Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The times they may be a-changing!

The Bullshit Backlash

I watched as we moved from a period of honesty in publishing in the period leading up to the start of the 21st century, to a period post 2000 AD where the bullshit in our industry grew exponentially. You didn’t need real world experience. You didn’t need measurable results in success of your trade. You just needed the desire to be perceived as ‘one of the great ones’, skill marketing and a loose moral compass.

And there were no shortage of people who fit this description that put up their hands during the decade post 2000’s, and rode this wave of content aimed to fulfil the needs of the seller, not the needs of the buyer.

Authors rode the wave. Publishers rode the wave. Equipment manufacturers and distributors rode the wave. Organizations turned a blind eye.

I become so moved by this trend that I wrote a book about it – Barbells and Bullshit, published 2010. I wanted to draw attention to what I believed was an undesirable trend. But I am only one person – what difference can I make? And for a while I thought I was the only person who was seeing this, concerned by it, and willing to take a stand against it.

Then I came upon this statement:

“I’d rather sell nothing than sell crap.”

The writer was Phil Stevens (1) and he had my attention. I thought – there are two of us!

Then I learnt more about his initiative:

This site from conception to completion is built out of a collective disdain for the useless drivel and backstabbing that is all too prevalent in the strength and fitness industry today. From that foundation Strength Guild sought out and collected a core group of the best like minded coaches, athletes, and minds in the world of strength to gather under one roof. We endeavor to fight against all that is wrong in the industry today with the over abundance of fly-by-night experts and so-called guru’s that are in it for nothing but making a dollar anyway possible. We are a group of teachers and role models who have been there done that, under the bar, in the books, and with successful clients (themselves included) for over a century combined. We are a group of “No Bullshit” strength practitioners that are here to teach the craft of strength…(2)

Then I thought – there are more than just the two of us!

Imagine that! What if there are even more people out there who feel what’s happening is not right – that there is a better way. And who are willing to make a stand, even if only in the way they invest their hard earned cash!

That’s an exciting possibility!

Naming the decades

I called the 80’s ‘The Decade of Aerobics’, the 90’s ‘The Decade of Strength’, and the 2000s ‘The Decade of Bullshit’. What will the 2010’s be know for? The revolution, the ‘Decade of the Backlash against Bullshit’?

The question is no longer will there be a backlash, or will people stand up against this trend. The question will be when we will reach the tipping point, the point at which the majority of individuals, companies and organizations choose to comply – not because they want to, but because the decisions of the masses in their individual purchasing decisions force this change.

Will the tipping point be reached during this decade? Or will this take longer? If so, how long? To answer these questions I have gone on a trip through history.

The myths surrounding the fall of the once great Roman Empire during the first 500 years AD focus on the “the gradual disintegration of the political, economic, military, and other social institutions of Rome”(3) . This has been perhaps the most famous example of social change in our recorded history.

One of the great examples in our recent history that draws me to compare to the ‘fall of Rome’ was the rise post 2000 AD of the ‘fat loss guru’. I conclude that our society is so decadent that the most pressing need of the masses is to lower body fat. One third of the world starves, yet those in the industrialized western world eat too much. And those seeking to take the profit from this misguided notion have put their hand up. Buy my book – only then will be able to turn on your after-burners. Only when you do my special combination exercise circuit (like what the US company Universal promoted in the 1970s!) will you succeed. Only when you take my special metabolism raising supplement will you achieve your goals. No talk of the simple solution – eat better, eat less, move more, and read less main stream magazines written to condition you to believe you will be inadequate until you look like a (photo-shopped) Hollywood movie start.

I recommend you all watch the movie Wall-E – the message regarding the direction of society when it comes to food, exercise and human movement capabilities – so powerful.

However Rome took up to 320 years to unravel. Are social changes likely to occur more rapidly in current times? To answer this, I look at some of the significant human changes I have witnessed in my life time.

I first noticed the ‘green’ movement in the 1970s. Some suggest it began as early as 1907 (4). I never thought I would see the values of the ostracized ‘greenies’ of the 1960s and 1970s become mainstream. In the last few years, you can see the publicly-listed companies rush to release their ‘Green Policies’. Recycling is mainstream in waste management. Composting decomposable food is hip. I have been amazed at the rapidness of these changes. They have gone from being the values of hippies to the values of mainstream.

As a child in the 1960s, I recall my father writing a letter to the then owner of one of the two largest airlines in Australia, suggesting that cigarette smoking should be banned on flights. You can imagine the answer. Anyway, if he was one of the first to raise this, then you can say this change occurred, which occurred in 1987 on Australian domestic flights – took about 20 years. The tobacco companies and their shareholders had significant power and influence, and may have been able to delay these changes for some time – but not forever.

