The internet has created many new creatures that previously couldn't have existed. The 'cat celebrity' is probably one of these and another is undoubtedly the 'troll'.
While these two new internet phenomena get a lot of attention however, there are others who don't quite get the same level of discussion. One of these is the 'armchair athlete', also sometimes known as the 'keyboard warrior'. This is the sort of person who frequents health sites and bodybuilding forums, spouts a lot of 'facts' at anyone who will listen and gets irate at anybody who doesn't agree. What sets them apart however, is that they never back up any of what they have to say with any real (accurate) knowledge or evidence of their own progress.
Thus you have the 'armchair athlete' – someone very keen to point out how other health and fitness advice is wrong but really with no authority to do so. They haven’t made progress in their own training and diet regimes, so instead they get their sense of achievement by reading everything they can on the topic (misunderstanding it half the time) and criticising everyone else.
Why They're Dangerous
In theory, you don't need to be in great shape to post advice on workouts. And you don't need to be a doctor in order to recommend a treatment for a condition. If you are experienced yourself and you are well read, then you can contribute to a conversation and everyone has a right to express their opinion.
But there are dangers with these keyboard warriors too. Most obviously, they will often perpetuate incorrect advice and theories which can end up preventing others from making progress in their training, or potentially even cause them to get ill.
Likewise, they will typically be very defensive of their view – and often quite aggressive (think of it as short man syndrome) – which can not only ruin a stimulating debate (and make a forum quite an unpleasant place to be), but also prevent any progress or the generation of any new ideas.
Often the armchair athlete is well read – and they'll demonstrate this by posting huge selections of links to studies whenever you question them – but they are not always very up-to-date with their knowledge, and they almost always lack the kind of 'real world' wisdom that comes from actually being a GP or a fitness coach.
Meanwhile the person who actually could help you is getting verbally attacked and silenced as a result.
How to Deal With Them
The keyboard warrior is aggressive, argumentative, arrogant and usually wrong. They spoil debates regarding health and fitness and they perpetuate bad ideas.
So what do you do about them?
Don't Get Riled: The first thing to do is to make sure that you don't get too het up by them. They will likely get quite offensive and will certainly be antagonistic, but if you let it rile you then they win. Likewise, don't spend too much time doing research to try and prove them wrong… it's not worth your time!
Keep a Backlog: That said, if you often do encounter keyboard warriors who throw journal reference after unread journal reference at you, then you can always prepare yourself by keeping a log of useful links and resources to back up your points. That way you don't waste time chasing down references, but you still get to trump their PubMed skills. Be wary – these guys have all the time in the world and no life to distract them from this conversation.
Don't Get Aggressive: Act aggressive back, and you will only give them the satisfaction of having gotten under your skin and gotten you riled. Thus it's important not to let on that you've been affected by their attacks by trying to play it as cool as possible. What you'll normally find is that if you manage to stay calm and respond in a reasonable manner, they will actually get more frustrated than had you tried to insult them or generally bitten back.
Ask for Evidence: If your argument is about bodybuilding, gymnastics or anything else that has a visual element, then a good strategy is often just to challenge them to back-up what they're saying with some evidence. If they're claiming they know all there is to know about increasing strength and building an amazing bench press, then ask them to prove it by sharing a picture or even a video of themselves bench pressing. Most gym-goers who are serious about the hobby will already have at least a few pictures of themselves online to share with fitness sites and the like – so it's not unreasonable to ask them to show some evidence. Of course if they really are a keyboard warrior, then they won't have any evidence to show and will probably just ignore the question. At which point you can tell them to back up what they're saying… or back down!
Know When to Give Up: While you don't want these types of people to get away with spreading their misinformation and attacking everyone else, you also don't want to be drawn into the trap of wasting your time and energy on them. In this regard, keyboard warriors are really no better than trolls – they will argue and argue, never concede that you were right and it will go on for ever. There is a saying about never arguing with a fool – which is because no-one ever comes out of that well. So say your piece, then get out! Don't try and have the last word, just make sure that you have the best word.