Now that I’ve got your attention…
“Good evening, #FitFam. I would introduce myself but in truth I do not have a name.”
V (kinda), ‘V for Vendetta’, Alan Moore
I know who is really behind the anonymous Instagram account, @thegymwhisperer (GW), dedicated to exposing the things seemingly wrong with the Irish fitness industry. This account has grown rapidly from a few hundred LOLing followers to upwards of 4000+ in a matter of weeks. Not "break the internet" trajectory but given its nature its not likely to have the growth potential similar to the accounts it has been highlighting. It began, to my knowledge, critiquing the #fitfam ladies for posting a whole lot of #belfies or bottom selfies (which look great most of the time, lets be fair), to not so subtly offering 'tips and guidance' to trainers uploading videos featuring questionable exercise form in an attempt to gain some online traction.
I was made aware of the account by a friend who tagged me in a FB post by our mutual friend and IBBF Pro Setanta Caroll, “Eoin admit it, you're the gym whisperer!”, he said. How many of you where also asked, “Are you the Gym Whisperer?”, because a lot of people on my timeline posted statuses claiming to be fed with the accusations coming their way. Enough to tell me that the mystery of the anonymous commentator was widespread and had plenty of suspects. Suspects who must have similar opinions, ideas, gripes and concerns about the type of content that the Whisperer was posting about.
So I started thinking, and doing some digging, and figured out what Im about to tell you, with the help of some fine French red, trust me this stuff is magic brain fuel.
I got to thinking that there are quite a lot of really solid professionals working in the fitness industry. Who, perhaps unbeknownst to each other, talk a whole lot of sense. None with my panache and eloquent use of the thesaurus, but good sense none the less.
Those folk say and think a lot of what this account has chosen to shine a light on, hence the widespread accusations. For instance, the overt sexualisation of fitness as an endeavour for males and females has become the norm on social media platforms and the 'pornification' of the advertising material used to advertise online programming, personal brands and detox teas is widespread the world over. This has been written about fairly extensively with my own favourite article here on Greatist. Is this such a bad thing?
Smarter people than me have more informed opinions on this topic, and what little I've tried to read doesn't really come up with a concrete definitive answer. Researched writing on the topics like here, here, here, here, and possibly most appropriately here will give you a flavour of what the "evidence" says, so if you are an evidence based trainer posting pictures of your barely covered ass, topdown lit abs and baby biceps I challenge you to read those and discuss them with me.
For my part, meh its happening, people are buying, and consumers are easily led by cheap distractions. Who's at fault here? Uneducated consumers or savvy fitness industry operators, like Paige and her former Shredz teammate the notorious Devinphysique? In an industry with no real regulation, who is there to police the shysters and help the sexy industry new comers to see a better, more fulfilling, not to mention an ethical way of changing health and fitness outcomes.
Thats where the suspects come back into it all. Those of you who have sought to eliminate dogmatic thinking from your coaching process and nutritional advice, are many. Those of us, (I consider myself a solid professional, why else would you even be reading this?) who see ourselves as small cogs in a grand design to aid the nations mental health and physical wellbeing through the medium of “fitness”, are many. We don't make silly suggestions like; “hacking” fast food menus to get zero carb breakfasts (despite a McDonalds food item being crowned the most nutritious while cheapest food product ever), no claims to show you the apparent “secrets” to fat loss, no promises of boundless morning energy with a Roman marching spelt bread (WTF even is that) or purport to teach you the life changing findings contained within the China Study, despite it being roundly and emphatically critiqued numerous times, we don't make promises to utterly transform bodies in a few short weeks with amazing secret training routines (otherwise known as hard work, commitment and buy in) and only succeed in transforming paying customers semi-naked visages into advertising fodder for gym walls and social media adverts. The sole purpose of which is not purely congratulatory but to increase revenue on the next amazing course. Which, now that I mention it is taking only a limited number of super committed people for its next iteration, you can sign up here.
We don't do that stuff. But why don't we? If relative newcomers to the industry are clocking up thousands of social media followers by posting up a few ab selfies, some post workout pump photos why don't the solid professionals follow suit and get their message out there with sexy photos and all that jazz?
Part of my answer has to be the knowledge that it is not all gravy. Have you heard the story of the gym who had to release a trainer, who despite having upwards of 50k Instagram followers, didn't have a single PT client? As in, never once trained a client in person, in the gym.
The other part of my answer involves that which only the good coaches understand. A duty of care to the consumers of fitness services. To educate and enlighten them on as many aspects of what it means to be ‘healthy’. This trainer sold loads of online programs alright but having no real experience training anyone what kind of thought process or concern was taken for the buyers? I have since learned that the programs sent to people I know were copy and paste, ad nauseam so to me that says little to no concern, big eyes for the money.
