Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fitness Content Quality Considerations

Years ago while at sea I was chatting with a fellow Marine. He was a senior staff noncommissioned officer, or SNCO, but I cannot recall if it was the gunny or sergeant major as I had great conversations with each. The topic of discussion was waste in the US military. One imagines $10,000 bullet-proof hammers. Our conversation was about other kinds of waste though, that which is deemed acceptable, some even desirable. That subject was nice for discussion as it addressed some key differences between expenditures, whether of money, labor, the combination, and effects on organizational success. This led to a more illuminating topic, one that educates me further each time it is recalled, that of quality. Fundamentally the subject of waste relies upon the definition of quality, for what is not quality is a waste. The issue with this however, is that quality itself is indefinable. Addressed in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig posits that to recognize quality, whether of subject or someone, it must be contextual. Wikipedia simplifies it as:

Pirsig's thesis is that to truly experience quality one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation. According to Pirsig, such an approach would avoid a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction common to modern life.
Not a terrible read.

This post aims to apply truthful notions of quality to a specific subject within the fitness industry and dispel those notions that cloud the perception of consumers. That subject is in a word, content. Content in this context is akin to information, consumers akin to readers and practitioners of that information. Ranging from magazines to web articles and videos to professional and more developed content; things like certification courses and books come to mind. The purpose of this aim is to improve reader satisfaction with their consumption of fitness content while reducing or eliminating potential frustration in acquiring new information. Henceforth improving the quality of the content one chooses to consume. Ideally with the resultant increase in physical abilities. The end goal, to improve not only content as it continues to exist, but so too the progression of human ability. For the reader, to improve the ability to determine desired qualities of what they are consuming. Practical applications in furtherance of ability is an individual need; something best sorted out by the lifter and time in the gym. 

Packaging is a considerable element of any product, certainly content is a product, however packaging is not the product. Only the means in which it is presented. As such readers should refrain from attaching perceptions of “packaging” to quality of content; although it can be a situational heuristic. An array of references is a simple but straightforward example at the start of this discussion regarding the quality of fitness content today and its reliance on packaging. That example will be further expanded upon later as it relates to other notions of quality.

Addressed early in determining quality of content is the completeness of that information. Completeness lessens with brevity in nearly all fitness content. The use of data an extreme example of brevity and incompleteness, for there is no context when presented only a number. An added sentence or two is a dual edged sword. One side giving false confidence to the reader in an all to brief explanation; the supposed "context". The opposite edge cuts them down when they stumble. Opposing this though would be full completeness and brevity. Perhaps existing only when the creator has mastered their craft. Generating succinct content in complete and applicable forms is hard to come by, maybe only applicable to the newest trainee and absolute scientific statements. Though such rarities are easily confused by absolute statements of opinion. Most easily of all made brief and seemingly complete.

Quickly consumed information is the majority of fitness content as it exists today. Much of it in under five minutes. Ten being a stretch. So those who hold scientific backing as a requirement for content, a well-meaning intent, will find brevity seriously limiting the quality of the fitness information they consume in most cases. Consider the muscle rags that populate magazine racks wherever they exist. Ideally these offer glimpses into scientific ideas; commonly they misrepresent them. In other qualitative ways they fall equally short. Notice the significance of its packaging – high definition images, glossy pages, vibrant colors, striking fonts. Each manipulate the consumer into feelings of quality as the muscle magazine is read. The glossy pages feel good. The ripped fitness professional looks good. This information is good.

