The Jillian Michaels Story
I feel a disturbance in the balance of the force.
As I write this, Jillian Michaels is a mere three miles from my house. She is at the local GoodLife Fitness teaching her new class called BODYSHRED (Trademark symbol, hashtag awesome, hashtag whatever).
My wife made me promise not to go heckle her.
Actually, should I choose to do such a thing, I would likely be placing myself in physical danger, as undoubtedly the legions of Jillian idolizers would pummel me with copies of Master Your Metabolism and Making the Cut.
I do not hate Jillian Michaels.
I don’t know her. It’s foolhardy to loathe someone you have never met. I do, however, detest many of the things she does. I am well connected in the fitness and weight loss community. I count as colleagues and friends some of the most respected fitness experts and obesity researchers in the world. Very few of them have anything complementary to say about Ms. Michaels.
She threatened to sue me once.
In a now famous / infamous column in the LA Times I called her “an actress playing the role of a fitness trainer on TV.” Then I posed some questions about her certifications. For the first time in over three years since that incident, I’d like to clarify some things.
- I asked for an interview with Jillian to get her side. I specifically stated in the interview request that I wished to ask her about her certifications. I was denied the interview by her publicist, who said she was “too busy.”
- In the article, I mentioned that she had NESTA and AFAA certifications, but that it “seemed” as though she had not recertified because no mention was made of such certifications anywhere on her website. Note the word “seemed.”
- The article itself was about her kettlebell DVD “Shred it with Weights.” I noted in the piece that NESTA and AFAA certifications do not teach kettlebell technique. In fact, these two certifications are considered by many to be very bottom of the barrel in terms of quality. They merit little respect in the fitness world.
- Most important is that Jillian Michaels did not have any certifications that pertained to the use of kettlebells. Neither did the choreographer (Lisa Wheeler) for the DVD have any kettlebell certifications.
And, of course, there is the fact that I sourced three separate actual kettlebell experts who said her technique was abysmal.
She very publicly threatened to sue. The LA Times did issue a correction that she had not in fact let her two (not kettlebell) certifications lapse. No lawsuit was filed, and the statute of limitations expired a year later.
I want to reiterate three things:
- She denied my interview request where I specifically asked about certifications in the email.
- I said it “seemed” she had not recertified.
- No mention of her holding any certifications was made anywhere on her website. After the shit hit the fan, this changed, but I saved the original page on her website showing the lack of such information.
And finally, NO KETTLEBELL CERTIFICATIONS! That was the point of the whole piece that Jillian and many of her fans – one of whom emailed me and threatened to “cave [my] head in with a kettlebell” missed.
Jillian’s practices on The Biggest Loser are continuously called into question. You know what? I’m just going to link a bunch of stuff and you can judge for yourself. Link. Link. Link. Link. Link. Link. Link. Link. Link.
Jillian has removed the saddle on stationary bicycles for obese contestants so they were forced to stand while riding. One slip could have been catastrophic. For a person with obesity this is even more dangerous, leading to severe injury. I guess that makes for “good TV.”
But let’s take a look at some of her good TV “motivational” quotes:
- “I’m gonna take a chunk out of you, you know that? You … you are going to… I’m gonna fucking kill you. You’re dead. You’re gonna … cry blood.”
- “Shut the fuck up and get back on the treadmill.”
- “I don’t care if people die on this floor.”
- “I’m proud that I made him vomit.”
- “I will break every bone in his body.”
- “The only way you’re coming off this treadmill is if you die on it.”
Some people are. Some love her. Some like her DVDs as well. Perhaps some of these DVDs are even good. I’ve never watched any other than the kettlebell one. I do know some people who like them. Perhaps her BODYSHRED class is good. Perhaps it adheres to sound principles of exercise physiology.
I don’t hate Jillian Michaels, but I hate some of the things she does. I hate the way she treats people on The Biggest Loser. I’m pretty sure that any trainer who behaved in such a way in a professional gym would be shown the door in short order.
If Jillian wasn’t willing to act in such a way on TBL, the producers would have found someone else who would have and we would likely never have heard of her.
And the producers are just giving people what they want. Any show based around sound training practices, rational weight loss schedules, and using proven techniques of cognitive behavior change wouldn’t last past the pilot episode. It would be boring and no one would watch it.
Some people just love a good train wreck.
Jillian is not the one driving that train; she’s just on the crew manifest.
Look what just got dropped off at my front door.
It’s the first advance copy of my book, available from Random House Canada on April 1. Now I’m tempted to sign it and go hand deliver it to Jillian.
After all, she figures prominently in the chapter entitled “Metabolism Myth Busting.”
This piece was first published on my old website on March 3, 2014.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.