Tag Archives: fitness marketing

Sex & Sports & Fitness, Oh My! (Part Two)

19 Sep

Sex sells.  Lots of things, in lots of different ways.  Our media is awash in lots of sexy, irrelevant advertising.

In part one, I addressed how I’m pretty okay with using sex to sell women’s sports. Mostly because I think in time, more spectators who actually care about the sport will help to broaden our definition of “sexy” as it pertains to femininity and athletics. In time, I think female athletes will be able to choose exactly how they want to be marketed, and all sorts of marketing strategies will be successful. But for the time being, the sports-watching majority watches to see attractive women do something cool. It’s about novelty, and it’s about sex.

Let’s not deny our primal urges – watching men’s sports is rooted there too. We like to watch virile specimens engaging in simulated war on the field, court, or ice.


So, using the most primal of urges, sex drive, to get fans revved up about organized sports isn’t so far off the mark.  At its best, sex appeal in sports advertising adds to the athlete – making them seem both a fierce competitor and an object of desire, not a bad deal.  Despite the spin, you’re still selling the sport.  Maria Sharapova’s scores still get listed,   Anna Rawson’s golf games are still televised.  Sexy ads might draw more viewers, but the sport (and drawing spectators to it) is still the focus.

Now to fitness –

Personal fitness is an individual pursuit, not a spectator sport. It does not rely on asses in seats.  The only ass it needs to motivate is yours. It’s something you do (mostly) with yourself and (hopefully) for yourself.  Personal fitness should make you feel awesome about who you are and what your body can do.  And if it’s something you do for yourself, you should get to set the parameters of what you want to get out of it. Here’s where fitness marketing throws a wrench into the works – they say they’re selling fit and healthy and then give us this:


This is a gym ad. Seriously. Ugh.

It’s easy to get up in arms about using hot girls (and the potential for them to have sex with you) to sell gym memberships to dudes (see every gym ad ever).  And it’s easy to think using sex (almost exclusively) to hype fitness is silly since essentially personal fitness is about the business doing real life things, and most of us don’t spend the majority of our waking hours boning (we might say we are, but seriously, almost no one is getting it on 24/7).

However, fitness is about getting in touch with our bodies, and our bodies have primal impulses.  For argument’s sake, let’s give fitness marketing the benefit of the doubt and say fitness=success at biological imperatives and reproduction=biological imperative, so fitness=winning at sexy times.   Even if that is true (which is a stretch), let’s take a look at the routes they choose.


My major issue with marketing sex appeal as fitness is that “sexy” looks pretty narrow in the marketer’s eyes.  “Strong is the new sexy” (or “Real women have curves”, or “Suck it up so you don’t have to suck it in”) throws up guidelines about what’s sexy, and if you’re not hitting the benchmarks (skinny, muscular, still have boobs, thigh gap, perky glutes, no cellulite), you’re not it.  Whereas in sports, sex appeal can add to what we think of the athlete, in fitness sex appeal diminishes what we think of ourselves.  It gives us a sexed-up image of strength (apparently the only image of strength that sells, seeing as the ads aren’t full of powerlifters or moms toting multiple children and bags of groceries), and forces us to admit we don’t measure up.*

Relying on the same tactics to sell personal fitness as sports (and cars, and Axe spray) to the public belies the fact that those selling it want your dollars (you know, the ones you shell out because you feel bad about yourself), not your well-being.  Since most of us aren’t professional athletes, we don’t get coverage of how great we’re doing day-to-day, we don’t read articles about how well we served a customer, or how insightful a report we wrote, or how diplomatically we handled a PTA meeting – all we have is our less-than-airbrushed bodies to compare to the glossy ads.


No one uses phones with wires anymore. Just sayin’.

Fitness marketers aren’t so concerned about celebrating the personal accomplishments you’re achieving now, they’re concerned with getting you to spend money to get where you want to be next.   If you feel a little bit inadequate, you’ll be more motivated to buy into whatever it is they’re selling.  The worse you feel, the more you’ll buy.


With a hard focus on the superficial outcome of what clean eating and hard training can bring,  sexy ads imply that you and your self-worth amount to what your body looks like.  That the more cut (or lean or disciplined or whatever) you are, the more sex with attractive people you will have.

And with less pants.

And with less pants.

