Who's afraid of a "cookie cutter" workout program?

Swole Woman Court in the matter of Brittany Dawn, and fitness influencers offering fake "individualized" programs and meal plans. Plus: the Olympics, Peloton, and more. This is Links 24!

Who's afraid of a "cookie cutter" workout program?

Notorious fitness influencer Brittany Dawn was finally sued this week by the Texas attorney general for her allegedly misleading and dangerous diet and workout plans, to the glee of many more serious fitness-industry people. All of this workout-related stuff actually played out back in 2019, so the real ones have been steaming silently for a while. Lest you believe that they took a good woman down, here is an incredibly thorough one-hour Fundie Fridays video of the entire hideous Brittany Dawn arc. It is fitting that, after her fitness business imploded, she pivoted to Jesus, given how many times has she risen from the dead.

But what was Brittany Dawn actually offering in the fitness space? Why was it bad? And most importantly, was her story an egregious outlier, or perhaps alarmingly mundane? And if it was mundane, how can the rest of us best try, once again, to shoulder the unfair burden of figuring out what's real and fake in the matter of personal health?

Ruling: bad, but common. This happens a lot, and is an offense barely skirted by many influencers. The latest trend is having customers fill out a multiple-choice form and then churning out a program and meal plan according to whether they chose to work out 3 or 4 days a week, whether they eat fish, etc. and then charging them $360 for the result.

Programming does not have to be customized in order to be effective; mostly thanks to marketing, people seem to way overestimate how “custom” their training needs to be. I could write anyone a custom program, but unless they were a really advanced athlete or had a lot of compromising health issues, I’d mostly be yanking their chain about either the results they would be getting, or how different it is from the other programs.

There are only so many ways to write a program, because the good ones all have the same building blocks. If you broke most intermediate programs down you would probably find one of these go-tos at the root, with perhaps a little extra accessory or rep/set scheme sauce. If you broke most beginner programs down, you’d find something that's 80-90% like Starting Strength, GZCLP, or 5/3/1 for beginners.

The fact is that the economics of individual programming for food or workouts never make a ton of sense: 90% of the info people need is all the same, and then the extra 10% that’s specific to them are very long last miles. Writing a program most people can benefit from is quick; individually watching everyone do the program and explaining what is wrong with their squat specifically can take forever. Figuring out precisely what accessories they might need to make the optimal amount of strength or muscle progress can also take forever. But that wouldn’t mean they couldn’t still get that 80-90% of benefit from a standard program.

So what can anyone do? A much more cost-effective model to seek out is relatively standard programming and food advice. In lifting sports, this is often known as group or “club” programming. When a gym has “club” programming, that means the coaches issue a template every few weeks that most people in the gym can follow. Some businesses have started to offer this kind of thing online: RISE from Achieve Fitness and Stronger By the Day are two examples of, essentially, club programming. You can also buy sometimes-customizable training templates from places like Barbell Medicine.

This can be coupled with individualized instruction, e.g., an in-person or virtual coach watches you do the prescribed squats and tells you, specifically, if your squat form is correct, or which accessories to tack on. It's reasonable to expect a coach to either recommend a good program or take a program you've found and help you with it, without charging you out the nose for that service specifically.

If you do pay out the nose for anything from a fitness professional, it should not be programming templates; this is a ballpark figure, but if programming costs more than $25 or so a month, it should be regarded with a lot of suspicion.

Good individualized coaching with regular check-ins will cost a lot more than that, but a good coach will take more of a “teach a man to fish” approach so that you don’t have to be hand-held forever. Brittany Dawn appears to never have gotten any further in her "individual check-ins" than randomly texting people things along the lines of "you go, girl!"; this does not a good coach make.

In a similar vein, Brittany Dawn was prescribing meal plans.

Ruling: bad, but also common. Prescribing meal plans is straight-up illegal in most parts of the US for anyone but a registered dietitian to do (also note that nutritionists or  nutrition coaches are not RDs; RDs are board-certified; nutrition coaches usually hold a cert from a personal-training body but have limits on how specific their advice can be; a nutritionist is simply “anyone who lives in LA and likes green juice”).  Influencers have been increasingly offering meal plans, to the consternation of fitness professionals who follow the rules. Like many things in the US, this is not proactively regulated; anyone can hop online and say “look at my abs! You, too, also can have them, if you buy my meal plan!” and no governing body is going to do anything about it unless enough customers complain.

So what should anyone do? Many fitness professionals have asserted lately that they don’t really like meal plans in general, because it postpones the inevitability of clients learning how food works for them personally (again, long last miles). A meal plan might, for instance, make someone lose weight very fast, but as soon as they stop doing the meal plans (or maybe even before then), they have no tools for understanding their food going forward, and no one wants to follow the same meal plan forever. Unless they want to buy meal plans forever, they will have to learn food at some point.

