Cargo Cult Fitness

In this post, I’ll be exploring a commonality between Cargo Cults in post World War II and dietary and exercise interventions by Health and Fitness professionals. With this comparison, I hope to shed light on a deep-rooted problem within the fitness industry.

First and foremost, let’s discuss what a Cargo Cult is. Up to a few weeks ago, I had no idea what a Cargo Cult was but found interesting similarities between it and fitness. Cargo Cults are groups of people who believe that performing “various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth. (Citation)” The most prominent of these groups were various aboriginal tribes in an island chain close to Australia shortly after World War II. Prior to the war, these aboriginal tribes had very minimal contact with the developed world and in a short period of time were entrenched in the largest war in history. At first, the Japanese arrived, and shortly after so did the allied forces.

What they noticed is that when these armies came and performed ritualist acts (in their minds) such as marching, building airstrips, and talking on radios they would see vast amounts of materials dropped out of the sky. In essence, they made the assumption that if they too performed these same actions that they too would receive packages from the sky (i.e. gods). Logically, with the information they had, this made sense if you put yourself in their shoes. The problem is that they assumed that there is no other explanation for cargo falling out of the sky other than the gods. They did not have knowledge of technology, empire-building, and supply chains that went into having those packages drop out of the sky.

In the fitness industry, many health and fitness interventions that are prescribed have the same fundamental flaw:

An insufficient base of knowledge and experience leads to assumptions which then lead to a wrong set of actions for desired results.

In other words, an insufficient base of knowledge of health and fitness interventions leads to prescribing exercise/diet programs that are not efficacious.

This is a deep-rooted problem within the fitness industry. The barrier of entry to be a trainer/coach (i.e. the people responsible for dolling out interventions) is so low that it attracts the lowest common denominator in droves which then leads to minimal differentiating factors between effective and non-effective coaches.

Too great a percentage of trainers think that cargo falling from the sky is from the gods.

Fitness certifications are the industries solution to this problem, but since the level of qualification is so marginal, it hardly does anything to make an individual a more effective coach. This issue will likely persist until the barrier for entry has been raised or a technology solution (Yelp for trainers) acts as a way to buffer out the lowest common denominator which will then raise the bar for the profession.