     35 Days ain't gonna happen if the starting point is 35% body fat.

Brevity is identifiable easily to the consumer. Quality not so much. Whether a magazine article on page or online most readers know a handful of paragraphs will take them a handful of minutes to consume. Easier still, a YouTube video explaining some fit-pro’s bench plan tells the consumer how much it steals from them: conveniently just two minutes and thirty-one seconds. Brevity is the most common structure in the fitness world that limits completeness of information thus negatively impacting the ultimate quality of content. Not only regarding scientific foundations within content as it relates to quality perceptions, but so too in regards to quality perceptions in relation to anecdotal fitness information. As fitness is not a wholly scientific endeavor, it is in part creative, it is clear that brevity within such confines serves anecdotal information equally bad. The perceivable truth, told when opening such a rag, jumps out! In large font the scientific is quoted in a sentence or two. The anecdotal? Said by the half-naked image that sentence is printed on. High quality information. 
Eliminating brevity does stand to eliminate learning new pieces of information that can be summarized quickly and conveniently. As it would happen fitness is not rocket science, and so concepts therein do stand a larger chance of effective summary, whether scientific or anecdotal. Brevity, specifically dealing with content as it exists in magazine articles (physical and online) and internet videos produces information saturation. An example paints a clear picture: science findings published weeks or months ago newly interpreted and condensed down into a mere 300 words by the 20-year-old intern… at every fitness website on the internet. Much of that leaning towards opinion. This forms information saturation. Fed primarily out of creator brevity, whether forced or desired, saturation of information further inhibits creativity. These over represented normative ideas filling the mind space where otherwise original content may be crafted. Brevity, incompleteness, and saturation of this kind is the enemy of originality, of creativity, two of many considerations that give context to quality.

In the worst scenario imaginable, years of quickly and easily consumed incomplete information, within an environment saturated with such content, leads fitness content creators down an endless road of low quality creations. Low quality from lack of originality and sigh inducing repetition. Fulfilling for neither them or their customers. This stokes the flames that destroy quality. Deadlines are due and articles must be submitted for publishing each week; the demands of an editor. Where is the time to think about esoteric training ideas? Who has time to read it? A modern content creator thinks. Information saturation serves to fill gaps on pages and update websites, earning more clicks, likes, more ad revenue. High quality but brief information is wholly different than this kind of content. Although it is harder to identify in such a saturated space, like finding eggshell in a blizzard. Hardly an effort worthy of a single mouse click. A creeping hazard across fitness professions.

Oversaturation leading to a drought of creativity is not a hard thing to understand. As the last few paragraphs told it, fitness content in most cases, is a curated endeavor. The information being generated from writers and the like, whether experts or those who fancy themselves, directed by their own or an editor’s commercial goals. Why publish what cannot sell, will not be watched, or read? Questions an editor. The creator morose in their brevity, why bother? Such an attitude culls the herd of creators and further stymies creativity as it pertains to fitness content. Does this lack of creativity promote an environment prone to quagmire, issue for both content creators and consumers? Certainly so. Just as creativity is a valuable trait from business to science its importance exists within fitness. From problem solving to motivation, inducing creativity progresses an individual. Removing it slows them. Likewise progress within the fitness field slows as creativity dwindles.

Recall in the first paragraph my conversation with a senior about waste. We ended up determining that one should seek to work within waste controlled structures, thus inherently reducing waste produced in the process of their efforts. That is to say proactive control versus reactive "clean up". In a similar way fitness has conceptually entrapped itself in quality limiting structures. The foremost cause of this failure being the waste of good information for the sake of brevity. Regarding information dissemination, the old adage “the medium is the message” gives credence to the term “muscle rags.” YouTube can be the audio-visual translation of this. The combination of which sometimes better suited for RedTube. At what point does this resource type betray itself permanently within quality limiting structures like brevity? The moment has already come.
Look like this in 7 minutes!
Follow the RedTube link below.

Moving beyond what we will call “common content” the next subject is higher on the echelon of quality. The previous may eschew the scientific or anecdotal details for hype words and aesthetic appeal, a quality in its own way. (It is assumed those magazines and sites are bought or visited in large part for the pictures anyways.) Things such as essays, books, and certification courses provide the consumer with more complete concepts surrounding fitness. Whether this be scientific understanding, if not understanding at least providing complete evidence; or reliable, clearly communicated, and honest anecdotal details. The error here is to fall back on identifying completeness with quality. Whereas completeness matters when misrepresentation is at stake, completeness matters far less when it stands to cloud consumer understanding; or otherwise mystify them about some fitness topic. A problem seen with “professional content”.

