Sweaty Underwear and Fitness Conferences

What was your last fitness conference experience like? Did you fire up brain cells, burn calories or both? In the month of April, I presented in the UK, Chicago and Ocean City, Maryland. There was lots of time in airplanes to contemplate my experiences at the shows.

This is a rant and rave that I’ve been thinking about for a few months. And after an incredibly busy first quarter of conferences, I’m putting it to paper.

I love fitness conferences for the energy, enthusiasm and comradery I get from so many good friends I see at the shows. But recently, I’ve started to struggle a lit bit with some of what seems to be a theme throughout all the conferences-sweating takes priority over thinking.

Do you go to a fitness conference just to take a workout class that is led by one of your favorite instructors? At a recent show I witnessed two women talking as they were toweling the sweat from their foreheads in sweat soaked clothes. You could hear them discussing the workout they just went through. This would have been inspiring had it not been there third one THAT day!
Is this a case of addictive behavior toward exercise? If it was additive behavior, they were in great company because lots of folks were doing the same. I believe it is more a case of the huge number of people who spend their conference hours working their bodies and not their minds.

I realize that we are an industry that teaches and practices movement as part of what we do. But our conferences often look like labs that never had the lecture. The movement part of what we do is to experience what we have intellectually learned.

If we used the college or university model as an example, a student would never graduate if the only classes he ever took were activity classes. Why is that? Because you can’t possibly learn the scientific foundations and fundamental principles that are prerequisite to teaching others skills properly.

I know some amazingly smart presenters with great science behind what they do finding themselves only doing presentations in the huge rooms where bodies are flailing about. Why do they (and admittedly me at times) do this? Because we feel obligated to get people up and running around or else they won’t stick around for the nuggets of science we sneak in there. That’s sad.

This is certainly not a knock on group exercise presenters or participants. Because the top group exercise instructors I know would love to have their conference attendees sit through an hour of instruction before they started a workout. But would those attendees do it?

The next educational event that I have anxiously anticipated for a couple of years now is finally coming back to Southern California. The Interdisciplinary Congress on Low Back and Pelvic Pain will be in Los Angeles. I attended the very first event they ever had at the University of California San Diego back in 1995. Guess what? There will be no presentations to music or sweat towels required. But there will be massive lecture halls filled with chairs and tables so that detailed note taking can occur. And I’ll be soaking up every minute of it.

What can be done about this trend in fitness conferences? I understand that for those organizations that put on the shows that it is a business venture. And they are in many ways just giving the people what they want. However, they are marketed as educational events. So I’d like to see the scheduling of the sessions to be such that people did not have a workout option available in every single time slot. Then they mind find themselves wandering in to some lectures to kill time and might just enjoy the listening and learning. Don’t just give the attendees what they want, give them some direction toward what they need.

And wouldn’t it be great if they did not schedule presenters with similar subject matter in the same time slots? It seems any of the presenters that I want to see at a conference are inevitably presenting during the same time slots as me. Not only is that a bummer for me, but it also means that the attendees are forced to choose between great presenters on topics that interest them instead of giving them the chance to see two or more at non-conflicting time. I think this hurts everyone.

Fitness conferences are a blast and are so great for our industry in many ways. As we mature as an industry and seek to become part of the health care continuum, our educational events should reflect as much. Yes, we need to move and yes it is OK to sweat. I’d just really like to see us exercising our brains as much as we are exercising our bodies.

What do you think?

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20 Responses to “Sweaty Underwear and Fitness Conferences”

  1. Stephen Holt says:

    I with you, Anthony. Even when I feel boxed into taking an “activity” session at a conference, I always stand on the sidelines and watch. I never learn anything in those workout sessions. Even as a presenter, I do lectures and demos only – never workouts.

    The problem is even worse at conferences that attract more group ex instructors than personal trainers. There’s far too much emphasis on choreography versus science and even the “why’s” behind that choreography.

    Let’s stick to early bird workouts and maybe a rejuvenation session at the end of a long day of sitting and learning.

  2. Michael Seril says:

    Awesome stuff, buddy! I totally agree with you!

  3. Hi Anthony,

    Indeed! I am in agreement with you in regards to wishing that many conferences would lean more in the cerebral direction, before focusing on the movement portion.

