Deceit is a foundation for much of the fitness industry.
Think back to the early 90s when television bombarded us with fitness infomercials. They sold us the idea that a simple piece of fitness equipment would give us abs in a matter of just “five minutes a day”.
Absolutely no scientific evidence was required. The only evidence we needed (apparently) was how amazing the fitness models in the advertising look.
Social proof is what we marketers call it.
It was probably the first time the models had used that piece of exercise equipment. Instead, they dedicate their lives to looking fantastic. It’s their job.
The advertising also never mentioned how strict our diets need to be at a body fat level low enough to see our abs.
Apparently, all you need is this ab machine. 5 minute abs are easy to sell — but changing your lifestyle isn’t.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, check out this monstrosity.
Also without mention are the “supplements” they might be taking. Whey protein, creatine... And probably something much stronger.
Something that begins with P and ends with EDs.
And that’s a massive problem with the fitness industry — they sell us a look that is unattainable in a natural way. Their marketing tells us that we can look like this if we use this piece of equipment or use this diet or supplement.
They persuade us that we can also look like these people if we train properly and take the right supplements. They do not tell us the real “supplements” required to get those results.
The celebrity movie transformation? Steroids.
This point brings me to Chris.
What Chris Hemsworth is Doing
But, Hemsworth is helping spread the lies and deceit that are rife in the fitness industry. This Instagram post is evidence of that. It is not so much what Chris did, but his body double.
If you don’t know who Chris Hemsworth is, he is the star of the movie Thor.
Hemsworth used to be a star on an Aussie soap called Home and Away. I watched the show as a teenager. There were always good-looking people and Alf.
He has bulked up over the years to play Thor, Norse God of Thunder. He was also a part of the pretty successful Avengers movies. They are all fit looking superhero dudes and dudettes — but Thor is an especially big and muscular guy.
For the filming of the fourth installation of the popular Thor movie series, Hemsworth got even bigger and more muscular, which means his stunt double has to build a comparable physique.
“Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double is tired of eating seven meals a day to try to keep up with the Hollywood actor’s ever-increasing size.” (CNN)
The Stunt Double
Bobby Holland Hanton, Hemsworth’s stunt double for Thor, said he’s struggling with the eating and training to keep up with the actor’s muscle gain.
Hanton says he is now eating 8–10 (quoted by some as seven) meals a day, working out three times, and eating 4,000 calories.
According to Hanton:
“I have put on 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of lean muscle mass in eight weeks with body fat sitting around 5%.”
Hanton claims he has gone up from his natural weight of 85 kilograms (about 187 pounds) and is now sitting at 95 kilograms (about 209 pounds).
Apparently, the transformation only took eight weeks… AND he gained all this muscle while simultaneously reducing body fat.
Sounds miraculous. Check out the photo below from the article.
Notice how the “after” photo zooms in, so he looks larger. Check out the width of his hips in the two images — a marketing trick.
The Men’s Health article mentions Centr directly,
“…Meals filled with protein from eggs, tuna, lean turkey, lamb, chicken, and steak using recipes from the Centr app.”
Ah! So, it’s marketing!
Several “credible” media sources reported this, masking it as “news.”
Obviously, this is not real news. That is the problem with public relations; it manufactures news, which is just marketing.
I will now quote Trump for the first and last time,
“It’s fake news.”
The media is just helping spread more of the lies of the fitness industry. As marketers, we should be better than this. We’ll get to that a little more later.
So Many Lies
It is hard to know where to start with how much is wrong with all this.
Firstly, Hanton is definitely not the 5% fat he claims — that is the level elite bodybuilders reach for shows, dieting for months in advance. The photo below is closer to 5% body fat. Notice all the veins?
Hanton looks at about 9–10% body fat in the after image. Let’s say he’s 10%.
In the before photo, Hanton’s body fat percentage is probably around 18–20%.
He is slumped over a fair bit, unlike the after picture, where his chest is puffed up, shoulders are back, and he is flaring his latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles (the side back muscles, often referred to as ‘wings’.
Posing makes a big difference with how muscular someone looks in a photo.
Based on these body fat estimates, I did the math to work out his transformation numbers.
Let's say Hanton started at 18% body fat, which means a loss of 8% body fat to get to 10%. At his quoted 95 kg weight, that 8% body fat loss is around is 7.6 kg (17 pounds).
