When your doctor knows nothing about exercise

Disclaimer- If you need a disclaimer and are calmed by the reminder that I am not a doctor and offer no medical advice, you will probably not like this article, nor be benefited by its message. What I preach is responsibility for what you believe and do; and the need for a critical eye towards authority figures in the face of overwhelming observable evidence. Sometimes the experts are wrong. Let's begin

There's a problem that comes up often with clients. They go to a medical doctor for an unnamed issue, or just a 'check up'. During the appointment, the doctor asks about their exercise. This is good, and I am glad that medical professionals are asking patients about exercise. A lot of diseases, maladies, and afflictions are now being treated and managed through physical activity, which I see as a sign of progress for the human race. Naturally all of my clients perform resistance training 3X week using progressive overload on compound movements, making them the best practitioners of a fitness program among all the patients in the doctor's practice. However, the message doctors sometimes have for my clients is not always one of praise, but one of worry. It's not rare for my clients to hear something like this:

  • Squats are bad for the knees
  • Deadlifts are bad for the back
  • Bench Presses are bad for the shoulders
  • Be careful not to 'overdo it'
  • Holding your breath is dangerous for blood pressure
  • Eating a high protein diet is bad for the kidneys
  • Creatine is the same as taking steroids
  • Red meat and cholesterol will cause heart disease
  • Pregnant women shouldn't touch barbells
  • You should do more cardio/yoga/pilates ie something gentle and likely involving rolling around on the floor
  • If something hurts, try not to move it for as long as possible AND/OR take these pain medications for it
  • If your bones are brittle you need to take this drug and eat more calcium

Sound familiar? It may surprise you, but all of these comments are DANGEROUSLY wrong. Total bullshit. This garbage is coming from doctors, and it's frightening. It angers me on many levels and is an affront to my profession and of course my sense of righteousness.

We go to the doctor to get healthy, and for guidance on the infinitely complex topic of the human body and its functions. This is a sacred (in my opinion) trust that is violated by someone spouting the above kind of nonsense, and by someone literally oath-bound to 'do no harm'. A punch to the patients' face would be faster, cheaper and potentially cause less damage.

So what to do?

"It is incumbent on you, yes You, to educate yourself to a sufficient extent that you are in a position to evaluate information issued from a position of authority. You are supposed to be able to recognize silly bullshit when you hear it"-Mark Rippetoe

Unfortunately we have to do our homework, and not just take important health advice on authority. The VAST majority of doctors do NOT get a thorough education in exercise science and nutrition. And even a thorough education doesn't mean someone knows what they're talking about. I went through 6 years of Bachelor's and Master's level Kinesiology classes without explicitly being taught how to train properly. All of my experience on this front came from my own exploits, self-study, sharing experiences within a community of focused trainees, and good old fashioned trial and error. This is the terrifying reality of our exercise education experience, even at a supposedly high level, but I'll save that rant for another time.

You need resistance training 3X week with progressively overloaded compound exercises. You need protein, you need to use free weights, you need to exert yourself, and you need to question prescription medication. Sometimes, yes, you do need medication, and sometimes you need to immobilize a joint (like, if a bone is broken).

In the meantime, find doctors, coaches, physical therapists, chiropractors and friends who LIFT WEIGHTS. This is an applied science, and if someone doesn't practice the discipline themselves, I'd take the next health claims that come out of their mouth with a grain of salt.