    Why do I say this? Because if I don’t fundamentally understand WHY, as a Personal Trainer, am having a client perform a certain movement, then it is not with sound judgment that I can put my client through that movement. I have to understand the reasons and the outcomes for prescribing a certain corrective exercise. I cannot simply run them through without having learned the WHY first, and then lazily hope for the best.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we as fitness professionals must spend the time and learn why before we DO. I want to take the notes, listen to the lectures and learn as much as I can, to provide the best possible outcomes for my clients.

    I too have experienced the frustration at conferences when I could not possibly see everyone I wished to due to conflicting times. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? I hate having to choose and then miss out.

    Thanks for the article–nice to know I am not the only one that’s had these same thoughts running around in my mind!

    Looking forward to seeing and listening to you in Denver this weekend!


    Cynthia Geraud

  4. Amanda Vogel says:

    Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for this blog post. I agree with you. As fitness pros, we know there’s sometimes a conflict or disconnect between what our clients want and need from fitness. We’ve discussed, as an industry, how to deliver both for the benefits of our clients.

    Yet, it does seem as if the typical fitness conference model encourages fitness pros to bypass the more lecture-based sessions. Perhaps it’s time to take our own advice and learn how to blend the wants and needs of the industry a bit better.

    See you at IDEA World. (Hopefully in a lecture!)


  5. Aloha Anthony,
    I agree, although 25 years ago when these conferences were sprouting up, it was almost always all movement classes all day long (we really jumped up and down for hours at a time)…then it trended to more workshops and lectures (probably because we were all suffering from the previous jumping), but now it seems it is back to jumping up and down and around again.
    I think a balanced combination of activity and lecture appeals to most learners. I personally would rather attend lectures and research forums, however, newer and younger trainers tend to want and need to move around more. The newer trainers need to feel the exercises and biomechanics that seasoned trainers already feel and understand. So a little of both is good for everyone.

  6. Amanda Vogel says:

    I just read Stephen Holt’s comment (hi Stephen!). I often go to conferences on a press pass or as a presenter, so I also spend a lot of time standing on the sidelines watching activity sessions. I do learn from observing these sessions, partly because you can take notes or focus on what the presenter is saying versus being caught up in doing the activity.

    On the other hand, it helps the learning process to also do the activities. And when it comes to group exercise and choreography, sometimes it’s not so much about the “why” as simply the fun of it. And, as long as it’s safe, that’s OK, I think. I do think there’s room for both workout and lecture sessions as long as there’s a better balance in terms of fitness pros taking both types (not just the “sweat sessions”).


  7. AMEN! I applaud you putting this on paper. I am one of those group fitness presenters that tries to get the lecture in only to be slammed in evaluations, oftentimes, for not enough of workout, not enough choreography. It becomes challenging to go against the grain. And, I do quite a few lectures at conferences that are considerably lower attendance than the movements sessions which is disheartening (i.e. a show I just presented where I had TWO participants in a lecture!)

    I appreciate you bringing this to the forefront … there is so much more to what we do than jumping around in spandex. Understand the science behind it and the communication strategies necessary to get more bodies moving is PARAMOUNT! I agree that the theoretical needs to be put in motion, but the theoretical gets slammed through for fear that we will get slammed! Then, when we get slammed we are asked to change. AHHHHH!!!!

    Hope to see everyone in my LECTURES and feverishly taking notes at the start of movement sessions at conferences in the near future!

  8. I agree, Anthony. That’s why America is still fat. The educational requirements to work in the fitness industry is completely unregulated and fitness conferences spend more time taking people through workouts rather than on educating them.

    Jason Karp

  9. Lori Pine says:

    Your philosophy is definitely the thinking I have. I produce one of these conferences and my goal is to always have a well rounded conference with something for everyone, a wide variety of topics from aqua to nutrition, lectures and movement sessions. My goal in starting the confernece 10 years ago was to bring high quality education closer to home. Many instructors cannot afford to travel and therefore do not learn what’s new in fitness, how it has changed, and what is currently cutting edge. When I do the scheduling, I try to offer all different topics each session as well as sessions that interest group ex. instructors, personal trainers, and physical therapists. Would love to have you present at my conference some February!