But, Hanton put on 10 kg (22 pounds) of muscle, right?
This means, if he lost 7.6 kg of fat but gained weight, the fat was replaced with muscle.
So add another 7.6 kilograms in muscle.
Meaning, he would have put on 17.6kg (39 pounds) of muscle if the numbers Hanton gave us are real!
Not the “10kg of lean muscle mass” quoted in the articles. They can’t even do the math right!
What Science Says About How Much Muscle We Can Build
We have something called our genetic potential, which means there is only so much muscle we can gain until we start to use steroids or other PEDs.
Research has studied the period from 1939–1959 to understand how much muscle can be gain naturally. Steroids came out of a lab in the mid-1930s, and at the 1954 Olympics, Russian weightlifters first used testosterone.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the king of the bodybuilding world, steroid use was vast in the scene.
Yes, Arnie has admitted to taking steroids during this period.
Our genetic limit for building muscle naturally — FFMI
The Fat-Free Mass Index Relationship (FFMI) measures how much muscle we can put on naturally. A person’s lean mass to height are the key variables.
“The normalized FFMI values of athletes who had not used steroids extended up to a well-defined limit of 25.0. Similarly, a sample of 20 Mr. America winners from the pre-steroid era (1939–1959), for whom we estimated the normalized FFMI, had a mean FFMI of 25.4.” (Kouri, Pope Jr, Katz, & Oliva, 1995)
Ultimately, four significant factors impact our natural ability to gain muscle.
- Biological sex
- Workout plans
The Aragon method estimates that for an advanced lifter — anybody who has been training for longer than four years, you can add 0.25–0.5% of body weight in muscle a year.
The second method is from Lyle McDonald, who bases his formula on extensive research and his experience coaching clients. He believes men can gain up to 40 to 50 pounds of muscle in their first 4 to 5 years of proper diet and training, and most women can naturally gain 20 to 25 pounds.
After this point, muscle gain is relatively negligible — A kg or a couple of pounds a year.
There will be diminishing returns. It doesn’t mean we’ll put on a kg of muscle for the rest of our lives.
Once testosterone levels start to reduce more rapidly at around 35–40 years old, the amount of muscle retained naturally begins to decline.
Muscle building potential is highest in the first year of serious training when nutrition is optimised, often referred to as newbie gains.
What About Steroids?
Natural athletes were tested against steroid users in this study, using the same training plan for ten weeks. Those who were using steroids gained 13.5 pounds (6kg) of muscle.
Yes, that’s 1.3 pounds of muscle per week.
In just a week, that's about half the amount of muscle that a natural athlete might gain in a year!
In another study of FFMI and steroids, scientists analysed the FFMI of 157 young male athletes, including elite bodybuilders and world-record-holding strong men.
The steroid users had an average FFMI of 24.8, with many over 25, while the non-users averaged 21.8.
There’s no doubting the extra muscle-building potential of steroids.
How Often Should We Train To Gain Muscle?
“We’re doing two and sometimes three intense sessions per day." — Hanton
Working out 2–3 times a day does not mean 2–3 times more results. You do not put on muscle effectively like this.
It just sounds impressive to the average person.
However, if it was effective, that’s what bodybuilders would do. But they don’t.
Bodybuilders typically workout once a day, 4–6 times a week. Splitting training up like this allows the body to recover. If we over-train, we cannot recover effectively.
Training more than once a day consistently is too hard to recover from. Our central nervous system gets run down, which means we are more likely to become ill, and our body can’t put as much energy into growing muscle.
Our body can turn to a catabolic state, feeding on muscle mass and fat for energy. That’s the last thing we want if we’re trying to build muscle.
Each workout would usually have fifteen to twenty total sets — five or six exercises for three sets.
This high volume is why bodybuilders often train each body part once a week. They hit that one muscle group as hard as possible and then let it recover for the rest of the week.
YouTuber Jeff Nippard sums up evidence from the literature about training volume very well.
Wait, Lose Fat and Build Muscle?
How can Hanton gain that amount of muscle and lose fat that quickly at the same time?
He can’t. It is that simple.
“I’m eating 8–10 times a day, which is a decent meal every 2 hours. I’m consuming 4,000 calories…” — Hanton
At his size, there is no way he is losing body fat at a rate of a kg a week while consuming 4,000 calories.