These are two significant changes in social values that I have witnessed in my life time. I believe the changes are occurring at a fast rate. Now the 320 year period for Rome to implode covered all aspects of society – economics, government etc.

So perhaps in the broader sense, there is much work to be done, much change yet to occur. But in a micro-sense, I will be watching with personal interest how rapid the changes are in the culture of the sport and fitness industry.

In the short term I can see a division – between those who wish to cling to the ‘New Rules of the 2000’s’ – and those who wish to apply the possible ‘New Rules of the 2010s’. Those who chose to cling to last decades values will surely put up a good fight. A fight that may have begun. (5)

The resistance to change

During the 1980s and 1990s there were a few dominant values and beliefs that I decided to challenge, and with success in practical application. I then chose to share my real-world experiments and their conclusions through my seminars and published works late in the 1990s.

This information was not always well received. In one seminar, during the morning of the one of these seminars in Boston MA, an apparent local identity (who I had never heard of before) gathered his colleagues, and stormed out of the seminar. Later that person wrote an email to the seminar host threatening the ramifications for that person should they foolishly decide to host me again. Needless to say, they never did. Ironically the very content I presented in that seminar has been the backbone of this person’s publishing in the decade to follow, and in that time I didn’t see one reference to the source.

In other seminars those planning to attend were directed not to. In other cases some were rung by an out of state police officer assuring them that if they attended they would be arrested. Seminar hosts were told if they were to receive any packages in the mail from me, they would be arrested for this. Great imagination was applied, and due the gullibility of many, the registration withdrawals were many.

Not everyone’s going to be happy if more of the masses shift towards honesty and integrity. They are enjoying the current situation too much – where a low-educated, highly gullible market will believe it if you write or say it, and buy and do anything with a little marketing conditioning. Right now the truth and integrity way is sought to be crushed in the desert like the early electric cars, so we don’t threaten sales and the status quo that was established during the ‘Decade of the Bullshitter’ – in the same way electric cars in the 1970s were perceived as a threat to the sale of oil and gasoline.

The New Rules

Let’s take a look at what I call the ‘New Rules of the 2000s’ – and what I believe may be the ‘New Rules of the 2010s’. At worst, call me an optimist.

Note some of the ‘New Rules of the 2000-2010 Decade’ are not just my observations – some of them are quotes reflecting the accepted values of that period.


“It's OK to tell a lie if you know that it's a lie... Once a personal trainer or performance specialist knows the truth then, they can tell a little white lie to make the sale or to get the client on board. The key to selling fitness lies (clever play on words) in knowing the truth but, also knowing when to lie.” (5)

It’s not okay to tell a lie. Tell the truth. No matter if there is a sale or anything else at stake.


”Steal. Steal and modify. It's not "cheating" to use the experiences of others to better yourself.” (7)

It is cheating to use other people’s works to promote and benefit from. That is not acceptable.


“Steal. Steal and modify.” (8)

Stealing is not acceptable.


None needed – just put ‘coach’ before your name, or otherwise hide behind your keyboard

You need to have succeeded in the area and at the level you wish to teach others. Not just claim it. Really.


Use names to create market association, create reciprocal endorsement, and cover over copying.

Use names if they are relevant to the message.


Open book publishing – open someone else’s book and copy it. Put your name and the front, claim copyright and sell it as your own.

Publish only from your own experiences, original, truthful material worthy of being presented to others.


At any cost. No rules. No guidelines.

Only when it can be done with others interest put first and within the moral bounds of this new era.


Sell anything. If you think there is a demand, sell whatever is in demand. If there isn’t a demand, create it.

Sell only when and to whom it will benefit, without lies and exaggerations of the benefits of the product/service.

Not if but when

The only question is how long will the change take?

How long will it before internet and hard copy publishers cease to publish content by people who in my opinion are simply demonstrating their left brain knowledge or their creative imaginations. When we stop reading about how to get big arms by people who have never had them. Or how to get big and strong by people who have never been big and strong. Or how to get lean by people who have never been lean. Or the keys to athletic success by personal trainers who failed to find them for themselves? Or the promotion of products for the sake of a profit?

The key to change will be people power. I noted with interest the commentator in the highly recommend movie Food Inc. comment that the big corporations don’t change because they suddenly find morals – for the most part the change is consumer led. When enough people reject label deficient genetically-modified foods and demand organic foods instead, then the major companies find the motivation to join this consumer led trend towards healthier eating.

