A personal trainer's two cents worth

By Chow Zi Siong


A couple of days back, my dad asked me the following question (a question I get very often as a personal trainer): “How do I lose fat around the abdomen area?” I decided to throw the question back at him and asked: “Perhaps you could tell me what you think the answer is?” His reply: “Do more sit ups.” I told him that a much more effective way would actually be to address the challenge through focusing more on nutrition instead. Now this would be pretty standard conversation if I were to just stop here, wouldn’t it? 

Since I have always wanted to be more than just a regular personal trainer, I try to learn more from every possible experience to better develop my skills. This led me to probe further: “Hmm Dad, could you tell me why you answered that way?” His reply: “Because my friends said so.”


Allow me to introduce you to a model by Portney & Watkins (2007), which I learnt from a podcast done by Bret Contreras and Jonathan Fass [http://strengthofevidence.com/hello-world/]. This model can be found below. It is called the Hierarchy of Knowledge.

This model seeks to explain the different degrees of knowledge. If you are looking for more scientifically backed knowledge, generally speaking, the higher you go up the pyramid, the more likely you will be able to draw an objective conclusion.

Tradition is the lowest degree of knowledge and this is often because it is generally very flawed. It basically says “I am going to do something simply because people have done it in the past”. A simple example would be eating food raw because people in the past ate food raw as well.

In the case of my dad, it can be concluded that he relied on tradition to answer my questions. He accepts that since others tell him that, it must be true. He never tried probing further like asking the following questions -

1. Ok, so if my friends claimed they do a lot of sit ups, has it worked for them in their quest of losing fat around the abdomen?

2. Even if the answer to the above question was “yes”, did they make other changes too that contributed to achieving the goal of losing fat around the abdomen?

3. If they did make other changes, are the changes more impactful?

Has my Dad probed deeper or did he simply accept what he was told at face value?

I can say with confidence that my Dad did not probe deeper and he accepted whatever he was told. Having lived with my dad all my life, I can swear that he is by no means a “stupid” person yet even a person like him can fall for such a logical error. Such is a problem that people continue to face. As a personal trainer I have seen far too many clients readily jump on new trends and gadgets in a bid to attain a degree of physical fitness without realistically appraising their purchases or actions.

To summarize what I just discussed, I think the take home message I would like to share with others would be to really think about how useful & how reliable the information you receive is and to decide objectively as to whether they can help us achieve our goals. One size does not simply fit all. 


Zi Siong Chow is a personal trainer and has a huge interest in sports and fitness since his junior college days. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor in Sports Science and Management at the Nanyang Technological University and spends his free time either training and coaching in a gym or seeking out new fitness theories.

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