Aside from the question of professional ethics is what these online trainers are doing that bad? Who's to say but at the end of the day, all the bum selfies and topless ab shots are supplying all the randy Indians and middle-aged gay men what they want! Ass picks of the ladies and topless gay muscle porn from the boys. Who are we to say they shouldn't do that? There are no rules in the fitness industry really, no regulation or policing authority. Before you assume I'm pushing for regulation hold on, I have no interest in regulating the industry from a national government perspective. I'm too much a right winger for that, I'm all for making money, but when you deal in health and fitness I feel you owe so much to the consumer not to set out to sell unethically.
Why are we all suspects? Do we all publicly lambast the foolishness of personal trainers operating in the industry, “calling them out” in the process? No, frankly we have more tact then that. Do we all shed a tear every time another expensive abdominal cling film wrapper, overpriced detox juice, a sciencey sounding IV multi nutrient infusion is bought by a well intentioned, but ultimately, quite clueless consumer? Yes, but is that evidence enough to unmask the identity of the GW? No, I think not. Do we feel that those consumers of the aforementioned are deserving of more ethical treatment by an industry which is supposed to have their interests at heart? Absolutely. That is why we don't peddle nonsense or facilitate confusion about sensible nutrition, we don't hurt people with lazy programming and inappropriate exercise choices nor do we seek to optimise your hormones or other such debatable dross. Teaching people powerlifting, selling life improvement seminars and calling yourself a motivational speaker doesn't make you a life coach and health and wellbeing panacea.
So I still haven't got my point, who is the gym whisperer? Do you understand the difficulty I have in unveiling Her, Him, Them?
“If I take off that mask, something will go away forever, be diminished because whoever you are isn't as big as the idea of you”
- V, ‘V for Vendetta’, Alan Moore
What was the purpose of an anonymous account with a mission to expose a part of the Irish Fitness industry? To air some grievances publicly In the absence of a statement from source its fair game to apply meaning where there was none, only because its such a damn trivial thing that I have somehow squeezed 1000+ words out of by now.
Begin with the Guy Fawkes mask. Is there a significance to choosing that? I hope so. The purpose of the Guy Fawkes trope is huge to understanding my thought process. In the unlikely event of you having read Alan Moore’s absolutely stunning graphic novel “V for Vendetta”, I’ll summarise.
The mask is the power of the masses, to choose, and properly choose, their fate. The anonymity is power, it is freedom to choose how to act without recrimination or consequence, freedom to live in “the land of do as you please”. Does that make you free from consequence? Fuck no. When you are free to do as you please but understand that what you choose has consequences then you have a nice pleasant mix and the beginnings of responsibility.
So the GW was able to point out and comment, mostly very effectively on the inappropriate exercises posted by Irish fitness professionals and provide a social commentary on the state of the industry that many found themselves agreeing with. The demonstration of this
So who really is the GW? Do I know the identity? Yes, and no. My point is that question is irrelevant. Its a distraction from the real meaning and significance of the page (as I see it anyway, but I've people fallen right down the rabbit hole). Its an interesting mystery identity for each individual to gossip about. Through anonymity everyone can feel equally connected to the GW, feeling they might gain an insider secret if they hear the name, the name of an ultimately irrelevant person. Lets face it, its 50/50 that you are reading this because you thought I was the GW making a grand announcement after closing the page down, or that I had this big secret persons identity to share with you, to make you feel special. But what if the GW is just some nobody? What if its someone you know very well? What difference would that make?
The GW is an idea, an invitation, to stop sitting silently and moan about the crap in the industry and claim to fight the good fight, take the high road… blah blah blah. If you don't like something, ask the hard questions publicly. Be outspoken or choose to shine a light on the shit trainers and nonsense merchants so it may act to shut them up, pack them off and clear them out. Protect consumers from garbage by taking it on ourselves as responsible adults working in a unique free environment where we can influence health and well being to such a broad extent. In doing so it will be called hating or something similar, but you know what it really is, rigorous intellectual discourse. If you cant stack up to that then you have no right offering a health and wellbeing service to others. Provided you don't break Godwin’s law you’ll be just fine and in the long run everyone will benefit.
The GW is about solid trainers and coaches, who talk sense and really help rather than use our position to leverage sales of shit supplements and inappropriate training prescriptions, learning to influence people more effectively than the nudity and the BS. Fitness professionals who choose to offer real guidance rather than copy and paste diet and training plan, coaches who care about their, and crucially, other trainers clients, Enough to speak out when they are aware that trainer is doing something ass backwards by sticking everyone into the same basket and fuck them if they don't fit. Confronting them respectfully is your duty and responsibility, seeking to understand their methods helps, critique them and then walk away having done your duty to the trainer, yourself and the clients availing of the previously questionable service.
Who (person) is behind the account is irrelevant, as long as the light they shine is right and on the appropriate things. Anyway, at this stage I'm all out of faux outrage, my vino is gone and I have a 6am start so heres the truth of it, thank you for suffering through my first real attempt at getting over my 'writers block'.
And to finish, I know who the Gym Whisperer is. Do you?
PS: It wasn't me.