By averaging his quoted before and after bodyweight gives us 90 kg.
I calculated this number based on 12% body fat — in the middle of Hanton’s quoted body fat levels, at his height and age (185 cm, 33), and very active activity level.
Hanton would need to be consuming 2,953 calories to lose a kg of body fat a week. 4000 calories would maintain his weight.
Oh, that’s right, he put on weight while losing 1 kg of body fat a week. Never mind…
Even if it were possible to gain that amount of muscle in such a short time (it’s not, even with a cocktail of steroids and other PEDs), you would have to be gaining body fat at the same time, as the body must be in a caloric surplus.
A caloric surplus is consuming more energy (calories) than it takes to sustain your current body weight. Putting on fat is inevitable. You’re eating more energy than your body needs.
And if we’re in a caloric surplus, it is physiologically impossible to reduce body fat. Especially at a rate of a kg a week!
Losing fat and putting on muscle are opposite processes.
In saying that, it is possible to put on a tiny amount of muscle while staying at the same body fat level or losing a small amount of body fat — but over an extended period and in much smaller numbers.
This process is called body recomposition. A realistic example would be changing from 90 kg to 88 kg over nine months whilst losing 3% body fat — roughly 2.5 kilograms.
A loss of 2.5 kilograms of fat but only 2 kg on the scale means gaining 500 grams of muscle over those nine months.
Results over twelve weeks will be negligible for an experienced lifter.
Why Are They Lying?
To sell us diet and exercise plans, coaching, supplements, and anything else to make them money. The original interview on the Centr website was probably spread around the internet by a PR team.
“When I’m preparing for a movie and I need to bulk up, I’ll usually take a Centr recipe from the Build Muscle meal plan.” — Hanton
Meanwhile, it gives people an unrealistic expectation about what type of physique they can achieve.
From that interview, according to Hanton, what he ate that day was*.
Notice the hyperlinks? They’re to example recipes from the program.
Notice the asterisk?
“*These Centr recipes are just the basis of Bobby’s supersized calorific meals. To unlock the high-calorie versions for muscle builders, start your 7-day free trial now.”
Centr is trying to sign you up for the trial so that they can take your money!
You go to the landing page below by clicking the provided link, where you can “Train, Eat & Live better with Chris Hemsworth’s team”.
What precisely that means, I’m not sure. You’ll have to sign up to find out, I guess.
A Facebook ad retargeted me just a few minutes after viewing the article.
Do you know the best/worst thing about all this?
Chris Hemsworth created the Centr brand!
According to the website:
“Getting in shape is part of the job description when you’re playing one of the world’s favorite superheroes — Marvel’s God of Thunder, Thor. But for actor Chris Hemsworth, health and fitness is not just a job, it’s a passion. Now he has created Centr to share that passion with everyone.”
See, Chris Hemsworth is spreading lies and deceit. Unfortunately, this type of marketing is the norm in the industry.
Fitness social media influencers selling all sorts of rubbish have saturated Instagram feeds.
Gymshark is one example.
They sponsor numerous athletes and Instagram influencers who sell their clothing and openly admit that they are on steroids. Some of them are barely out of high school.
Teenagers aspire to look like these people, so they buy the merchandise. They purchase the supplements that they recommend.
It is a strategy that works too. In 2020, Gymshark became a $1.3 billion brand.
Gymshark’s Marketing Strategy Is Encouraging Teenagers to Use Steroids
I guess nobody ever called the fitness industry ethical…
It is very unethical marketing. Marketers and corporations are supposed to be getting better at this ethics stuff.
We should be putting consumers' best interests before profit. But the fitness industry clearly isn’t.
I think that is something worth talking about.
So how do we change an industry based on so much deceit?
We’re never going to stop people from taking steroids and pretending they are not. But as marketers, we should not leverage this as a marketing tactic.
I don’t have the answer.
But, it is something we should be talking about. Awareness is the first step to encouraging (forcing) the fitness industry to gain a social conscience.
In the age of corporate social responsibility, it is well overdue.
Thanks for reading.
Daniel is a marketing consultant at BYB Marketing.
This YouTube video was posted a couple of days after this article was published. It goes into some depth about Hollywood steroids transformations and is well worth a watch.
If you interested in a critique of Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app and his promoted “Thor” workouts, check out the article below.