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NBC Biggest Loser

A Personal Trainer's View

NBC Biggest Loser is one of the most popular shows on television. The show has millions of fans, gets amazing weight loss results, and inspires a lot of people to lose weight. The show is not without controversy, however. It's training methods, motivational techniques, and the weight loss expectations have all come under fire to some degree.

Share YOUR Opinions of The Biggest Loser

Evaluating The Biggest Loser
From A Personal Trainer's Point of View--
Focusing Specifically on the Training Methods Used.

NBC Biggest Loser--Week 5, Oct 13

Quote of the Decade Jillian Michaels talking about getting to train Season 8's villain Tracey: "All I want to do is just pound her within an inch of her life and teach her what this place is all about." Really? Pounding them to within a inch of their lives is what the show is all about? Wow. The scary thing is that she means it...and it's true. Jillian's quote encapsulates exactly what is wrong with the show. Like she actually knows where that inch is where someone would be in jeopardy. The show's injury rate and amount of hospitalizations over the years proves she has no idea. She's just lucky no one has died...yet.

Exercise can be fatal. Three people died running the Detroit marathon over the weekend. Three! These were people who were actually in shape enough to attempt a marathon. Not the severely obese, unfit, high risk people that BL deals with. Pushing people like this to "an inch of their lives" is just wrong. It's actually shameful. I have no doubt that if the Biggest Loser trained larger numbers of people the way they currently train their 16 they get every season, someone would go down...for good. No doubt.

Just why do they need to be pounded within an inch of their lives? To get results? Is it worth it? Is it even necessary? Remember last year's at-home winner, 63 year old Jerry? He got eliminated in week 1 (thus avoiding the Jillian pounding and probably saving his life), but somehow managed to lose 47% of his body weight, winning the $100,000 prize for the eliminated contestants. Hundreds of pounds have been lost by eliminated contestants at home.

So successful weight loss can be achieved without risky and reckless training. I don't know what's scarier: that Bob and Jillian do it because it makes better TV, or they actually believe that it's a proper way to train people. It certainly gives the public a bad image of what a trainer should be. I guess it gets glossed over because of the extreme amount of weigh that's lost each season. Huge numbers are put up....results are what matter. Never mind they are risking the contestants lives. Forget that. As they say--It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Good Move Jillian had Amanda running in place and doing jumping jacks on a thick mat. This would indicate that she recognizes the need for a lot of cushioning for doing high impact activities like jumping or running.

Bad Move More box jumps! Meaning Jillian recognizes no such thing. The use of the mat with Amanda may have been to challenge her balance rather than of cushioning because we're right back to high impact box jumps. If you are concerned with protecting the contestants joints, you would be at all times. Plus you would not be using box jumps at all.

Dina's Box Jumps Jillian has 223 lb Dina attempting to successfully do a box jump as a representation of the overcoming her fears. At this point she's getting about an inch off the ground. Watching her try is painful. Not only is she repeatedly pounding her body attempting to make a jump she has no chance of making, she's getting more and more frustrated. Here's an idea: why not use a step half that height (or lower) so that she can develop the skill, have some success, and build up her confidence? Then attempt a higher step. It's called Progression, and it's a basic training principle. It's also the principle that seems to be missing on the Biggest Loser ranch. From the insane Day 1 challenge they have every season, to the initial high intensity workouts they aren't ready for, throughout the whole season. There is never gradual progression...a ramping up of intensity. It's pedal to the metal, full speed all the time. It' the major reason they have the injury rate they do.

Sorry To See Mo Go Coach Mo was a beloved cast member, but his 56 year old body couldn't hold up to the insane workouts he was doing. Big surprise. It's doubtful any 55+ contestant could make it through the full season they way they train them. Doesn't have to be that way. If adaptations were made you could increase the chances of avoiding injuries for the over 50 crowd, but that's not the NBC Biggest Loser way.

NBC Biggest Loser--Tuesday's at 8:00 pm

NBC Biggest Loser--Week 4, Oct 6

Tracey Still on the Sideline NBC Biggest Loser #1 villain, Tracey, is still unable to workout due to a high CPK enzyme level. Dr. H. said she had a "major muscle injury". The high level of CPK means her muscles are still damaged. This was all the result of the Day 1 insane challenge of having the completely unfit and obese contestants compete in a 1 mile race. Brilliant! That's all it took to send two of them to the hospital, with Tracey still suffering the after effects one month later. Too bad, because it was totally preventable.