It is, once again, unfortunate that our education around this is so impoverished; ideally we’d all enter adulthood knowing how to calculate our TDEE and how much protein to eat and ways to cook vegetables that we don't hate, but no luck so far.

Meal plans have their uses, but if you care about this stuff, it's better to accept the slow and incremental process of learning generally about food. And honestly, it's hard to go wrong focusing on the things one "should" be eating according to health class (balanced meals, fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs, fats) and knowing that everything doesn't have to be perfect. I still love the Renaissance Woman book for sport-specific nutrition (somehow only $5 on Amazon currently?!), and this article, and I wish there were more things like the Strong Strong Friends Nutrition Courses.



It's behind a paywall, but my Outside Magazine profile is now online!!

Given that the Olympics are going, I'm searching up YouTube videos of how athletes train and clocking how many lift weights. People forget: most fit people lift or have lifted!

Doctors are prescribing national parks as medication.

Must-read Eileen Gu profile.

A 95-year old retired engineer still going on his walks.

"The best $69.99 I ever spent: a pickleball paddle."

~Discord Pick of the Week: I don't have time to make a single-serve Tumblr for fanciful, borderline-useless kettlebells, like this white marble one from CB2 or these ones shaped like Darth Vader's head. But someone should.~

Tamara Walcott's 650lb deadlift video is NOT to be missed.

Energy, and how to get it.

Let Lia Thomas swim!!

People often ask me "what is the LEAST I can do to get stronger?" and while I think most people would be frustrated by only a 10 percent strength increase after a whole month (that's 15 pounds —> 16.5 pounds, for those keeping track at home),  I guess it is technically possible.


Peloton laid off 2,800 employees and condoled them with a one-year Peloton subscription. Peloton CEO John Foley also stepped down, but not before he was brutally strafed by an investment firm's Powerpoint for cheerfully admitting several times he has no idea what he's doing. This makes him... the world's most typical C-suite executive. Let us not forget his daily routine involves trying to drown himself in a sink, very inefficiently.

This all happened because, in short, the stock surged from $10 billion in value, to $50 billion in value, back down to $10 billion in value, over the course of the pandemic. Entities like Blackwells Capital were demanding that heads roll.

My know-it-all take is that this all happened because too many dummies decided Peloton was ~THE FUTURE OF THE FITNESS INDUSTRY~. Instead of being ~THE FUTURE OF THE FITNESS INDUSTRY~, it turned out to only be a significant, if limited and incremental, trend signaling potential improvements within the fitness industry, like NordicTrack and Bowflex and Tae Bo and P90X and Jazzercise and Zumba and etc. and etc. before it.

As a lapsed tech journalist of not even that many years, I feel like Father Time watching this specific pattern happen again and again with technology. It happens so frequently and so extremely, it is almost as if the seeming unpredictable tempest of tech valuation is actually a precisely timed and highly predictable sound-stage storm meant to further line the pockets of the already very wealthy who know how to buy in and get out at the right times? Far be it for this newsletter that purports to be about doing deadlifts and eating burgers to oversimplify capitalism.

I don't love Pioneer Woman or anyone focusing on "weight loss" as a goal. But she does namecheck lifting weights!

Pour one out for this deleted clip of snowboarding commentators laying into the Olympic judges for giving Ayumu Hirano a 91.25 on a literally perfect run where he performed a triple cork in the halfpipe for the first time ever. The judge saying, and I quote, that "the judges just GRENADED their credibility" will live on in my heart forever.

'Business Bootcamp' sounds like a goddamn nightmare. I mean, I personally would love this outside of a job context, but making "physical competition" the stakes of employment feels like an HR issue. A dear reader wrote to me this past week angry that her company was requiring everyone to participate in a cardio challenge. I would love for more of you to know this not only in poor taste, but a potential legal liability for the company!

"8 Romantic Meals Under 450 Calories" is a 2018 MyFitnessPal blog post that the company recirculated this week. Lmao, no thank you!

Drew Afualo eviscerates this guy who... you know what, I can't explain short enough, you should just watch it.


What was the TED Talk? An interesting investigation into the trend of highly marketable "inspiresting" content.

I listened to my first episode of Normal Gossip from Defector yesterday and loved it! I particularly love the tactic of pausing at crucial moments in the story and examining what any of us would do at that point.

I would like to make the internet small again.

Therapy apps are bad.

I finally started watching Better Things because there's a new season (the last season!) coming out and ohhh my godddd it's soooo goooood.

And lastly, the Olympics are playing all day in this house. I love sports; I love achievements; I love sports achievements. If you're a paid subscriber in the Discord, we have a running Olympics channel!

Ok love you for reading let’s go—