The One Trick Pony

The name Paul Francis Gadd probably doesn’t ring a bell but if you were a sports fan in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s there’s a really great chance you recognize his work.

Gadd, known by his stage name of Gary Glitter, is the writer and singer of a song called “Rock and Roll, Part 2” (and, before you ask, I have no idea what happened to Part 1). Before songs like “Seven Nation Army” and that never ending “olé, olé, olé” chant filled stadiums across the globe, you were guaranteed to hear Glitter’s “nah, nah, nah, na-na-na-na-na – HEY!” at each and every soccer match or football game you’d attend.

But just as doing the wave, holding signs that say “John 3:16” and wearing rainbow wigs fell out of favor at sporting events years ago, so did chanting along with Glitter’s once omnipresent song (some of Glitter’s personal issues that came to light didn’t help, either).

The plight of the one-hit wonder is not unique to Glitter. There are no shortage of performers and groups that had that one big hit – thinking they were on the verge of superstardom – only to never replicate that success.

Part of it is luck and opportunity and timing but there’s another, less discussed trait that may plague these flash-in-the-pan groups. Maybe they just weren’t that great in the first place.

To me, the epitome of this lack of substantive talent is Glitter. He can’t really sing. Isn’t much of a writer. Doesn’t play any instruments. His claim to fame is that he wrote one catchy lyric that a minor league hockey team in the midwest decided to start playing during intermissions and the rest is history.

This lack of depth and understanding and talent is not limited to the world of stadium rock. It is rampant in the fitness world as well.

How many fitness classes or workouts have you attended that simply repeat themselves week after week, month after month, year after year. Sure, they give their classes different names like “Arms and Booty” or “Total Body Pump Sesh” but, truly, they just have you sitting on a bike for an hour or, in an effort to really mix it up, have you on a treadmill half the time and throwing around a dumbbell for the other half — the same weight dumbbell you always use.

Here’s the litmus test: if you don’t attend one of these classes for 3 weeks and then pop back in, does it feel like anything changed? Do you feel like you can just pick it back up like you never missed a step?

That might make you feel good about yourself, but is it really good for your fitness?

Right now you may be asking yourself, “why, old bald sage, do these studios and gyms and apps keep doing things this way if their workouts aren’t designed to get you in the best shape possible?”

Glad you asked. I think there are three reasons.

First, maybe, like Glitter, they just don’t have the talent to put together something more comprehensive and complex than what they are currently executing. While creating a solid program isn’t exactly rocket science, it is still science, and perhaps they haven’t cultivated the skill set required to organize a training plan in a really effective way.

Secondly, it is much, much easier to operate a business that relies on only doing one or two simple things. You don’t get caught up in the difficulty of having to train a staff that is excellent at coaching the squat, can explain different energy systems and choose the appropriate weights for each client. To keep our music analogies going, it’s the difference between being coached by someone who played all the instruments on a Grammy-winning album and finding someone who is really good at playing the triangle.

Lastly, is scalability. There was a time when the entire industry was run by passionate meatheads who spent their lives in a gym figuring things out until they ultimately decided to start a gym and create an environment for like-minded people and to share that knowledge. In the past decade, fitness has become big business and plenty of people who don’t know a safety bar squat from a trap bar deadlift have jumped into the pool in the hopes of making a profit. And the best way to cultivate that profit is by prioritizing simple reproducibility over an effective product.

OK, listen up here because this is the important part: all of this may lead to good business but not to good fitness. And good fitness is what you should care about. I mean, you are investing your time and your money. You might as well spend that in a place that is looking out for your best interest.

Do some people attend these classes just because they enjoy it and the feeling that comes along with it? Sure. And that’s great. As long as you know that is what you are in it for.

And are there passionate and caring instructors who work at these facilities and make a positive impact in other people’s lives. Absolutely. I know many of them.

But the fact remains that if you do, indeed, want to get in the best shape of your life, those places aren’t going to cut it. Like Glitter, they are a one trick pony. And just like that Bowflex bench and box of P90X DVDs sitting in the corner of your basement, they eventually get found out.

Gary Glitter is currently serving a 16 year sentence in prison for crimes that are much, much worse than creating a stadium ear worm that stayed in my head for the better part of two decades.

But his hit song is a great reminder that just because something is ubiquitous, popular and really catches on does not necessarily mean that it’s actually any good.