Fake It Till You Make It: Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Fair warning:  this isn’t going to be the type of post which delves into anything remotely strength and conditioning related.  So if you’re in the mood for talking shop on things like hamstring “tightness” and how I think that’s a BS term (neural or protective tension is more like it), periodization, deadlift technique, or something as inane as whether or not I feel a 501 tempo is better than a 402 tempo for muscular gains (Hint:  does it really matter?), I’m sorry to say, you’re out of luck today.

It’s my blog – deal with it…….;o)

Nope, today’s post is going to have a bit more of an introspective feel or flavor to it.  Which, coincidentally, after Mint Oreo, is my second favorite flavor of ice-cream.

The impetus behind today’s post stems from something I read over on writer Jeff Goins’ site, which happens to be one of my favorite blogs dealing with the whole topic of  writing and how much of a cluster**** that can be.

Yesterday he had a pretty cool guest post by a guy named Darrell Vesterfelt on the whole notion of faking it till you make it.

Not to play all spoiler king or anything, but this guy Darrell?  He’s not a fan.

I’ll let you read the actual post if you’re interested, but to give a brief gist: in the world of social media, where some are constantly under pressure to be “on,” it often breeds an environment where there’s a lot of pressure to perform.  As a result this whole notion of faking it till you make it rears its ugly head.

Speaking honestly, I do believe there’s a time and place where this sentiment is perfectly justified. For example, with each intern class that comes to Cressey Performance, many of them, not surprisingly, are wet under the ears and a wee bit intimidated or overwhelmed when tossed underneath the proverbial microscope and asked to coach someone how to squat or to take someone through an entire training session.

Maybe even doubly so when asked to do so with either myself, Eric, or any of other coaches watching their every step.

Upon their initial orientation we let every intern understand that they’re not going to be “supervised” 24/7 and that we encourage a bit of autonomy.  By that same token we expect them to be able to coach things like foam rolling, dynamic warm-up drills, or even a push-up well on day one.

As the days and weeks progress, and we’re able to coach them up ourselves, take them through a few staff-inservices, and engage them in more one-on-one scenarios, they’ll undoubtedly gain more confidence in their abilities.

On the off chance that a scenario arises where they have no idea what a certain exercise or movement is we often use the whole “fake it till you make it” mantra with them, because at the end of the day we want to ensure that our athletes and clients have confidence in THEM.

I mean, what does it say if an athlete looks at their program asks one of the interns what a certain exercise is and then said intern looks around, utters a bunch of “um’s” and “uh’s,” and then starts hyperventilating into a brown paper bag?

Of course we don’t want them making stuff up out of thin air – before you know it, people are juggling oranges on BOSU balls – and it might just be something as simple as taking a few moments to ask myself or any of the other CP staff a quick question.

But still, there IS a semblance of confidence that serves as a nice prerequisite to it all.

On the flip side, however, I think it says a lot when someone can recognize they don’t know what they’re talking about, that they don’t have all the answers, and that they don’t pretend to be someone they’re not.

Sadly, while not always, this is a sentiment that fails to catch on in the world of the internet.  Everyone is an expert or guru or world renowned.

Please, tell me, how can you label yourself “world renowned” when you still live with your parents? Better yet, how are you able to give yourself such an acclaimed title when you’ve only been training people for less than six months?

Perusing the internet you’d think everyone out there was training professional athletes, making six figures, and writing the next best e-book on how to get the abz.

While this may be the case for some, clearly, people tend to be giving themselves a little too much credit.

Hell, I’ll throw myself under the bus.  I’m often asked how I became so successful and how I was able to build a respectable following through my blog and other social media outlets?

Here’s the cold truth:  I still have student debt (not a lot, but I still have it.  And thankfully, that’s the ONLY debt I have). I still drive my beat up Hyundai Elantra that I bought back in 2002. It’s 500 miles away from hitting 200,000 total, the check engine light has been on for the past three years, and it’s a wonder that I haven’t been ticketed for noise pollution when driving it through the city.

Based off the reaming I received my dental hygienest yesterday, I don’t nearly floss enough.  Oops.

I’m scared to death of putting myself out there and taking risks. I’m constantly asked when I’m going to be writing a book or producing my own fitness content, and while I’ve made strides to do both (ahem, Muscles Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body and Spinal Health & Core Training Seminar), there’s still half of me that seemingly bullies the other half into holding back.

I’m not infallible, and contrary to some, I’m not world renowned.  Far from it.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m good at what I do and feel I’m better than the average cat.  But I try not to pull off any self illusions of grandeur in the process.

But I think it’s that “realness” and non-sense of entitlement that often gravitates people to this blog, and my writing in general.

As Darrell pointed out in his post linked above:

Real connection happens when – and only when – you’re completely honest.

There are plenty of people out there who brag about their 400+ lb bench press.  It’s amazing how many people out there are elite benchers.  I can count on one hand the total number of people I’ve seen bench press over 400 lbs – and that includes a year of training at South Side Barbell in Stratford, CT  back in the day (circa 2005-2006) alongside some ginormous, very strong dudes.

Note:  South Side Barbell no longer exists.

Want to know something else about me?  I HATE benching. Pretty blasphemous words coming from a strength coach, right?

This isn’t to say I don’t find value in the lift, recognize there’s a lot of efficacy towards its use, and go out of my way to coach it well.  It’s just for me personally, I’d rather go to a Zumba class than bench press.

My best bench is 315 lbs, and if you held a gun to my head today I’d be lucky to eek out a rep at 285.  Paltry numbers compared to most.  Especially on the internet.

I can DL like a mofo, though.

