How Not To Be An Arrogant Prick

By Scott Paltos

The fitness industry is stacked, end to end, with “geniuses.” The trouble with geniuses, however, is that they don’t always have enough self-awareness to keep their egos proportionate to their influence. This, unfortunately, has turned many otherwise high-quality people into arrogant pricks—an attitude which, in many cases, is impossible to justify.

Fitness has been around forever, and we’ve always known about various forms of bodybuilding and strongman competitions, in addition to the countless fads with which we’ve been bombarded over the years. Now, however, the whole thing’s gone mainstream—with several highly-rated TV shows promoting “new” fitness trends and healthy ways of eating and living.

This unprecedented exposure, along with the fact that it’s so cheap to join—or even open—gyms, has made fitness accessible to exponentially more people than ever before. This, in turn, has transformed these trainers and nutritionists into celebrities, complete with their own cult followings who hang on their every word. Trouble is, when you cultivate this sort of mass devotion, it becomes very easy to consider yourself a genius—at which point you puff out your chest, wear all your polo shirts a size too small, apply some baby oil, and keep your arms permanently flexed and folded in case a random photo shoot breaks out.

This is where we run into problems, because although many of the people who’ve reached this level of success really are extremely intelligent—at least professionally—they don’t want to deal with you other than offering the occasional cookie-cutter article on the same tired mainstream websites. This is because you’re not big enough or important enough to offer them anything in return.

Why So Arrogant, Bro?

So why are people arrogant? Why do they become arrogant? I think it’s because they’ve never truly failed at anything. I’ve been fairly successful at several things over the course of my life. I’ve played in the NFL, I’ve experienced success in some CrossFit events, and I’ve managed to build a successful business. I’m proud of all of these things. At the same time, however, I can give you a list of failures that went even further than humbling me. They crushed me.

gamesSure, I spent some time in the NFL—but I got cut. And yes, I did reasonably well in CrossFit competitions, but guess what? I’ve never won anything. I’ve been a decent powerlifter and a decent strongman competitor, but I didn’t win, and I didn’t set any records. When you see someone inexplicably puffing out their chest, it’s a telltale sign that they’ve never experienced failure at what they do. I’ve learned the hard way that you need to understand the meaning of failure before you can ever succeed. That’s the true antidote to arrogance—the idea that there’s something else out there besides the easy, perfectly paved road you’re on.

Remember What it Took

Much of this is associated with the work it takes to become successful in the first place. When you reach the top of any industry, chances are you’ve had to work your ass off in order to get there—and fitness is no exception. There are loads of excellent trainers, coaches, and people in this business. What happens sometimes, however, is that people forget what it took to get them to that point. Instead of remembering what it was like to be an empty vessel, they opt for an elitist attitude because they’ve reached a point where they know more information than everyone else.

As a trainer, an athlete, and a business owner, I’m learning more and more every single day—but I’ll never know everything. I’m just not that smart, and knowing this breeds humility. There are benefits to being humble, though, because it opens up lines of communication with everyone you meet. As much as I’m capable of offering others in terms of my training knowledge, they can offer just as much back to me, albeit in different ways. You can learn something from anyone of any skill level. You just need to open your eyes and ears and be willing to receive it.

To Each His Own

The industry isn’t all bad, of course. Your choice of “guru” is always a matter of personal taste. If you want to read magazine articles by guys who wear tight polo shirts and will only agree to be photographed if they’ve done twenty push-ups to pump their arms up, you’re more than welcome to—although I’ll throw in the caveat that I don’t think that stuff is what this industry should be about.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of smart guys and girls out there, but some of them are capable of relating their subject matter better than others, simply because they’re more personable. I don’t think this has anything to do with your level of success or the amount of notoriety you’ve received. Either you can teach or you can’t—and if your information is valid, you’ll get yourself an audience who listens and cares.

When you’re trying to decide what to believe and who you want to listen to, you also need to be able to discern the difference between arrogance and the expert’s state of “busy.” If the way an authority answers your question rubs you the wrong way, your best bet is to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Most top trainers and nutritionists are busy working with their paying clients. What you’re mistaking for arrogance may just be the fact that the guy simply doesn’t have the time in his day to give you a detailed answer.