I’d like to challenge that – I think oftentimes more focused you become on super-sexy extreme leanness, the less connected to others you become, and the more you begin to treat your body like the enemy.  The more unrealistic the images used to market, the more hardcore the message, the less attainable the “end product” becomes.  “Do what makes you feel accomplished, energetic, and healthy” turns into “cut for that 6-pack until your hair falls out,  you’re cold all the time, and your sex drive is totally shot.”.

nike obsessionIn one of my favourite posts about sex appeal, Juliet asked the real question:

“What really makes us attractive? Sure, a physically attractive body never hurts to look at – I won’t argue that point. But! How much of that is adding to our sex appeal? How much is our pursuit of sex appeal making us less appealing?”

In the post, she really digs into the fact that a) we all have physique goals, whether we are willing to admit them or not, and b) sometimes the crazy things we do to achieve those physique goals end up making us less attractive to potential partners (and ourselves). Single-minded fixation on your physique goals, whatever they may be,  is not appealing.  I speak from experience – my partner doesn’t find it attractive when I bitch and moan about how much I hate (certain parts of) my body.  Yes, we all want to look better naked – but at what point does wanting to look better naked turn to being disgusted with what you currently look like naked?  Trust me, feeling terrible about the way your body looks (no matter what it shape or size or state it’s in) is a great way to drastically cut down the amount of sex you’re having.

You know what’s “sexy”?  Confidence.  And advertising that makes you feel like you’re failing isn’t really a confidence-booster.  Hotness as a fix-all in your life is a fallacy – if hotness fixed everything, people wouldn’t have multiple plastic surgeries.  Fitness can make you hotter, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily make you more confident.  If you drink the Kool-Aid about the “ideal” body, and aren’t getting the “right” results, fitness can make you feel less confident.


So, what’s the fix?  Total media blackout?  Stop trying to get hot and forgo fitness altogether?  Deny that you have physique goals (and secretly think that you’re vain because you still do)?

I think the solution is the same with sports marketing – broadening.  Expose yourself to all types and shapes and sizes of sexy.  Celebrate your body for what it can do.   Move.  Eat well and joyfully.  Give yourself a freaking break.

Figure out what makes you feel sexy – maybe it’s a PR deadlift, maybe it’s strapping on your skates, maybe it’s making your family a beautiful meal, maybe it’s reading a book in your jammies – whatever it is, be mindful of it.  And keep that sexiness with you for the next time you see an ad that makes you feel “less than”.


* For an amazing (and fantastically snarky) deconstruction of the marketing of fitness through “fitspo”, look no further than Kevin Moore’s brilliant post.  I LOVED this article.  My favourite part: “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being skinny. I’m also not suggesting that being skinny and strong are mutually exclusive. I’m only pointing out that strength only sells when it’s sexy and, make no mistake, advertisers want very badly to make you feel like you are currently failing at both.”

Strong Curves: Women, Muscles, Bulk, and BS

18 Oct

“I don’t want to get big and bulky, I just want to be lean”.

If you are female, and in the fitness industry, you’ve heard someone say it.  You’ve seen women turn time and again to the cardio machines, instead of the weight room.  You’ve seen women lifting those pink 3 lb dumbbells so they don’t turn into some raging muscle-bound hulk.  You’ve maybe even been told (hopefully back in the mists of time) that you needed really high reps and really low weights to make sure you stay lean.

You’ve also likely seen the backlash – the Strong is the New Skinny campaign, Women and Weights classes at big box gyms, groups like Girls Gone Strong telling women it’s not only okay to lift heavy – it’s awesome.

Here’s the thing – some of us do think it’s awesome to lift heavy, to be able to see the definition in our muscles, and to train “like the guys do”.

There are a ton of benefits to lifting, not the least of which is fat loss.  Most people get into fitness because they want to feel better about themselves and look better naked.  Simple as that.  Want the most dramatic results?  Lift weights.  Aerobic training just doesn’t cut it if you want to change your body.  The more muscle you carry around, the more energy you need just to sustain life and maintain that muscle mass.  The more energy you need, the more calories you burn, even at complete rest.  Therefore, more muscle means a more efficient machine.

Women have been told for years that in order to “stay lean” and lose weight, they need light weights, high reps, and more aerobics.  Aerobic training (and tiny pink dumbbells) being the best tool for fat loss may be one of the greatest lies ever sold.  I could rail about how fitness marketing misleads and confuses people into buying items they don’t need, and following programs that are based on questionable (read: made-up or massively lacking) science, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.  If you want to read more about that, JC Deen has a pretty great article about the way fitness marketers talk to women.

