The fitness field is funny.
Not as in laugh out loud – at least not intentionally – but funny in a “is this dude serious or just sort of mentally challenged” kind of way.
The reasons are many, which I hope to cover soon in an actual article. But in this blog, I want to address the current industry darling, The Guru.
I have a soft spot for gurus, save for the all-out hucksters and scammers, as you can’t sail the turbulent waters of the fitness industry without brushing up against a few.
That and because gurus are as big a part of the biz as protein powder and narcissism.
Gurus have been around since the start of the whole damn show. Go back 200 years and I guarantee some lumberjack in Vladivostok was charging three goats to show you how to build bigger arms by lowering logs for 30 seconds.
In the bodybuilding world, the original guru was Vince Gironda.
While Vince was certainly a character and proven to be wrong about a few things, he was right about a lot too, which is why his book The Wild Physique is never too far from my desk.
If you’re performing 6 sets of 6 reps with 30 seconds rest, then pour out some protein for old Vince — that was one of his favorites. On the other hand, if you believe squats are useless for building bigger legs you can trace that back to him too.
Today there are strength gurus, nutrition gurus, functional gurus, fat loss gurus, movement gurus, business building gurus, writing gurus, drug gurus, and even holistic gurus, whom I just discovered today and still don’t fully understand what they do.
The lifecycle of a guru is a lot like that of a star.
Not the kind spilling out of limos on Sunset Boulevard wearing a miniskirt and no underwear — as in the celestial variety.
A star starts off as a mere a nebula, a cloud of gas and dust. Gurus also have humble beginnings, often from very little except being confident and passionate about their particular corner of health and fitness.
They tend to have either charisma for days or the opposite – personalities so bizarre and off-putting that you can’t help but be morbidly interested.
Nebulae eventually become beautiful stars, like the one giving life to our planet. And in the guru context, that’s when they’ve reached the peak of their usefulness.
When good gurus stick to what they know (or at least have experience in), they can push the boundaries and even do groundbreaking work along the way.
Even the best ones aren’t right about everything – is anyone? – but a bodybuilding guru who spends 40 years helping guys lose fat will eventually figure out a lot about it.
It only makes sense — spend your entire professional life obsessing about any endeavor and you’ll probably get pretty awesome at it too.
But when a star gets really bright it becomes a red giant, which is the beginning of the end. Cause it’s already on the downward spiral towards being a barely detectable white dwarf.
A fitness guru’s “red giant moment” is when they start to believe that guru-dom in one area makes them a guru in another “sorta related but not remotely the same” field.
I can get guys strong? Then I can also align their chakras.
I can get girls lean? Then I can also fix their relationships.
I can write engaging blog posts? Then I can coach people.
It’s a big mistake.
Since they lack the necessary education and experience in this new territory, they usually get their ass-beaten — by scientists or (ironically enough) by the resident gurus already there holding court.
The slip also costs the guru credibility in their original realm, with only the really talented able to return and re-invent themselves and stay relevant.
Such is the cycle of guru-dom – every one is just a poor decision away from flaming out and fading away.
So I don’t get put off by gurus.
I find them interesting. Even the clowns. Because the better gurus devote their lives to the nuances of a subject that would bore the average person in the time it takes to make Minute Rice.
The fact that they’re often totally, completely wrong so much of the time is just part of the deal. It’s what makes a guru, a guru.
In the end it’s on you to school yourself.
To build your own cache of knowledge, both educational and experiential. That way you can confidently mingle with the gurus and explore things with an open mind and a sense of playful curiosity, without getting annoyed or bamboozled by a monsoon of mysticism and bullshit.
Learn the facts, but then keep an open mind.
Absorb what’s useful, ignore the rest.