuit of exercises that you could find in any magazine on a shelf this month put in an order that isn’t anything new or different than has been said 100 million times previously.  Movement is movement, and Arnold was talking about bicep curls about 40 years ago – surprisingly, the movement hasn’t changed.  If anyone ever tells you can that they have come up with a brand new way to stimulate a joint, they are full of it.  I’ve read papers written over 2000 years ago about human movement – odds are, things haven’t changed that much.  Elbows are still flexing exactly the same way.  Force is force.  What changes is the way people try to repackage fundamentals so that they can sell it to unsuspecting people who don’t know any better.

Now, before people jump on me for being critical, I’m not saying that these videos are wrong or that they don’t provide some good information for exercise variety for the average person.  I’m saying that there is a TON of inaccurate information out there, and you have to be aware of it in order to be able to sift through all of the crap.  Just recently a study was done on Wikipedia articles that dealt with medical information and it was found that across 20,000 articles, 90% of them had false information in them that could potentially lead to misdiagnosing an illness.  Since most people these days get their information via the internet this could be fairly serious.  I’m sure that I can spot inaccuracies in over 90% of videos on YouTube as well, making it also a potentially dangerous source of knowledge, especially when you consider that people will hop on there, watch a video and then try a movement without any real coaching.  Many of these videos also encourage people to run through a very challenging circuit that likely they have no business performing at that stage in their fitness evolution.  I’ve written before about people who push way too hard way too soon, and YouTube is a great place to get ideas for that.

I know that when I have a client come in and they tell me about something they read on the internet, my answer usually is that it wasn’t wrong – it was misleading and not totally accurate.  Part of my job is to provide accurate information to people and explain exactly how things work – then it is up to the person to make their own decisions.  One of my mantras is that there is no “good” or “bad” – there are varying levels of appropriate and how things are applied to whom, where and why.  Are leg presses sideways bad?  Probably – but it depends on who is doing them.  Is there a better, safer way to do almost exactly the same thing?  Yes.  Are bicep curls being done wrong in every gym across the country?  I have no idea.  It probably didn’t require a six minute video to explain, but obviously this person thought that it did and is using it to market themselves as a “fitness expert”.

You also have to consider the motivation behind the videos that you watch.  Are they just marketing fodder, sponsored by a supplement company and starring an attractive figure model?  Are they telling you that a “revolutionary” new technique is going to get your results to you even faster (especially if you take/wear/drink their product at the same time)?  98% of the time that person is there to market themselves or a product that they sponsor and the more hits they get, the more money they make.  Some of the videos know that sex sells so their model is wearing next to nothing.  Again, more hits = more money.  And a lot more people who might just believe that lying sideways on a leg press is a great way to isometrically use your glutes.

With all of this information being thrown at you, it is really not easy to pick out the accurate information from the inaccurate without having someone to point out what the truth is.  If you sit and watch videos long enough, suddenly you start to believe that if you just try this new technique that your results will change drastically and that you will vault into the stratosphere of fitness without putting in the appropriate time and effort.  That’s what makes you dumber.  I’ve had fellow trainers message me asking “is this right?”.  The point is that this inaccurate information makes people question if what they are doing is actually what they should be doing.  This applies to both trainers and people who are looking to get fitter.  Then someone watches a video, gets on a leg press at a sideways angle and wrecks their back (or hip or both) and wonders why.

Here’s my suggestion – get off of the internet and start reading books.  NOT Dr. Oz books.   Textbooks, manuals, journals with published research, things written by people with track records and credentials to match their publishing history.  Odds are they are going to be a TON more accurate than somebody who looks great in a pair of tight pants or tank top and is showing you a nice booty exercise.  There are actual web sites where you can open source whole courses on anatomy, mechanics and movement or at least the textbooks for reference – for free (if you want to know some feel free to message me).  Be a little more proactive about your knowledge.  Read books on workout routines written by actual coaches and people who have been doing it for thousands of hours with hundreds of people.  Not someone who only has a fitness following because they are on TV or look really hot in a set of tight pants.   And if you have a question – find someone who knows the right answer and ASK THEM.  I’m always happy to answer questions for people even if they aren’t my client, because part of my job is to help people, and to me that means providing accurate information to the best of my ability.  And if I don’t know the answer I can direct you to someone or somewhere who does.

The fitness industry is full of marketing ploys and terrible information and it can all be found just a click away and make you dumber as a result.  Please, don’t fall for this stuff and don’t allow the internet to dictate what you do or don’t do in a gym or to your body (yes I realize the irony of writing this on a blog).  Find an expert, consult with them and get it right the first time.  Don’t let anything that affects your body be as simple as believing someone with a slick video on the internet is anything close to an expert on the body and what it does.   I’m happy to help if you need it.

Feel free to like, share, but please don’t publish it on YouTube.

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