But fitness marketers aren’t the only ones who should be on the hook.  As a trainer, I say to my female clients, “lifting weights won’t make you bulky”.  I assume they’re talking about body-builders bodies, and assure them that figures like that take tons of dedicated work, and incredibly restrictive diet and training programs – neither of which they’re engaged in.  I tell them that the she-hulk they’re imagining they’ll become doesn’t happen by accident, and not to worry.  I tell them about the various health benefits of lifting, and how it will help them move in their day-to-day lives.

But I don’t know what “bulky” looks like to them.

I only know what it looks like to me.  Leigh Peele wrote a brilliant post about this disconnect.  Long, riveting read short, according to the 2000 women she polled online:

  • The majority of women don’t like the look of muscle on themselves or others.
  • The majority of women think that men prefer the look of a lack  of muscle on a woman’s body.
  • The majority felt that Jessica Biel and Hilary Swank (in Million Dollar Baby) define “bulky.”
  • The majority of the women expressed little interest in lifting weight, even if it didn’t result in a “bulking” effect.
  • A large majority of women would rather be too thin than either too fat or too muscular.
  • More women would choose to be fat over muscular.
  • Based on the actresses’ looks, women prefer softer and trim over too lean or too muscular.

Here’s my arm:

Here’s my stomach:

I’m practically The Situation.

Here’s my back:

Ask me now, and I’ll tell you I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve put into my body.  I love lifting and I love the way it helps me look.

If you’d asked me five years ago, and I’d have told you that girl looks kind of, well, bulky.  My idea of what is healthy and hot has changed over time. I’ve gotten used to the way that my body has changed over the years, and as a result my ideas about what’s sexy and what I want myself to look like have changed.  It’s important to understand that “sexy” looks different to each and every person.  And on that note, to know that “healthy” feels different to each and every person.

Yes, there’s lots of science to back up the benefits of weight training and building muscle.  Yes, I love to lift heavy and hit PR’s.  I love that there are groups like Girls Gone Strong that encourage women to rock it in the weight room.  I love going to a gym where I can do more pull-ups than a dude. But, as trainers, we have to make people fall in love with fitness first.

If women feel like they’re getting conflicting messages about what works, and they don’t love what they’re doing, they won’t keep doing it.  More than anything, I think it comes down to listening, and meeting people where they’re at.  Will their opinions change over time?  Maybe.  But finger-pointing, name-calling, and self-righteousness don’t make people fall in love with anything.  If you’re a fitness enthusiast, no matter what level, find something you love to do, and rock the hell out of it.  If you’re a trainer, help your clients find something they love and encourage the heck out of them.  In my (limited) experience, once a woman realizes how strong she can be, she’ll fall hard and fast for that feeling – but she has to come to it herself.

Your body is your own.  Only you should choose what it should look like, feel like, and do.  Just because some folks still say you should lift tiny dumbbells for a million reps, that doesn’t mean you should.  Just because lifting heavy for women is in vogue (read: finally being encouraged) right now, that doesn’t mean you should either.  You should find the thing that makes you feel awesome, that makes you feel accomplished, that makes you feel like you are owning your body – and do that thing.  A lot.

If you want to learn more about lifting heavy, I’d suggest you start here.  Nia has some amazing tips for “lifting like a girl”.

Selling the Sizzle But Not the Steak

31 Aug

There are lots crazy things out there in health-and-wellness-land:  Shake Weights, Free Flexors, this thing.  It can be tough to figure out the good information from the bad, especially for women.  Women are ripe for the picking when  it comes to diet and fitness marketing.  We need to be educated consumers when it comes to what we will and won’t do to our bodies.

When I decided that it was time for me to make fitness a part of my life, I had reached a point where I no longer liked to look at myself in the mirror – certainly not in any state of undress.   When I first started trying to figure out how to get fit, it was like fighting my way through a jungle of information.  Some great, some not so great.  What most of us (myself included) end up falling back on are the things that we see the most often.  That’s how marketing works – top of mind awareness  It’s not necessarily about convincing people to buy your product right away.  It’s about being the first thing on their minds when the time comes for them to buy.  That’s what fitness infomercials sell.  That’s why people buy GoodLife memberships.  Familiarity.  If you see it every night on your TV, or you drive by three on your way home from work, when the time comes for you to get active, the popular choice is, well, popular.

I have never been a gym-rat.  I’ve been to a few gyms a few times.  They never really jived for me, so I sought out in-home fitness options when I decided to get fit.  The ones I bought were the ones from the infomercials – Turbo Jam, P90X, Insanity!.  I tried them all.  And I was one of the lucky ones – I program-jumped – doing each program for a few weeks then getting bored and moving on, I didn’t change my eating habits, I didn’t really know what I wanted and didn’t have defined goals – and I still got results!  And didn’t get injured!

