As a content producer who uses social media to engage a (relatively) large audience with useful information, I’m often left with a decision to make either a “big picture” post about a broad topic, or a “specific post” on an element of a topic. For example, a picture of the Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid, or a specific guideline to limit how often you train to failure because of the disproportionate fatigue it can generate, respectively.
Both types of posts have inherent pros and cons. In the big picture post, someone viewing the post might be able to gain new philosophical insight, such as understanding that setting up a diet in a way that energy balance is taken into account is paramount versus a focus on “good vs bad foods”. But, on the downside, this type of big picture post doesn’t tell you specifically what to do. You can understand this philosophical concept, but still set a diet up poorly, say by setting calories way too low. In the specific post, the information is more actionable, but these posts lack the context of the big picture. For example, while a bodybuilder who is following my guidelines for volume, load and frequency might benefit from my advice to use training to failure in a limited, targeted manner, a non-competitor following me who lifts weights twice per week for 45 minutes that wants to maximize their results within those constraints, would be disserviced by this recommendation. Indeed, if you are just doing one exercise per muscle group in a circuit on machines for 1-2 sets each, twice per week, you probably should go to failure to get as much “bang for your buck” since your volume is so low to begin with.
These are just two examples of how advice-giving posts, both big picture and specific, can go awry. My followers all want to either get stronger, bigger and/or leaner, but not all of them are competitors, not all of them are non-competitors, not all of them are young, not all of them are old, not all of them are male, not all of them are female, and on and on. It’s impossible to give specific guidelines that apply to them all, and likewise the big picture information leads to different applications depending on the person, their goals, and their understanding of the concepts I’ve presented.
So what do we do about this? Well, some of the responsibility lands firmly on my shoulders as a content producer. When I make big picture posts I try to also note that the specific details of how to apply these principles are available somewhere, and I link them to that content. Likewise, when I make specific posts that are actionable, I always try to provide some caveats, disclaimers and context. I’m very careful about how I word my language and I always attempt to make it clear who the guidelines are for and when.
With that said, it’s impossible to provide all the details in a big picture post, and all the context in a specific post as that’s the nature of short form content (Instagram, short YouTube videos, tweets etc.)! So that means the responsibility can’t fall completely on my shoulders. Indeed, learning has to be an active process. The best students can learn from a variety of teachers, are very adaptable, and above all, they are resourceful. If you are a lazy learner and expect to be spoon fed, you will constantly make the mistake of misapplying the information from both types of posts.
So, if there is some responsibility on you, what should you do? Well for one, be aware that this is a mistake you’ve already made and will keep making (misapplying big picture ideas in practice and applying specific advice out of context). Literally everyone does it, and that’s ok. But, simply being aware that this is the easiest mistake to make means that you can be more aware of it and correct it earlier. So how do you correct it? For one, consume not only short form content, but also long form. Don’t be the person who just reads the title of a blog article and the FB or IG teaser, but doesn’t read the article itself. Don’t be the person who only watches the 1-5min YouTube videos but not the six part series in which each video is 20 minutes long. If you follow someone you consider an expert whose advice is logical, evidence based, and the proof of their advice is in the pudding (that pudding being their clients), take the time to go through their previous work and their long form work. As a content producer who is trying to help people, it makes me feel like what I’m doing is a waste of time when I’m asked questions that I’ve already covered in great depth in a video, blog post, and podcast multiple times each. What’s the point of doing all this work if people aren’t willing to watch or read it? I know it’s not pointless, but that’s what it feels like in the moment when I’m confronted with questions like this.
Now some might say that I’m simply not good enough at making these topics digestible and easy to understand, and to some degree I’m sure that’s true and that is something I’m always working on. But, you can only simplify complex things so much before they actually become incorrect, and in health and fitness, potentially harmful.
As Albert Einstein said “everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler”.