Fitness professionals, especially ones who ply their craft on the internet, have a curious relationship with the word evidence. That is, they love the word but give it no particular importance. This is my imagining of how “evidence” is being used by many people in the fitness industry who pay lip service to the word without a clear idea of what constitutes evidence or how to analyze it, or how to think about evidence BEFORE you go looking for it:
2. Place cursor in search box.
3. Type in P – U- L- L- U- P- S
4. Find reference to study concerning pullups, or mentioning pullups, etc.
5. Read abstract, or at least, read conclusion to abstract, if given.
6. Open a new word document.
7. Think, ‘now I will write a new article on pullups.’
8. Figure out how you’re going to work in your new evidence regarding pullups.
9. Publish your new article on pullups which tells the world how wrong they’ve been about pullups all this time.
What I would like to see, in talking about evidence, is less “I have evidence, now how can I convince everyone to change their practice based on this” and more “Here is a problem, can I research and find evidence to help deal with this problem?”
More and more I am seeing a truckload of evidence being delivered to the “fitness” world. It is like Bird’s Eye asking customers, way back when, what they would like to see in a new product, and the customers saying “we’d like an already whipped topping made out of non-dairy processed ingredients and sweeteners, and we’d like it to never deflate and we’d like to be able to freeze it.”
Inventing Fitness Problems
Of course, Bird’s Eye never asked this and of course, customers don’t ask for complicated processed foods to be invented. Instead, companies make them, and then set out to convince the consumers how much they need them. There is no prior NEED, or demand. They create the demand. The same thing is happening today with fitness and evidence. Lots of the evidence we see bouncing about concerning this or that thing, there simply is no demand for. People are not asking for their fitness pursuits to be made more complicated. They ask for simple solutions to simple problems.
I’ve seen situations like this arise time and again. A typical scenario is someone mentioning to me some random study they heard of and how does it affect this or that part of their training? Well, did you have this problem yesterday before you heard of this study? Did you have it the week before? Or the year before when you were happily lifting away?
Half the time, we see research and manufacture problems from it even though it may not apply to us at all.
Don’t Go Throwing Random Evidence at Fitness to See if it Sticks
I don’t go looking for a bunch of random evidence so that I can throw it all at strength training to see if any of it sticks. I have questions. I have problems to solve. I need a way to get from point A to point B. I do research to find data to help inform how I am going to do this. I don’t create problems in my mind to fit the research I’ve done or evidence I’ve found, and then try to convince the world they need to do a certain thing or change a certain thing. This is asinine for a strength trainer or fitness professional.
I’m not saying it’s not a great thing to be adding to the body of evidence we have to inform our fitness or performance pursuits. This is a fine thing to be doing and my hats off to anyone engaged in it. But it’s one thing to research and it is another to turn it into the next Cool Whip.
When it comes to performance-related issues (read, not general fitness or health-related fitness and not injury prevention, etc.), often there is NO body of evidence to call on. There is no “evidence” to tell me what kind of major change or little tweak is going to break a very strong trainee out of a stall. Strength training is, after all, very much about experimentation. Each person who trains is his own case study of one (not really a case study but it’s easier to say it this way). Now, case studies are not evidence, but they could certainly help inform the direction research could take. Well, whose going to fund that research? I want you to fund a great big study about lifting up this heavy barbell and putting it back down, many many times, until they get hella strong. And I mean HELLA strong. That ain’t gonna happen. Many times ALL I have is experience to guide me, and the experience of others. Welcome to the real world where we’re trying to solve real problems.
But, the point is that what starts as a call for evidence often become a data dump. Why manufacture problems based on research that you didn’t even need to do? It is perfectly OK to file evidence away in the “we’ll see what comes of this” pile. Not everything is applicable right now and some very interesting research will never have any practical application at all.
Sure we want to talk about it. I’m talking about it right along with you. It’s science. Science is cool, man. But use it as a tool. Don’t exalt it and worship it. Place it in its proper context and relate that context to the wider picture. You can’t fit the world to your knowledge. You must transform knowledge, through rigorous critical thinking, until it can fly straight and hit the bull’s eye.