The Iron Game Woodstock

There were a few events that defined history and marked the beginning of a new era. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in 1989 are great examples of this. And the event known as ‘Woodstock’ is another. Here’s a description of that event:

“From August 15-18, 1969, 500000 young people from across the United States converged on Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.” (9)

Woodstock was the iconic event that heralded in people power and social change in many areas.

No-one expected these numbers to attend Woodstock. They planned for 50,000. They got 500,000!

In 21-22 June2011 – perhaps we are going to have such an event when the StrengthGuild.com annual get-together takes place. An event that triggers a longer lasting greater impact.


I am under no illusions that the change to our world and sport/fitness industry towards one of greater integrity will be quick or easy. Coning from a long line of previous life warriors, I am up for the fight. I hope that you will join us in this crusade.

It would be fitting to end with lyrics modified from a song considered to be the flag-ship song of the social change, by Bob Dylan.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you train
And admit that the bullshit
Around you has grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be dumbed-down to the bone.
If your training to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start standing up to it
Or you'll drown in the shit
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and publishers
Who bullshit with your keyboard
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't bother throwing stones
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the honest ones now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.
Come manufactures, distributors
Please heed the call
Don't stand on the platform
Don't block up the gym
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your barbell
And rattle your kettle-bell
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come internet site owners
Throughout the world
And don't criticize
That you can't understand
Your clients and customers
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly changin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The honest one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the bullshitter now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

--Modified from the Bob Dylan classic, ‘The times they are a-changing’

(1) http://Philstevens.com
(2) http://strengthguild.com/blog/?page_id=2
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline...e_Roman_Empire
(4) http://webecoist.com/2008/08/17/a-br...reen-movement/
(5) http://bit.ly/dGOEOj
(6) Boyle, M., 2006, Telling lies in America, strengthcoach.com
(7) Cosgrove, A., 2006, Developing a Training Philosophy, T-mag.com, Wed, Nov 22, 2006
(8) Cosgrove, A., 2006, Developing a Training Philosophy, T-mag.com, Wed, Nov 22, 2006
(9) http://bit.ly/gykwPT

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More thoughts from readers response to 'Barbells & Bullshit' book....

This is an extension of my recent post about a reader of the Barbells & Bullshit book:

Hi Ian, Thank you for giving me an insight into the impact on you and your legacy of the plagiarism. When you talk of the impact on your children and their children I can't help but be stunned by how rare this long, long-term thinking is expressed in our society; I certainly do not think in such terms myself. Whether I should is something for me to ponder.

You raise 2 important questions that I feel I must respond to:

1. Is this behaviour, including the way the industry has responded to it, the start of a new era, or the extreme acts at the end of an era of social morality?

2. Is this behaviour US centric or global? Are we seeing the extension of the US corporate and cultural traits of 'if it's not oral, its not immoral? It's only wrong if you don't get caught? Or in this case as it appears, it's only wrong if you get convicted?

I think about these issues myself from time to time but with regard to other societal issues, eg: the slow devaluation of marriage; high divorce rates; the proliferation of single-parent households; the ubiquity of irresponsible parents (and children), and adults in general. To me these are all moral issues. I believe the plagiarism you have endured is part of some very long-term societal trends that are much bigger than our lifetimes.

As I'm a trained economist, I always start my social analysis from there and then move outwards to other social sciences. A good economist will tell you that when the price of something goes down, the demand for that thing goes up, all else being equal. Ice creams, crime and immoral behaviour are all the same in this respect. Think about what has happened to the price of publishing since the printing press was invented (about 1500, I think). It has gone down a lot. Once only monks and scholars published anything; and it was all done by hand. Now this small group probably had very high morals due to their education and environment. Even so, plagiarism and lies still occurred amongst them.

With every technological advance that reduced the cost of publishing, the proportion of the population who could (write and) publish increased. What do you think happened to the average morals of the publishing population over time; it went down. So more plagiarism occurred, more deviant behaviour was published, more lies were published (I'm focussing on the negative stuff here and ignoring the positive effects of lower costs of publishing). Fast-forward to the advent of the internet. I think we can now accurately say that anyone can publish, eg, see the explosion of the keyboard warriors.

So to me, xxxx's behaviour is the continuation of a long-term trend and he is the expression of furthest movement along the moral-immoral continuum in the 'fitness' industry. So I don't see it as "the start of a new era". But it may well be "the extreme acts at the end of an era of social morality". Because how much longer can morality continue to fall or stay at the current low level before our society starts to crumble? Depressingly, it's also possible that we have long way to fall further and I underestimate the resilience of our social systems.