Why?  Because I was just starting out.  I was going from doing relatively nothing, to doing relatively lots, and my body made gains.  It was fantastic.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t sustainable.  Like I said, I would jump around.  I couldn’t stick to one course of action, and there were a couple of reasons why.  First; I didn’t have clear goals.  I didn’t know that I had to have clear goals.  In the end, I think my goal ended up being to fully finish a program (which is not a bad goal, and is often more psychologically challenging than you think).

The second reason ties into the first; information overload.  The health and wellness industry is CRAZYTOWN when it comes to competing information.  Especially for women.  Pick up any women’s lifestyle magazine.  Look at the front cover.  There is almost certainly an article proclaiming “One Week to Flatter Abs!” or “Drop a Jean Size in 21 Days!”.  Or both.  Probably both.  And then a couple of diets.  That don’t say the same thing.

And then you turn on the TV, and there’s one trainer telling you to lift no heavier than 3 pounds and do lots of cardio – low weight, high reps, so that you can burn lots of fat.  And then there’s another trainer telling you to lift heavy – high weight, low reps, so that you can build muscle and burn fat while you rest.  And then there’s The Biggest Loser, and Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition and all those transformation shows showing a myriad of dramatic diets, intense training protocols, and huge results.  And it gets confusing.  Shouldn’t there be one answer?  Isn’t that one answer what everyone is trying to sell us?

That’s the trouble.  There isn’t one answer.

There is science to back up almost any claim that the health and wellness industry can make.  Our bodies are always evolving.  Experts are always learning new things.  Trends come and go and those in the industry want to be on the cutting edge.  The diets and training programs in magazines, or on TV, or that you hear from the wellness guru of the day will offer you an answer.  But it might not be the right answer for you.

There are lots of folks who do really well with Intermittent Fasting, or Paleo, or Gluten-Free, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

There are lots of folks who really love lifting heavy and hitting PR’s, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

There are lots of folks who thrive on marathons and heavy endurance work, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

Here’s the other trouble: Health and Wellness Experts don’t always listen to what you are really saying.

So, I like to lift heavy now (in addition to sport-specific derby stuff).  That’s where I choose to plant my flag.  It’s easy to set performance goals, I like the way it has shaped my body, and it makes me feel bad-ass.  And, yes,  my increased muscle mass helps me to burn more calories just going about my life (and it’s much more enjoyable than an hour on the elliptical).  But I need to remember – that’s how I feel.  Not how everyone feels.  As a fitness professional, it’s my job to give you the science and to tell you what I think will work best for you.  But it’s just that – my opinion.  And my opinion is biased by what has worked for me personally, or for my other clients.

And my opinion is also coloured by wanting to stay current.  I need to know who’s getting results with IFWho loves their Paleo protocolWho thinks that Prowler pushes are the best thing since sliced breadWho’s changing the way we do metabolic circuits.  And because I have to stay current, I get sucked in.  I find something cool, something that seems to be working for a lot of people, and I want to bring it back to my clients so that they can think it’s cool too.  The challenge is to always ask, “is this the right thing, or is it just a cool thing?”.  There’s nothing wrong with cool things, but too many cool things are the equivalent of me program-jumping for my client.

On top of that, I want you to be fit and healthy.  I want you to feel good about yourself and develop positive, lifelong habits.  BUT I CAN’T READ YOUR MIND.  I don’t know exactly what your ideal shape looks like to you, or what your ideal diet plan is.  It’s my job to figure it out (and believe me I will try my darndest to do so), but I can guarantee what I see in my mind’s eye when I look at you and what you can accomplish with time, and what you see when you look in the “future mirror” are not exactly the same.  They should be very close, but they won’t be identical.  It’s like bringing a picture to your hairdresser, if they’re good at what they do and you trust them, you’ll end up with something you love – but it probably wasn’t exactly what you imagined before you came in.

So, how do we figure it all out?

Short answer – we don’t.  Health and Wellness are ever evolving.  So are you.  It’s exciting to learn about your body, what works for it and what doesn’t.

What you need to do is learn to trust your intuition.  Question WHY a particular piece of information is being given as law.  At the Canfitpro conference, in John Berardi’s session on Intermittent Fasting, he said that the “don’t eat after 8 pm rule” is totally not based in science so much as it is based in calorie-control psychology.  BLAM!  Mind blown.  My whole life I’ve felt like I was bad at eating because I typically eat dinner around 9 or 10.  Now I don’t.  Because that’s what works for me and I can keep my dietary intake under control that way.