Box Jumps Are Back! Well, I guess one fractured hip (Laura-Season 7) was not enough. Box jumps are back again. The next "injury waiting to happen" is 243 lb.,51 year old, non-athlete, Liz. What are they doing?? Can you imagine the impact on her joints that occurs when she (or any of the other contestants) repeatedly jumps up on a box a foot off the ground? It's a lot of pressure to put on the joints of a normal weight, fit, 51 year old. I wouldn't have a fit client at that age do box jumps. There's no reason to, unless the person is training for something that involves jumping or the need for having explosive power in your legs. Otherwise, the risk to injury is WAAAAY beyond the benefit. They're are many other safer ways to effectively train your legs. Unfortunately, safety doesn't seem to get much consideration at the Biggest Loser Ranch.

NBC Biggest Loser--Tuesday's at 8:00 pm

NBC Biggest Loser--Week 3, Sept 29

Another Week, Another Casualty This week it was Abby, who has a stress fracture in her leg. Not surprising, considering that's what can happen when you have obese individuals do weight bearing exercise, like running or jumping. It's something that shouldn't be done, but you see it early and often every season of NBC Biggest Loser. I don't think you could find a reputable Sports Medicine or Personal Trainer Training organization that would recommend weight bearing exercise for people the size of the Biggest Loser contestants. No way. Two of the most highly regarded (American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association) certainly discourage it. Obese individuals are at increased risk of orthopedic injury to begin with. Having them do high impact, weight bearing exercises is really foolish, and their injury history is proof of it.

Remember Laura from Season 7? She ended up with a stress fracture in her 24 years old. How often does that happen? Is this an NFL training camp or a weight loss reality show? She had to leave the show because of the injury. Right before they announced what her injury was, they showed her complaining about the pain in her hip. At the same time they were showing scenes of her doing box jumps (repeatedly jumping up on a box that's about 3 feet off the ground). This is a advanced, high impact, full weight bearing move that puts tremendous stress on the joints. Of course, she was also running (like everyone else) during her time at the Ranch. I don't think it's too extreme to say that her hip fracture was directly caused by the training she was doing. You don't always know how injuries occur, but if you could ever attribute a specific injury to specific activities, this is it.

The previews for Week 4 show another injury (Tracey). Four weeks into the season and there has been 2 people sent to the hospital, and 2 people with orthopedic injuries. That's out of 16 contestants that started the show. That's a ridiculous rate of injury. The injuries will keep happening if they keep training them the same way.

My 3 biggest problems with the Biggest Loser (from a trainer's point of view) are the following:

1) The first challenge in the first week of the show is completely beyond the contestants capacities and have sent numerous contestants to the hospital over the years. Totally reckless and irresponsible. If they do the show long enough they will eventually kill someone in week one.

2) The intensity of the workouts in the early weeks of training is also extreme. Many of the exercises used are advanced movements that are usually reserved for the highly fit, or athletes.

3) The extensive use of weight bearing exercises that have resulted in a number of orthopedic injuries.

I hate to keep raining on the parade that is NBC Biggest Loser, but I'm sorry, many of the things they do on the show are inappropriate and wrong. It doesn't have to be this way. They could get similar results without the risk they subject the contestants to. Is it really worth the risk to try and squeeze every last pound out them? Unfortunately, it may take a really serious injury or a death to see any change.

NBC Biggest Loser--Tuesday's at 8:00 pm

NBC Biggest Loser--Week 2, Sept 22

Well, the big news from week two of NBC Biggest Loser is that nobody was sent home and nobody was sent to the hospital. Two events that happened in week 1.

Here's the Good and Bad from Week 2:


--Giving More Details-- The show seems to be taking more time giving details on the diet side of the equation. They haven't shared a lot of info in the past. Good move.

--Recommending a Food Journal-- One of the "Trainer's Tips" this week was Jillian recommending keeping a food journal. This is an excellent idea for people who are trying to lose weight. It helps you count calories and keeps you accountable for what you're eating. Good suggestion.

--Weekly Challenge-- Having a challenge that focuses on balance is a perfect choice for the contestants in their current state of health/fitness. It doesn't push them beyond capacities, unlike the insane 1 mile race from week one. All of the challenges in the early weeks of the program should be at a lower intensity. As their fitness level improves, the intensity of the challenges can increase. You think that will happen?? Doubt it, but we can only hope.

--Trainers Working As A Team-- Having the trainer's work together for the good of all instead of competing against each other is a great change, and was a long time coming. It always bothered me the acrimony and conflict that often surfaced between both the trainers and the contestants. They all are there for the same reasons. Working together will work much better than working against each other.