There are many other examples of technological advancement negatively affecting human behaviour (eg, lowering moral standards). This, I believe, is our biggest moral challenge: managing new technology in a morally acceptable way, and those morals must be absolute not relative. Moral relativity has been the outcome of technological advancement.

So is "this behaviour US centric or global?" I believe it's happening everywhere but it's positively related to the level of technological advancement. Where is technology king? The US. So I think that's where the worst expressions of the "it's ok steal other people's ideas" mentality exist. There are also some other US cultural traits that further increase the likelihood of this behaviour, ie, the positivity and enthusiasm of Americans, in general.

Taking a normative (prescriptive) view, how do you as a publisher deal with and minimise the impact on you of the xxxxx in this world? I see only 2 avenues. ……You may already be doing or considering doing these things. These are the only ways I see of dealing with this phenomenon. Of course, when I go and train at my local martial arts club I see that the people there have some other ideas about dealing with these types of challenges...
Good luck, --G

G - I value the exchange, especially with an individual who is involved in and passionate about the strength sports and not a professional in the industry - probably enjoy this more than exchanging with those who are so called professionals!

As I also did a major in sociology at university I too value and enjoy reflections on social directions, and enjoy economist analysis and demographic insights.

I share your conclusions also:

"the extreme acts at the end of an era of social morality". Because how much longer can morality continue to fall or stay at the current low level before our society starts to crumble?"

And your conclusion that we are not necessarily at the bottom

Also agree with our thoughts re US centric or global and the potential for this behaviour in US culture


"making it known that this is happening and who is turning a blind eye."

I have extensive plans to do just this, right down to a full book on this topic.

So you and I are sharing same thoughts here!!

Re. "some other ideas about dealing with these types of' - belive me this thought has crossed my mind also!!

Ian King

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Readers response to Barbells & Bullshit (book)

I received this feedback recently and responded. It's great to have genuine people reach out and offer their support:

Hi Ian, I've just read your Barbells &... book. I did so with a mixture of sadness and anger. While xxxx had made me aware of the plagiarism of your work that had occurred, it was quite shocking to read about the extent of it, over and over and.... I offer my moral support. On a positive note, I did find the book important in showing the social conditioning pressures we all face and the inconsistent application of the scientific method by scientists; so thanks for that.  Best wishes for 2011,

Thanks G - yes, now you know that xxx was not exaggerating. It has been very unpleasant to see the extent that my material, developed over the last 30+ years, from literally days and nights in the hot sun and pouring rain, in snow, earthquakes and blizzards, in many different countries, in many different environments and cultures, has been raped and pillaged,.

One of the great tragedies in my opinion in the impact on my children and their children's children, that the theft of the legacy of this material may have on them. I have a big focus on life legacy, and I feel my kids and their children's children have been stolen from as much if not more than I. They are aware of what is going on but at their tender age, it is unlikely they grasp the full long term implications.

It also provides me with many questions that I seek to answer. I am giving reflection to questions such as:

1. Is this behaviour, including the way the industry has responded to it, the start of a new era, or the extreme acts at the end of an era of social morality?

2. Is this behaviour US centric or global? Are we seeing the extension of the US corporate and cultural traits of 'if it's not oral, its not immoral?' It's only wrong if you don't get caught? Or in this case as it appears, it's only wrong if you get convicted?

Many interesting questions.

I personally never expected to see the level of 'behaviour' in anyone as that I have encountered in this 'case', so it has been a real eye opener about the breadth and width of human integrity. It has also been eye opening as to who is prepared to stand up against to this kind of behaviour and who, for various reasons from lethargy to protection of personal benefits, would prefer to turn a blind eye or pretend it didn't happen.

This has been a true life lesson, one that I intend to share in full in the years to come. I will also be preparing a 'report card' on the integrity test that has been placed in front of the individuals, businesses and organizations to whom I have laid this moral dilemma in front of. They have all been in a position to take a stand and fold.  Some who I didn't really expect to take a strong stance have done so, and some who I expected would take a strong stance, have not. The report card will show each entities response. To date, the report card would not please a mother.

Appreciate your thoughts and support.

Great to hear you got value from the book in general. It was certainly a unique book with heaps of real world material! I do expect that in future generations the life lessons unfolded in my writings regarding every aspect of athletic and physical preparation will continue to serve and grown in their value to the world.
--Ian King