This “professional content” as it will be called, is so for a few reasons; some follow. The first is that the more dedicated, educated, and experienced individual tends to create this sort of information. People like this may write articles or film videos, even frequently, and when they do so it tends to be the cream of the crop. Packaged, at the very least, with bookends of letter scramble after their name and one or two references at the end of the brief article. But the majority who create “common content”, even of good quality, will not move onto create professional content. This is obvious because harder ventures are undertaken less frequently. Writing books, most would agree, is more difficult than writing articles. But again, not all things are equal and so the consumer must remain judgmental, situationally applying quality assessment even when learning new professional content. A long book detailing how one went from fat to fit is hardly a quality book if the author omits their gastric bypass surgery. Similarly, is the exercise scientist who fudges the numbers to prove a bias or conform to professional peer pressure. The lesson paragraphs before echoes here – Do not be fooled by packaging. Amazing transformations, fantastical abstracts, inspiring stories of success, a litany of graphs, charts, and references; these things are the professional’s packaging. Determining true professional content is hard to do. 

That does not mean though that these things are without purpose or use. Take for example a graph, its purpose is to communicate visually the results of an observance by the author. These can be tremendously helpful to the reader, thus improving quality of the content. But should that neatly presented package, the graph, contain information of little practical application or, worse yet, incorrect within the context of its use, is the product itself then of good quality to the consumer? Surely not. An example: Prilepin’s Chart, a commonly referenced guide for volume and intensity. A decades old analysis of Soviet era weightlifters. How applicable is this to the common fitness enthusiast with only one to two years of experience, who may resistance train as a hobby just three or four days a week, alongside cardiovascular activities like cycling, perhaps intramural sports such as softball? Clearly the guidelines set forth by Prilepin should have little impact on the training plans of this individual.
Grandma has PTSD from the time you made her do squats.

This does not mean the chart itself is of poor quality, rather its qualities are not properly suited for this consumer in its entirety. The inapplicable portions waste. Here of space and time. As the creator knows, or should know, the lack of applicability to the desired customer fills space that could otherwise hold more beneficial information; or not exist at all. Consumers of fitness content, already indoctrinated with brevity, soon begin recognizing wastes of their time. Information they cannot apply physically tends to fall within this consideration. This initiates a crisis of creativity because a creator of fitness content may seek out science to build upon seeing it as a just means to reinforce their authority; the professional majority’s chosen quality standard. This method fails to produce quality content when constructed improperly due to lack of true creator knowledge and understanding of their basis. Quality disappointment occurs when such basis is contrived upon false knowledge of the evidence or intentional perversion of it to fit creative needs, rather than the consumer’s own productive needs. In cases like this the packaging of science resonates poorly. This could be due to the creator’s poor inspection of elements and construction of the whole, or simply that particular reader is not convinced or motivated by such a basis. Which is another reason why fitness content creators also rely upon the anecdotal.

Just as with science, misrepresentations of anecdotal evidence as a creative basis for fitness content exists. Probably in the greatest quantities. Once again, the creator of content is seeking out a means to reinforce their authority, this time appeals to emotion are used instead of appeals to scientific faith. The anecdotal fitness evidence is manifested in a myriad of ways. From client weight loss stories to fanciful tales of personal struggle and glorified victories. The creator of such content intends to convince their customer that they can have the same results and to trust in the creator, because they have done hard things.

Should individual progress be the heaviest measure when considering quality of information? No. It is tied to ego and both the creator of information and the person who puts it to use are invested in preventing waste of their mental and physical efforts. At best let is serve as a window of possibilities. Proper use of anecdotal convincing requires a greater amount of space and time to communicate for its details cannot be exactly expressed. Rather they must be voiced by means of storytelling, using analogy and contextual references in order to frame the consumers understanding. Without it, the content is incomplete, thus reducing its quality. Undertaking reliance upon mostly, or solely, anecdotal evidence in today’s fitness content market is a foolish endeavor. This is because even in “professional content” brevity and succinctness are a valued trait, and so science, with its definite terms makes brevity within this context easier.

