On Health and Fitness Role Models

I have been thinking about the different types of health and fitness role models. These are the people who we look to for education and inspiration when we decide to improve our health. Before I started digging deep into health and fitness, I only had two role models, which I picked based off their height and physique. Boxer Evander Holyfield and surfer Laird Hamilton were in great shape and the same height as me, so I hung their photos in my home gym.


Laird Hamilton

Now I can recognize 4 types of health and fitness role models. We can get into trouble when we expect one role model to have all the answers and of course when we listen to the wrong people.

#1 Your Ideal Physique

Holyfield and Hamilton weren’t selling me a fitness program, they were just great athletes in the shape they needed to be to excel at their sports. Today we have no shortage of ripped and buff fitness professionals selling different programs. This is a powerful way to sell program, but I’ve become numb to this type of role model for a few reasons.

If someone is ripped, I don’t know if they got that way using the program or diet they are promoting or if they’ve always been athletic. Paleo loves to promote Mark Sisson and Art De Vany as role models, but both were professional athletes long before they put down the bread. Sisson finished 4th in the Ironman back in his pre-Paleo days and De Vany played minor league baseball. Neither ever got out of shape.

Now it possible the health of these men would have collapsed had they not adopted their Paleo diet. My hunch is both men would thrive on a variety of diets.

Almost all fitness role models have either never been out of shape or are young.

#2 Successful Client List

A better, but still flawed, metric is if that health professional has a full client list. The reason it is flawed is because many in the elite training camp are using selection bias and survivorship bias in their favor. If you are working with sports teams, the military and law enforcement, then you have the deck stacked in your favor. The fact Pavel or Mark Lauren train elite military units doesn’t impress me. These guys are already some of the most physically fit and mentally tough people on the planet.

When looking at client list, I am more impressed with those who are getting results with more difficult cases. Getting a 25 year male in shape doesn’t impress me. Getting a 50 year old office worker to drop 50 pounds and keep it off is far more impressive.

#3 Great Researcher

Some people are best when they are digging through the research. They might be in great shape themselves or have clients or maybe not. They write books or blogs. I wish I had the secret to picking who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. I’ve learned not to be too invested in any single thesis. I’m also free to abandon ideas that are wrong.

One thing I have noticed when researchers attack each other is to pay attention to the tone of the conversation. I may not understand the details of a health study, but when I see someone respond to a professional critique with a personal attack, I know their argument is likely weaker. If you want to witness this, follow @CarbSane on Twitter. She points out errors to the authors of many nutritional books. Most either ignore her, ask for her credentials or attack her motives. Few respond to the actual point raised. If the science is on your side, there is no need to attack your critic with anything other than the research itself.


Nina Teicholz author of Big Fat Surprise doesn’t like having her errors pointed out. 

#4 Average Person on a Journey

This would be the blogger who posts about their health journey in a way that inspires others to make a change. This could be good or bad. You don’t know. Using this blog as an example, I still think most of my cooking posts have value, especially the ones with comments sharing how the recipe was loved by the entire family. But I also have a post about doing cold water exposure in Puget Sound. Someone could have gotten seriously hurt had that post inspired them.

Picking Role Models

These days I don’t consider myself as having any health and fitness role models. I like a lot of bloggers and authors, but I don’t see any one of them as having all the answers.


Add yours

  1. I think there should be a subcategory or disclaimer for categories 1 and 2. Many role models have or still do use steroids, etc which can compensate for a lot of shortcomings in their diet/training.

    As a teenager, I got a lot of bad advice from a bodybuilder who almost certainly had found a way to enhance his body’s muscle building potential despite serving in the military. Since he understandably didn’t want to advertise the fact that he wasn’t all natural, his advice was completely inappropriate for my situation.

  2. I think an important question to ask always is, “what are they trying to sell me?” #4 usually isn’t selling you anything other than they want you to encourage them on their journey. #3 might be trying to sell you knowledge in the form of a book or subscription. #1 & #2 are almost always trying to sell you something… which is fine to certain extent. But it’s just something to keep in mind. Is their program healthy/safe or are they just trying to promote a product?

  3. Mansal Denton

    Apr 8, 2015 — 3:36 pm

    “#2 Successful Client List”

    The one thing that comes to mind with this point is the guy who runs CrossFit (as it is a private organization). It’s hilarious to see how many people consider CrossFit the epitome of physical fitness and the owner (Greg Glassman – I just looked him up) is not in shape at all.

    Hope all is well, my friend!

  4. @Aaron – Great point. I have no idea how much that plays a role, but I’m sure it does with some.

    @Rebecca – People that do take the time to become experts in their field still need to pay the rent, so I don’t think less of a health/fitness professional that is trying to sell me something. It depends on what is being peddled. Mark Sisson is selling Primal Blueprint Certifications for $995 (not a typo), whereas Matt Stone sells a lot of his books and his authors for 99 cents. I think highly of Matt and not Mark.

    @Mansal – I better not say anything bad about CultFit or I might get sued. 🙁

  5. @MAS – I completely agree. We all gotta pay the rent! Just depends on what they are trying to sell 🙂

  6. Great post. But I wonder if, after I gain 45 lbs of lean mass, I could bring more people into the fitness world without violating any of these points.

  7. @Arthur – That would be a good problem to have. If you gain 45# of lean muscle, you will have 500 fans for every skeptic. People love results. There are only a handful of people like me that will question the path used to achieve those results.

  8. The reason Pavel doesn’t impress you is probably the reason a majority of my workouts revolve around his protocols. It’s my career field. Different strokes different folks. Just recently came across your website. Good stuff. I enjoy reading PT blogs with an open mind.

  9. @Jeff – I did not say Pavel does not impress me. What I said was the fact he trains elite military units doesn’t impress me.

    Building a successful client list with the athletic and genetically gifted doesn’t tell me much. The elite will respond to many forms of training and recover faster than the average person.

  10. @ MAS
    My sentence was worded incorrectly. Your clarification was what I meant to say.

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