Okay, so that title was a little bit misleading. I'm a bit pressed for time this week so I'm making this a quick post, and sort of a companion piece to my previous one about simplicity in exercise. The basic premise is as can be seen in the title, but of course this is going to require some explanation.
When you go on the internet you see all kinds of trolls with zero actually related experience/knowledge making all kinds of criticisms of people with legitimate, well-demonstrated or researched videos. This is an effect of the internet era; for every statement made there will be both someone willing to support it and someone willing to deny it, no matter how banal that statement might be. The problem with this is that when the audience is the general public, and not a select group of informed individuals, this can lead to a breakdown of mental filtering capabilities and thus eventually to an inability to recognize legitimate and illegitimate criticisms for what they are.
That being said, there are plenty of people who just do stuff plain wrong. And I'm not talking crappy trainers like me with our little blogs and youtube channels and whatever. I'm talking serious, famous trainers with legitimate careers. I'm talking professional bodybuilders and lifters. Jillian Michaels doesn't actually know how kettlebell swings work (seriously, just do a Google search, I could list articles but there's too many of them). Lots of bodybuilders still use exercise machines as legitimate exercises in many situations. Tracey Anderson has almost literally no clue what she's doing. The list goes on and on.
The first point here is that no one's perfect. Just because someone's an expert in some portion of the exercise field doesn't mean that they really have any clue how any other piece of it functions. I will be wholly honest with the fact that while I'm good with bodybuilding and powerlifting, I have almost no idea what kettlebell workouts are good for, or how to do them. I don't know sports-specific training, I don't know strongman, I'd probably kill myself if I tried an Olympic lift. But that's not my job; my job is to bring to clients what I do know, and use every tool in my disposal to help them attain their fitness goals. It's the same with most of these trainers out there. There's a lot of pressure to be the jack-of-all-trades, but ultimately everyone has things that they're good at and things that they're bad at, including big time celebrity personal trainers.
But the second point I'd like to make is that most of the time it doesn't matter. So what if you don't know the right way to swing a kettlebell? So what if you still use exercise machines? Here's a little secret: in many ways, it's very hard to hurt yourself. Now that's not to deny that some lifts are dangerous. Deadlifts without the right form will wreck your back (and quickly). Benches without the right form can wreck your shoulders, and of course if you're an idiot and lift heavy without a spotter, you can drop a bar on your neck. But for the most part people know this stuff. Where it doesn't matter is in a lot of the smaller stuff, where it's more of a gray area.
These are things where the lift involves specific bodily mechanics. If you perform the lift without the right form, it will slowly degrade your body mechanics over time, until eventually you find yourself suffering from joint pain, weakness, and frequent injury. But here's the thing: it's gonna take a while to get there. For the most part, when people ask if they're doing something wrong, the answer is probably yes. But the more important answer is that it probably doesn't matter. For you to really hurt yourself you have to be doing something wrong repeatedly for a very long time, except in the case of those handfuls of free lifts with massive potential for injury, as mentioned above. In the process of that very long time, you're likely going to experience a ramp up to the actual injury; you're going to feel pain or discomfort when performing the exercise, and it's going to feel unnatural. Your body will tell you if you're doing anything wrong.
Of course, this also doesn't apply to older clientele. Once you get older your sense of body perception begins to fade and you become less in touch with your body, meaning that these signs grow less pronounced. The older you get, the easier it is to injure yourself without warning. That's when form matters the most, or in the case of pre-existing injuries which have to be planned around. Other than that, chances are you're going to take a while to hurt yourself. I did squats wrong for years before I ever injured myself, and even then it was a minor injury that wounded my pride more than anything else. For most young, healthy lifters, the situation will be similar.
Now, back to the thesis of this article. In my simplicity article I made a point that often people perform too many lifts and divide their mental attention, thus slowing gains. Here's another principle to go along with that: you can do everything wrong, but even then if you're coming into the gym more than the next guy, you're probably going to be more ripped than him. I can't tell you how many times I've seen youtube videos of professional or semi-professional bodybuilders doing really stupid exercises and looking really ripped. Why do they still get ripped from doing these stupid exercises? Because they push themselves harder than you. They lift longer than you. Then, they come back the next day and do it all over again.
Ultimately, what you get out of your fitness regimen is only what you're willing to put into it. If you're putting your blood, sweat, and tears into it, coming in five or six days a week for a couple hours a day, you're going to get ripped. If you struggle to come in more than three days a week, no genius program is going to do it for you. Some programs are more intelligently designed than others, but if you aren't willing to push your limits no matter the program then the program is moot. The single best indicator of how well your body is going to perform is how far you're willing to push it. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. As I've tried to put it previously, if you try and workout smart, you're going to have a bad time. The weight doesn't care how smart you are, or how well you understand the mechanics of lifting it; if you don't lift it, you aren't going to get strong. If you try to workout hard, you're going to bypass the need to workout smart. Hard lifting sees only goals to be met, and will do anything to get there, even if that means that the lifter ends up spending twice as long on an exercise half as effective, simply because the goal has to be met.
It's the same way with training clients. You can lose five pounds in a week if you stick to a strict diet and work out enough. There's nothing physically stopping you. The only thing stopping you is the mentality. If you're willing to push yourself harder than you ever have before, you're going to see results. Otherwise you're going to see the scale remain the same, week after week. The only limit is your willpower.
For the vast majority of healthy (no pre-existing limitations) exercisers, the sky really is the limit. You can run into a gym and do half the stuff wrong and you're still going to get bigger and stronger and lose weight and feel better about yourself, so long as you workout hard. God knows I did it for the first three years after getting into lifting. If you read Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, you get a wonderful look into the bodybuilding climate as it was in Schwarzenegger's time, aka, before science really started becoming a dominant force in the fitness field. Each lifter swore by their own completely unique routine, many of which have since been discovered to be better at building power than mass. They didn't have crazy scientific diets based around peaking your metabolism, or if they did they were just crazy diets without the science part. They would swear by absurd exercises that have since been shown to be mechanically incorrect and more likely to lead to injury over time. Essentially, that book is a snapshot of an entire generation of bodybuilders who, despite doing a lot of things very goofily or unintelligently, went ahead and got ripped to shreds and looked way better than half the bodybuilders out there today. How'd they do it? By working out as hard as they could.
So work out simple. Work out hard. In the few leftover cases where these two won't help you, workout smart, but only after you've exhausted the other possibilities first.