Let’s talk about the fitness industry…
These days there is a seemingly unlimited variety of sources for fitness information.
What you get may be true and it may be false…
You can turn to coaches, trainers, dieticians, and athletes with good reputations or magazines, books, websites, apps, and other publications for insight and knowledge.
Any way you go you are ultimately putting trust in the entity you get your information from or at least to some extent, and not everyone is peddling valuable information.
Sometimes this stems from impure motivations and motives, sometimes it’s just that they are misinformed or mislead. Plainly put, among those who put out bad information about fitness, they either know it’s bad and don’t care, or they haven’t taken the time to really understand what they’re preaching.
What if there was a method to filter through all the noise and scams in the fitness space?
One surefire way that will absolutely improve your chances of doing so is learning the basics of “evidence based fitness” or otherwise known as a “science based” or “evidence based” approach.
So why is an evidence based approach so important?
Let me give an example of an area where, unlike fitness, the evidence based approach is the gold standard for practice in most places around the world.
Quite some time ago, individuals who are now referred to as “doctors” or “physicians” didn’t know nearly as much as then about the human body as they do today. (think witchdoctor… yikes…)
Although anecdotal methods and practices are by no means useless, the scientific method and the research that has happened over the years has added greatly to the understanding of human physiology and have improved the methods by which physicians practice medicine.
When we visit our doctor today, we put our trust and confidence in their ability to help us with our body because we know that he or she has studied bodies of scientific evidence in order to practice medicine.
A doctor is not always the same thing as a scientist or researcher, but they have studied the evidence. Otherwise they don’t get that prestigious “Dr.” in front of their name…
The same is true for a fitness professional.
The fitness industry is not regulated in quite the same way medicine is, but the first question you must ask yourself when choosing who to trust is the same.
Why do I trust them?
If your doctor always looked sick and unhealthy, and you knew him to be a smoker, alcoholic, or drug user, it may lead you to question his ability…
Likewise, in fitness looking the part definitely helps if we are talking about a person, but a website or brand doesn’t always have a face behind it, and even looking fit just isn’t enough.
Next, we must turn to their credibility, especially the credibility of their methods. Someone either has credentials and a reputation that indicates how educated they are on the topic, or they should provide you with the resources in which they are basing their methods upon.
The first thing that should throw up a red flag is whether or not they are providing any form of evidence to back their claims.
For a coach or trainer this is usually testimonials or success stories from previous clients. For a book or a blog post the claim should be supported by some sort of citation to the research they are basing their opinions on.
Now I don’t expect the average person seeking diet and workout advice to read all the research unless that’s the kind of thing they are into, but you should still pay attention to the fact that when advice is given out without citation, it may be completely baseless or wrong.
If you don’t know it to be common knowledge, you should look for a research citation.
Citations are something, but not everything…
There’s this verb that I’ve heard in passing… “PubMeding”
It refers to how people just throw up links to support their views on a given topic. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I think it’s great that people are becoming more interested in reviewing scientific literature for themselves.
But there are two problems here…
When someone hits a link, or googles a citation and views the research online, it’s infrequent that the whole paper or study is available.
Gaining access to the entire paper may be difficult or costly if you can’t utilize an educational institution to do so.
This leaves many beginners who wish take it upon themselves to sort out evidence at somewhat of a disadvantage.
Buying the studies individually is a joke in terms of cost, but there are a handful of decent services that can help you gain access to the material. Google Scholar1 and Cite Seer X2 are a couple of good free options, and there are others if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee. For the fitness enthusiast or student this could be worth the cost, but it may be a bit much for someone just looking to get in shape.
If you are interested in reviewing the research yourself understand that acquiring the skills necessary to properly review the material is a process, and it takes time, practice, and study of the methods to become very adept.
The second issue is pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience is defined as “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly believed to be based on scientific method.” 3
It’s easy to simply read the introduction or abstract of a study (which is usually the only thing available in a preview) and just make assumptions about the results.
One of the first things to consider when looking at scientific literature is the populous and size of the participants. Without going into detail this just helps you determine if the results of the study likely pertain to you.
For example, if the participants of the study where all female, and you are male, that might mean something different. Or if they were all diabetes patients the results may not apply to someone who is not diabetic, and of course if the sample size consisted of only 7 people, it may not be wise to generalize the results for everyone.
While some are simply misinterpreting research, there is a dark side of the fitness industry where scummy gurus or companies have figured out how people respond to “research shows” and either misquote the studies or only cite ones that support their claim in some way, leaving out the ones that contradict them even if they are numerous or of superior design. These days you sometimes even have to look into who funded the research to rule out possible biases or conflicts of interest.
The simple act of proceeding with caution makes you much more likely to get your hands on solid information grounded in sensible practice and science.
If “Wasted effort” is a bad thing, then “evidence based” is a good thing.
There are many, many people who have gotten into amazing shape going back decades. Decades before a lot of the emerging evidence we have today.
While many of the practices obviously were not ineffective, there are things that have been proven untrue and the practice of such things simply weren’t necessary (going into detail here is beyond the scope of this article).
There’s no shaming those who tried new things in an effort discover what works, but it certainly isn’t sensible to continue spending time and energy on ineffective practices, and scientific evidence helps filter out this wasted effort.
When we look at what the evidence based movement in the fitness industry does for everyone involved it’s my opinion that it is in a large a net-positive.
- When you look at what scientific evidence has done for the practice of medicine it’s hard to argue about what it can do for fitness.
- Trust is a requirement and you should seek some form of credibility.
- Look for research citations, but consider all the factors when it comes to relevant research.
- Beware of pseudoscience, scams or fads and proceed with caution in your search for fitness information.
Adopting the evidence based approach represents one of the significant Ah-Ha moments in my journey and has served me very well. I happily support the movement and hope you do as well.
Thanks for reading!
If you like my take on this, have questions or something to add to it, comment below or feel free to reach out to me via email or social media.
I’ll always do my best to help 🙂
- Google Scholar. https://scholar.google.com/
- Cite Seer X. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/index
- What is Pseudoscience? https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+pseudoscience&oq=what+is+pseudoscience&aqs=chrome..69i57.8295j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8