The Human Touch

I’m not a scientist. I don’t have a degree in exercise science, and I know there are lots of people out there who know more than I do on certain topics. What I know, I’ve learned through reading, certification programs, weekend clinics, and spending time with some of the best coaches in the world. More importantly, however, I’ve learned the vast majority of what I know from working with literally thousands of people on a daily basis over the past decade.

workingI’ve met scores of young trainers and coaches who aspire to be in-demand seminar speakers and internet gurus. This is a worthy goal because it can potentially help people—and, of course, there’s money in it—but too many of these guys forget the concept of actually working with people. You can’t lock yourself away, writing and lecturing all week as your full time job, without interacting with the people you’re purporting to help. You won’t get any better that way. You’ll only develop a particularly ugly strain of arrogance.

Has being honest and open about things—minus the arrogance—helped my business? Well, yes and no. We haven’t grown as fast as other facilities in our area, but that’s primarily because I don’t want a thousand people in my gym. What I do know is that people enjoy coming to my facility because I’m open about everything—and hopefully also because I don’t stick my chest out and tell them how much better I am than them.

Antiseptic Atmosphere

Part of my learning process has entailed spending time at some of the best training facilities in the world. What I’ve learned from doing this is that I’m not biased against the way certain people do business, as long as it’s working for their clients. Honestly, you can do whatever you want—and act in any way you want—as long as you’re providing your clients with the facility, the energy, and the attitude they need to get where they want to go.

When you walk into a pristine training facility where every trainer is wearing a polo shirt and acting like they’re carrying the codes to America’s nuclear missiles, don’t rush to judgment. Is this a great training environment? It might be, because maybe that’s the environment the people training there want. Is this what I like, personally? No, it’s not. That’ll never be me. When you walk into my facility, you’ll see shoes, belts, and chalk strewn everywhere. If a spotless facility with arrogant trainers gets results, however, they’re doing things right, relative to their own population.

Just a Phase

If arrogance turns you off, understand that fitness celebrity is a cyclical process. You build a cult following, you enjoy success for a while, and then you make room for the next big thing. I’m definitely not lumping him in with the arrogance crowd—he’s as far from them as it gets—but a good example of the fitness industry lifecycle is Paul Chek. For a long time, he was the leader of a huge population who hung on his every word, but for whatever reason—likely because he grew tired of it—that’s quieted down quite a bit in recent years.

The same can be said for Charles Staley, along with numerous others. All of these icons had major followings—and probably still maintain a portion of the audience they built—but they’ve fallen off the map a bit of late in terms of mainstream popularity. People peak, and then they disappear to make way for the next wave.

LouiesimmonsOne guy who’s seriously managed to stick around is Louie Simmons. He’s learned how to market himself, and he’s put out his share of new information, but what he really has going for him is depth. He’s not just a new idea guy. Louie’s principles are sound, they cut straight to the chase, and they’ve got traction—which is why he keeps coming back into vogue, cycle after cycle.

It’s not a bad thing when people come back into the limelight, even when they’re recycling the same information they’ve been pumping out for years. With some, you don’t see much variation in the main themes—but the advantage of this goes back to that whole fitness-as-mainstream concept: With more new people checking out the fitness industry every day, every piece of information out there will have new sets of eyes on it all the time, no matter how long it’s been around.

Go Deeper

In diametric opposition to this need for depth is the website that’s getting 50K hits per day because it’s been promoted well—or the trainer who publicizes some crazy and novel approach to a certain system, leading to his sudden coronation as the new king of strength training. People jump on these bandwagons, and things blow up solely on the strength of anecdotal evidence—along with good marketing. These people may not know a blessed thing, but they’re being promoted by an entire culture, they know how to sell themselves, and they get our attention.

Again, the key here is to look for depth of knowledge without falling headlong into that whole cult of personality trap. Sure, you can have a new idea—and sure, you can market it with slick packaging and cool music, but what else do you have? Do you have depth? Or are you brainwashed by your press clippings and acting like an arrogant jerk? That’s why true originals—the guys who have the requisite depth with what they’re trying to get across—will always be around. They’re not going anywhere.

What’s the solution here? Well, if there’s any impact to be made, it’ll happen when someone steps up and says, “Stop listening to everyone under the sun, start working, and figure out what gets results for you.” Personalities will come and go. Information won’t. If something works for you, use it—not because you’re been assimilated into a cult of personality, but because it’s getting you precisely what you want.