  10. Hi Anthony,
    I loved the title of your article. Really caught my attention and that is why I couldn’t wait to read it. I totally agree with what you said and appreciate all that you and the other presenters struggle with.
    The biggest frustration for me over the years has been the scheduling of several great topics ( or presenters ) at the same time.
    It’s good to know that you as a presenter recognize this and has spoken up about it.
    I’d rather work my brain than sit around in sweaty underwear all day 🙂

    Thanks for all your great articles,

    Cynthia Vowell

  11. Rhonda Pehar says:

    Having presented in numerous fitness conferences myself and experienced first hand what you are speaking of I agree with you wholeheartedly !!

    Keep pushing for change and keep delivering the great technical excellence and education that you provide.

  12. Veronica Morrison says:

    Great article. The problem you point out isn’t limited to fitness conferences. Professional conferences in fields like radiology and education co-schedule similar presenters so that you can’t see eveybody you’d want to, and hold “workshops” with big names that draw people away from the more factual/conceptual learning experiences. I’ll be following your efforts to fix this in the fitness world with the hopes that I can use whatever works for you to improve the conferences to which I have to go. Thanks!

  13. Val says:

    I am in total agreement with you. The man problem I had with the last conference I attended was class selection. Far too many similar classes were scheduled at the same time.

    Thanks for writing a great article.

  14. Olea DeFore, RN, AFP. says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I totally agree, and furthermore, if you work out and then sit all day in sweaty clothes, in a freezing room which most hotels/conference centers seem to have, the lectures are miserable. I learned that lesson years ago and now I just avoid most of the activity sessions and stick with the lectures.

    Keep up the good work, all ’round!

    Thanks, Olea

  15. Great post. I actually try to include at least 15 minutes of lecture in any practical I do and I never do a ” workout”.

  16. Cameron Chinatti says:

    Thanks for putting this out there Anthony!

    I too am a presenter and this made me laugh because the gals that are taking 3-6 movement sessions a day are the same ones that would never drink water in class because it would require them to stop and therefore “lose” the unspoken competition between the front-row super chicks!

    Mind you, this was in college, but the issue hasn’t changed. I’m hoping that conferences will one day begin considering this in their programming. Perhaps in order to get a full 2 days worth of CEC’s, participants would be required to take a balanced amount of lecture, practical and business building/career advancement.

    Thanks again,

  17. Wendy says:

    Excellent article. As an “attendee” I try to pick what is the most relevant to my clients needs versus my own interests. I find this narrows my options, and creates more of a balance between activity and lecture. I try to respect the body I have been given, and the science I try to teach my clients -and not go into a massive overtraining mode. This only leaves me off balance and unable to even remember what it was I went there to learn in the first place. No marathon workouts for me. Often I will even observe an “activity” lecture to conserve energy for brain cells!!
    I also wish that the lectures, and some activities, would be spread out differently.
    GREAT Article!!! Thank you!!

  18. Christine Flynn says:

    Having over 25 years of experience in the fitness industry, I looked forward to conferences but now I don’t go at all. Many times, the movement is not new. It’s all a variation of some sort but, the knowledge behind the choice is necessary. I find Idea’s use of videos to educate has saved me money and time. It has given me the tools I need to better educate myself on my time. You have been part of these videos also and It’s very helpful. Thank you for your input. Keep talking because we are listening!

  19. michelle says:


    You were diplomatic enough to separate the problem from the presenters and the attendees. This isn’t going to get me any popularity votes but I wonder if the reason for the problem you pointed out is twofold: the presenters and the attendees!

    First, there are not enough presenters with empirical methods of training and the type of knowledge that you have. They go with the glitz and skip the meat.

    Second, too many in the fitness field are still fulfilling the “look-at-my-biceps” role without wanting (or seeing the need to want) more in-depth information.

  20. Brenda says:

    Great comments. I teach step and strength (as well as many many other hats) and I am not the most creative instructor esp when it comes to layering and advanced moves. I too wish more of the Group x classes were slowly showing you and teaching you moves vs just doing the exercise. It seems sometimes a competition within the participants. I do think and learn better doing but just doing the exercise without reflecting and taking notes after doing a segment doesn’t teach me. I go back and look at the choreography and go “now what was that move?”
    I pay good money to come learn. I get to exercise at home for free. So if all I get out of a Group X class is exercise, I didn’t get my money’s worth.
    On a good note, I have always enjoyed every instructor at the IDEA conventions – I just have to go by the DVD to remember the exercises!

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