Present still is brevity, a characteristic broadly undermining fitness. Anecdotal evidence tells the story of individual differences and how one came to surmount these obstacles in the achievement of their goals. Without it, intangible lessons of personal fortitude and creativity are absent; persuasion towards motivation and inspiration.

Creators use one or both, science and anecdotal, as a means to make good quality content as well as authority progression; a quality inherent to all their creations. What readers must understand is that individual creator authority does not guarantee the quality of their individual products. Rather it should serve as a form of packaging. To this many fall victim: Applying creator authority as the primary quality concern rather than assess quality across their individual creations piece by piece. Such persons might be unknowingly trapped in a cult of personality bolstered by today’s social media driven professional ecosystem.

I'm over the top. That means I know what I'm talking about.

A professional can be a wealth of information, yet are only able to effectively communicate it in writing, underperforming as a speaker at seminars for example. Someone buys their book and months later pays hundreds of dollars to attend the author’s training seminar, leaving it dissatisfied. Maybe only in the presenter, perhaps too in the content, or the creator themselves. What effect does this perception have on quality thereafter, in all present?

This is a reminder to always determine information quality like food, by the bite, rather than from looking at the menu or even smelling it from across the table. Like food, fitness content must be interacted with in order to fully observe quality. Looking at a steak one cannot determine its quality. One must bite, chew, pulverize, and transfer the steak across the tongue. Taking time to savor its taste in order to determine a portion of quality. Other experiences wholly separate from taste, like texture, providing their own unique quality input. Similar is the consumption of fitness information. Its quality taking variable time to assess; but many things taste like they look. A nibble is often sufficient.

Professional content relies much more upon creator authority because it takes more time to create and consume. Their authority an investment of time to develop. Starting first with their ability to achieve and source quality bookends. Themselves sacrificing brevity to do so. A risk to the creator undertaken as a gift of brevity to their consumer. High quality fitness content of this nature requires immense amounts of time to create as it relies upon both story telling of anecdotal information as well as the breakdown into finer parts whatever science used in furtherance of consumer understanding. Thus resulting in the desired content quality from the creator. Whoever takes this in, via word, video, or lecture, has the responsibility of fully determining quality themselves. Each method of information creation having unto itself specific notions of quality.

Those attending seminars and reading books want to know their commitment of time, sacrificing their own brevity, will result in higher quality information earned. This is not always the case, but consumers still eagerly implement and proselytize fitness protocols hoping to achieve a sense of self despite whatever waste of time it may have actually been. Trust is not in the content, not of the product so to speak. The expedited trust resulting from the professional content packaging. Be wary of the effects this can have on quality perceptions. Contemplate greatly personality and appearance in a personal setting like a seminar for example. How have those things affected the quality assessment of the information given?

Further consider the surface impact of footnotes or references in professional content. This information is more detailed and separate from the source at hand. Its true applicability, and thus quality, must be gone into further to comprehend. What these things do is present the image of quality to the consumer. One sees these things on the page, reference numbers and footnotes, and bothers not to examine them. Assuming that surely the author has and determined their proper value to their own creation, and so the consumer of the information takes quality for granted based upon the mere existence of a number. (1)

Understand this – that robs one of gaining greater quality from that content! Do not be the reader who makes these things into packaging, for if the creator is truly the cream of the crop, then that was not the intended purpose. The purpose is to further improve the quality of the product one is interacting with. Recall that fitness information, like food, must be appreciated over a period of time to accurately understand quality. As one takes in professional content do so wholly to improve satisfaction. Satisfaction applied to fitness implies physical reward. Motivation enough to begin this practice if not already doing so.

"Dear diary, today I realized not a single citation in all of last week's 
reading made a difference to my squat. It was crushing. Why has the Lord
cursed me with everlasting weakness?"