If it helps, find a trainer or coach that you trust, who can guide you through all the information.  When you find a good one, they’ll have done a lot of the research for you.  And even though they’re trying to sell you something too, when you find someone you really connect with, you’ll know that the opinions they bring to the table have your best interests at heart.

So, every time you hear something new, be it a diet, or exercise, or training protocol, or piece of equipment, ASK WHY.  Why is this person selling this idea to me?  What do they have to gain?  How does this jive with what I believe and what has worked for me in the past?  Know that you are being marketed to.  For sure, there is room for your opinions to change.  Mine certainly have.  But be a critical consumer of health and wellness.  Think before you buy (and before you buy in).

These Boots Aren’t Made For Walking

11 Jun

Ladies, let’s talk about shoes.

I like shoes.  I’ve always been more of a sneaker than a high heel type, but there are times when I’ll bust out the big-girl shoes.  I like the way that they make my feet look (at first), I like the way that I think of myself when I’m wearing them.  What I don’t like is what they’re doing to my body.  Not even really to my body, but more to the bodies of women who wear heels daily. 

I’ve been reading a lot of research papers lately, trying to get my learn on, and I came across a couple of interesting studies about the effects of high heels as they relate to osteoarthritis.   Osteoarthritis and knee replacement surgery are much more common in women than in men, and these studies looked to draw a correlation between the pretty shoes and the not-so-pretty consequences.  Here’s walking in a nutshell: When you walk, the ground forces coupled with gravity and your bodyweight want to force your joints to bend one way or another.  To counteract this your muscles have to produce an equal and opposite reaction to keep you from collapsing on yourself. 

Long science-y story short, the first study concluded that walking in high heels increases abductor dominance (about 10%), causing the knees to cave in (science term: valgus).*  The second concluded pretty much the same, adding that if afterwards the knee is forced into a varus (knees out) position (so you don’t fall over), the loading will be directly on the medial surfaces of the knee joint.**  Not a great plan.   Both studies found that high heels are more muscularly demanding to walk in, and could contribute to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis.  Maybe those stilettos don’t look so appealing anymore.

Following up on the articles, I came across a number of fitness classes that cater to women who want to wear heels, teaching them proper posture, pelvic alignment and striding technique.  Fair play, some women are always going to wear heels and at least they’re being taught the best way to do so.   I hope that along with teaching women how to walk in their heels, these fitness professionals are also educating them about the possible long-term effects. 

As well, I came across what I hope is not a far-reaching fitness trend: The Stiletto Workout (for the love of your minds, don’t watch the whole video, a few seconds should give you enough of an idea).  Apparently, there are studios that teach whole classes in heels, cashing in on the whole fitness-for-women-should-be-sexy trend.  I’ll get into my feelings on that trend in another post.  Suffice it to say, I’m not a huge fan.  If you must wear them, there is a time and a place for high heels (preferably when you are mostly sitting).  THAT TIME IS NOT WORKOUT TIME.  Training is about feeling good about yourself, and maybe heels help you do that, but training is also about safety and there is no way that you will ever convince me that working out in high heels is the safest training method you have available to you.  Barefoot – great; training shoes – great; stilettos – no freaking way.

While we’re on the topic, it’s not just stilettos we should be worried about.  Recently, Sketchers settled a $40 million lawsuit regarding their Shape-Ups toning shoes.  Ads for Shape-Ups claimed that the sneakers toned muscles, improved posture, and encouraged weight loss, while reducing knee and ankle stress and back pain.  Last September, the FTC also settled with Reebok over similar claims about their toning shoes.  The FTC found that the claims were based on faulty science and that in independent testing, people did not lose weight just from wearing different shoes.  Score one for common sense.

The trouble is that with so much crazy health and fitness marketing out there, it can be tough to know what constitutes common sense.  And for beginners who are looking for anything to get them started on the path, toning shoes are an easy sell.  Sketchers still stands by its product and will continue to sell the shoes, just changing the advertising message.

We’re all grown-ups, and we can wear whatever we want on our bodies and do whatever we want while wearing it.  What I’m saying is before you strap on those strappy sandals, those precarious pumps, or even those EasyTones; give it a good think, consider your common sense, and make an informed decision.


*Heel height affects lower extremity frontal plane joint moments during walking, Barkema, Derrick and Martin, Gait and Posture, 2011

**Walking on High Heels Changes Muscle Activity and the Dynamics of Human Walking Significantly, Simonsen, Svendsen, Norreslet, Baldvinsson, Heilskov-Hansen, Larsen, Alkjaer and Henriksen, JAB, 2011