If there’s anything I can relay to people out there reading – especially those who are looking to write a (successful) blog – it’s this:  STOP BEING FAKE!!!!!!!!

Nothing trumpets this sentiment more than THIS heartfelt, humorous, REAL blog post I came across recently by Erika Heidewald.

Erika used to write about how “healthy” she was, when what she was really doing was hiding her eating disorder from family and friends the entire time.

This parallels much of what I see in the e-world.  Where people take on another persona altogether in order to convey a certain image or hold onto some standard.

If you don’t actually train people (like, in real life) why do you write about how to train people?  Sadly, this happens more often than you think.

If you write about a certain way to eat – whether it’s Paleo, Intermittent Fasting, high fat, no fat, replacing all calorie laden drinks with unicorn tears, whatever – and don’t follow the same “rules” yourself……………..like, WTF!?!?!?!?!?

Note:  I actually know of a popular fitness personality who has written several best selling diet books who admitted – to a friend of mine – that he never follows his own advice.  Pretty shady.

If you haven’t ever actually performed the OLY lifts, why are you espousing their benefits or calling people out if they don’t include them themselves?

If you’ve never trained a female athlete, what makes you an authority on “female specific training?” Does such a thing even exist?

If, if, if, if, if, if.  I could easily keep going.

If dingle berries were diamonds, I could open a Kay Jewelers in my pants.

HA – count it!

All of this to say, sometimes, it’s best to NOT fake it till you make it and actually just own up to who you really are.  Is that so bad?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Ran

    Love this entry, Tony! Coming across your blog (forgot how, probably through either Bret’s or Ben’s blogs…) has been one of the best things in terms of learning about strength training. I’m not a trainer by any means*, so there are times where I become confused about some of the content, since I don’t have the pre-requisite knowledge about biomechanics and anatomy, etc., but I have always enjoyed your approach to writing, and found certain pieces especially relatable.

    Again, thanks, Tony, keep on doing what you have been doing, I appreciate your honesty in terms of staying authentic and true to yourself.

    (*do have a desire to become a trainer one day, so who knows, would love to see you in person if I ever get to visit Cressey Performance, =) )

    • TonyGentilcore

      Really appreciate the kind words Ran. I try not to keep this blog SOLELY about fitness, although that’s obviously the driving force.

      You’re more than welcome to stop by CP whenever you want. Just let us know when, and we’ll make it happen!

  • Cheryl @ Lift.Love.Laugh.

    Completely agree! I actually enjoy blog posts written by people who are honest about their insecurities, weaknesses and vulnerabilities because I can relate to them! I love that they’re not in shape all the time, or able to go into beastmode each workout, and that they’re real people who have jobs and families and aren’t super on all the time.

    Thanks for such an honest blog post!

    PS. I rather zumba than bench press too.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I also cried while watching the season finale of Lost back in the day. There, I said it….;o)

      Thanks for reading Cheryl – really appreciate it.

  • Bob Gorinski

    Great message here Tony. This post could have just as well been titled something like “Trainers can’t have it all just like everyone else, so make choices that don’t suck.”
    FYI my wife and I are still paying off student loans 10 years after we finished physical therapy school. Our “new” car is almost a decade old. [Internet face-palm.]
    We have five kids and my wife works only one day per week in order to be home more while they are young. My time to sit and write and simply reflect sucks.
    On the up side, I pulled 535 X 5 a few weeks ago. [Chasing you down there – internet high five].

    • TonyGentilcore

      Certain vocations aside (PT school, lawyer, doctor, etc), more and more I question whether going to college is even worth it in the end.

      You see all these people going into six figures of debt for a History degree, and you wonder…….what the hell are you going to do with that???

      On one hand I have “some” sympathy…..but at the same time no one put a gun to their head to go to a $50,000 per year college. And then they bitch and whine that they can’t get job.

      Well, how they hell are you remotely marketable? What skills separate YOU from the masses?

      But I digress.

      535×5 is legit dude! Awesome pulling.

  • Trent Dubois

    Haha I love diamonds!

  • Steven Trolio

    I love everything about this post.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Steven – appreciate the kind words.

  • Great post! I think that being honest is the best way to do it. Nobody is perfect…and after all who really knows what perfect is. People always appreciate when you put love in what you do, when you dedicate your time to learn, to improve and to help others. So I guess that is what matters!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Couldn’t agree more Ines. I don’t understand why people go out of their way to pretend to be someone they’re not.

      I’m not going to lie and say I don’t bend the truth a little here and there, but I certainly don’t make up fantastical numbers or claim to be someone I’m not.

      Either way: to each their own.

  • Brandon S.

    I enjoyed the post Tony! While I’m young and trying to break into the field and do have my own blog, I do remain real (ex, I follow CBL so preach that and carbnite). You make excellent points and it’s sad. It makes it hard for people to take my advice (when I actually know some stuff) because other idiots are speaking nonsense. A huge issue within the field. Anyways, AMEN.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for chiming in Brandon and for the kind words. Believe me, in this day and age, with all the technology we have at our disposal, ANYONE can become an expert on anything.

      With trainers, make no mistake about it: there are some REALLY smart young guys (and girls) out there who know their stuff, and I’m more than willing to listen to them and learn from them.

      It’s just that there are some (while a minority) that have a huge sense of entitlement which kind of rubs me the wrong way at times.

      And this applies to the older crowd, too.

      Either way, I just feel that if people remained more “central” to who they really are, and minimized all the games, that everyone will walk away happier.

      Thanks again for chiming in, and hope to hear more from you in the future.

  • Anna

    🙂 if only more people could deal with their own reality 😀

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