Assume there existed a fitness content creator who used footnotes maliciously, knowing their inapplicability or inappropriateness to the content being made? To wow, amaze, or mystify the reader; Danielewskian in a sense. Using these things primarily to fortify perceptions of authority rather than provide information clarity. Hoping the consumer treats these things as packaging like they did themselves. Relying upon a false aesthetic to attain quality fulfilment. Readers may be surprised to learn that some content creators rely upon this manner of deception. Using these perceptions of quality to bolster authority. What a disaster it would be if the majority of consumers treated these things the same, as packaging. In such an environment quality dies. Being drowned out in an oversaturated market of content built upon incomplete and manipulated information.

When consumers of fitness content choose to make foot notes and references, whether to scientific or anecdotal resources, into packaging, the creators of such content see the allure of an easier route. True for both common and professional content. Questioning their motives, thinking, why take the time to vet these studies when most of my readers wont? Like brevity earlier this is a pitfall to avoid. Luckily when one avoids brevity they participate in combating the spread of such fitness content and hinder the professionalization of these individuals in the fitness environment.

But suppose now the consumers of such manipulated, incomplete, or otherwise determined low-quality content take in that information faithfully and produce results, is it after some chewing on, of quality? It could be argued that yes, this information is of quality ex post facto. Is not much of exercise science today proving what was effective decades ago? Maybe not the whole truth, but a large part of it. Here one must look back and determine the basis factors that resulted in their fitness progress? Was it faith and effort upon the information gleaned or was the creator truly ahead of their time? What studies are created out of a need to prove those efforts of lifters, bodybuilders, runners, cyclists, etc., whose claims have been clung to and now warrant examination? The results feasibly predetermined by training bias held by the scientists themselves. After all, who makes such a scientific field their profession without being actively involved in fitness personally? Few, if any.

Does it matter? The corruption of evidence, or creation of it, as a means to yield results if those results are in fact produced? Maybe so if differences in rate of progress could be made; individual differences would make this a substantial task. But should a person confess that they enjoyed the “unfounded” training means towards their goal more – what of the information then? The lesson here is that single factor quality assessments are near useless. Relying upon bookends of authority or just one or two means to evaluate quality of content is utterly incomplete. Many readers already placing far too much weight upon creator bookends and other forms of packaging.

     Sure there may be a better way.
But what if he just likes this stupid shit? 

Some choose to practice fitness for philosophic or emotive reasons, the execution of effort reflecting their underlying motivations. This commonly categorized within the anecdotal. A person driven by emotion may benefit less from scientifically based content, yet only find that content in today’s market. Walking in hand is the creator of that content, finding themselves limited because the professionals who came before too narrowly defined the path. Their unique content’s quality impacted due to a stale knowledge environment of which they had no part in constructing. Some creators find comfort in today’s limited environment, like prisoners do after a while, because considering broad terms invites the unknown. Frightening to a person whose authority is almost entirely dependent upon what they know. Admitting lack of knowledge diminishes this and so content creators skittishly venture into areas of information that may benefit them; whether by resource or inspiration. From this fear consumers develop the belief that only things conveniently summed ought to be trusted.

Should a mother trust in science, or faith, when needing the strength to rescue her children? What study should she refer to before sprinting into a burning building to drag them out, far surpassing any physical effort she has ever performed? Why, not too long ago, was a 900-pound deadlift almost unheard of when the record now stands over 100 pounds heavier today? Did that progress in human potential manifest from an improvement in factual training basis, technology, or something intangible? The cause of such improvement immeasurable as it is a combination of each. Are people fools if their exercise protocols are not based in facts, perhaps comprised more of philosophic justifications than the scientific? If fools, at what point should one quality consideration take priority over the others? Remove the emotive from Eddie Hall’s record 500-kilogram deadlift and what remains? Without that quality, emotive, not even the man himself. 

Now coming into focus is the limiting atmosphere of fitness content today. Its waste of human physical potential, unknown.


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