Fitness, diet, strength and conditioning, sport and “healthy living” advice is plentiful. Too plentiful really. Even for the trained professional, it can be a lot to sift through. I’ve had to ask myself increasingly over the years how “the latest study” vibes with yesterday’s studies, if one invalidates the others, what it means for my clients, athletes and myself. I recently had a revelation while listening to an “expert” (who will not be identified), that we need to keep certain things in mind while reading any article online, listening to any podcast, or reading the extended argument in a book. To keep it brief and hopefully helpful, here are the questions I ask internally (or aloud if I’m in the author’s presence), and my thought process while I am listening to ANY advice from an expert.
Ask yourself: is this person a clinician/practitioner (aka, in the gym as a trainer or coach), or is this person a researcher/academic, a scientific data sorter, or maybe even an author/personality/blogger?
It’s important to understand who the person is that is conveying information. It colors the lens in which they view the world, and how to apply their interpretations of data. It’s also obviously not always so easy to stratify or categorize an individual as simply one of these types of people either: many people fall into multiple categories.
For example, I would fall under the clinician category- I’m a strength coach and trainer and while I do stay extremely active reading the latest research, I spend most of my time interacting with athletes, clients and people in the gym or on the mats. Therefore, my recommendations, and much of my experience, is anecdotal: that is to say, I go by what I see (or what I THINK I see). This doesn’t invalidate my opinion, but it’s not like I sit there and conduct double-blind placebo studies that I vet through an academic institution. It doesn’t make my opinion invalid, but it’s also not the approach you look to in order to find out deep, scientific details.
On the other side of the coin: is your data source a researcher? An academic, in other words. Academics may find themselves constantly playing a game of X’s and O’s, manipulating variables and studying them against controls, and often times, dealing very infrequently with people; While they do have experience in dealing with test subjects, the time may be limited, or it’s not for the purposes of a particular event/sport/etc. Many times, the information they make available through their studies becomes the basis for practitioners to develop new protocols. It also works the other way around: observable phenomena on the gym floor by practitioners merits a closer look- and that’s what the researchers and academics of the world excel in. Much of what we do in any movement, workout or sport, is a synergy between the academics and the practitioners.
The last category worth noting is the personality/blogger/brand pusher, who is also sometimes playing the role of data sorter. These could be the most dangerous, because they’re the most charismatic, most prolific in terms of content available, and very good at conveying their points concisely: they know how to sell their words. Conversely, they have the potential to spread the most good and enact the most positive change for these same reasons.
Don’t be afraid though: by asking a simple question, you can determine who is a positive force, and who may just be irresponsible:
Is this person an academic, or a practitioner? Do they spend time around people, or trying to use “the latest research” and ONLY “the latest research” to advance their agenda?
My simple takeaway is this: all diets, workouts and systems sound great until they meet their adversary, or that is to say, until they don’t work. What do I mean?
FOR EXAMPLE (this is not me putting down or advocating a certain diet, but rather me sharing a real example I’ve encountered before):
Advocating a protein-based, low sugar/carbohydrate diet is great until the excessive protein gives your athlete/client excessive gas and digestive difficulty. Then what? Are you going to keep shoving meat, seeds and walnuts down their throat until they develop IBS? The orthodoxy of a diet fad doesn’t always allow temporary detours to get you over certain difficulty. Orthodoxy is paralyzing.
Wouldn’t you rather have someone who has experience dealing with a diverse array of people, problems, and fitness levels? More importantly, someone who isn’t going to try and shove you into a box that their brand demands?
That may be an extreme example, I’ll give you that. So more measured:
What happens if your athlete/client doesn’t fit the profile of the study’s prototypical person? Many studies, at some point, can only control so many variables related to the subjects:
Are all the participants involved similar in body composition? Do some have a dominance of Type II fibers while others are Type I dominant? How tall are the subjects? Do they have abnormally long arms, while others have short legs (maybe this bio-mechanical difference is to blame in analysis of weight pushed/pulled, and not so much the diet, for example).
The point I’m making here, and the point emerging overall is that: we need a synergy of all types of people in order to be successful. We also need to be smart consumers of information and ask ourselves how to better fit the information we discover daily into our lives synergistically, intelligently, and holistically.
We need the practitioners to observe a phenomena, the academics to study it, the practitioners to re-test it, and then the personalities to spread the word for the greatest good.
Those who wish to control care little for growth. Remember that.