--Tracey's Hospital Stay-- It was great that Tracey returned, but as I detailed in my week 1 commentary, it was inexcusable the challenge they used that put her in the hospital. It appears she was in the hospital for over a week because she didn't return until the middle of this week. So what she experienced was serious. She's now on restricted workouts, which is what they should all be on in the initial stages of the show. Same thing happened last year with Jerry. Jillian almost killed him on the treadmill in their first workout, screaming, "the only way you're going to come off this treadmill is if you die." We almost got to see that. He was then put on restriction of 30 minutes a day of exercise.

My question is this: Why do they need to push the contestants to within an inch of their lives to see that they need to be restricted? They ALL should be restricted! They know what kind of shape they're in. Dr. Huizenga knows. They've already gone through the medical tests. Everyone watching at home can take one look at them and know they should be brought along slowly. Unbelievable.

--Product Placements-- How many more product placements can they crowbar into the show? I wouldn't be surprised to see NBC Biggest Loser Hemorrhoid Cream this season. Why not? "While You're Shrinking Your Waistline, Shrink Your Hemorrhoids!!" Yuck.

--Last Chance Workout-- Do the trainer's get a commission every time they say, "Last Chance Workout!!" They repeat it over and over and over. We know....we heard you the first time. They must be setting up the release of a new product or DVD or something. Coming soon: The Last Chance Workout Workout.

As for the specific workout, like the challenge in week 1, the last chance workout this week was waaaaay too intense for their current fitness levels. Some of the exercises/weight loads they are using are for far more fit individuals. But no one got hurt (apparently) and it makes for good TV, so why not. Right? Not for me. We'll see what the coming weeks look like.

NBC Biggest Loser--Tuesday's at 8:00 pm

NBC Biggest Loser--Week 1, Sept 15

NBC Biggest Loser Season 8 started off like almost every other season....unfortunately. Two of the contestants had to go to the hospital due to the reckless and irresponsible way they begin every season. When did it become proper training procedure to take severely obese, out of shape people, with multiple risk factors and subject them to a mile race on the first day of the training program?

Tracey, a 37 year old homemaker from Texas, had to be Medevaced off the beach after crawling (actually she was being dragged by the other contestants) over the finish line after the 1 mile run/race. Mo, a 54 year old youth mentor from Kentucky, felt light headed and weak after the race. He also ended up at the hospital, but not as dramatically as Tracey. No medevac was necessary.

NBC Biggest Loser is a very popular show. It has a lot of fans, inspires a lot of people, and has changed the lives of many. I watch and enjoy the show.

HOWEVER, there is one HUGE problem with the show (actually there are more, but this is just the biggest). There is no justification for the way they start out every season: by risking the lives of the horribly out of shape and high risk contestants by putting them through high intensity workouts/challenges that are completely inappropriate and WAY beyond their capacities. They are grossly violating proven medical and exercise prescription guidelines and should know better. But yet, it keeps happening.

Exercise can be dangerous. People die while exercising. The more unhealthy you are, the higher the risk. Biggest Loser takes the most unhealthy/high risk among us and subjects them to unjustifiable risk.

There is simply no justification for what they do. NONE. You shouldn't be sending people to the hospital from a workout....not if you're following medically proven exercise prescription guidelines.

It's reckless. It's irresponsible. It's malpractice.

I'm truly baffled by it. I just can't understand why they do it. Dr. Huizenga definitely should know better. Michaels and Harper should know better. Any qualified, knowledgeable trainer understands and follows the principle of Progression--the need to gradually increase the intensity of workouts based on the participants age, medical and health status, functional capacity, and risk factors. This is completely ignored on the Biggest Loser. It's 0-60 in 2 seconds for everyone, and it's the show's biggest flaw.

Is it because it makes for good TV to be sending people to the hospital and watching them collapsing and puking all over the ranch? Is it the ends justify the means? The contestants do lose massive amounts of weight, so it's a matter of whatever it takes?

Unfortunately, it may take a tragedy to get them to change, but it would be real shame for someone to lose their life to influence the show to change. Fortunately, some are starting to notice. An NBC Biggest Loser Article was just published in the September issue of IDEA Fitness Journal, a professional association for the fitness and wellness industry. It's entitled "Why Fitness Pros Criticize 'NBC Biggest Loser'. They make a lot of good points covering additional problems with the show. Other organizations should also speak up, including the ones that certified Michaels (the National Endurance and Strength Training Association -NESTA and the American Fitness Association of America -AFAA) and Harper (American Fitness Training of Athletics -AFTA).

So Season 8 of NBC Biggest Loser got off to a rough start if you are concerned about the contestants. I was surprised in reading various reviews of the show, little mention of the hospitalizations that occurred. Unfortunately, sending people to the hospital may have become the rule rather than the exception for NBC Biggest Loser. It's old hat...not even worth commenting on. Too bad.

NBC Biggest Loser--Tuesday's at 8:00 pm

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