Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bonus Rant


We usually don't have a Sunday post, you get one day off from reading our rants. But I'm feeling extra ranty today about some trends that I've been seeing in the fitness community. Enjoy!

In the last decade there has been a huge democratization of the tools that scientists and academics typically only had available. I think that's a great thing for our society. Anyone who wants to understand data doesn't have to trust the ivory tower authority, they can do their own analysis and come to their own conclusions (though some people don't like when that happens).

However, we're at this weird point where everyone remembers the time when these tools were only available to the smarty pants folks, so they make the assumption that it's the tool that's making people smart and not the understanding of the science that's important. If someone has a complicated spreadsheet that perfectly balances their gym's programming, or if someone does fancy regression on big data they must know what they're doing. That's not true. Running a regression tells you nothing unless you understand all the assumptions that go into using that method.

I guess the difference is that it's become really easy to do analytic thinking (breaking stuff down - e.g., large multi-page spreadsheets about all the exercises and benchmarks you're programming) than synthetic thinking (bringing it all back together in a simple clear picture - e.g., the Texas Method is a great high-level way to program and it's simply stated in less than a page of text). It's much hard to put together coherent plans than it is to create a complicated spreadsheet, but the latter looks much smarter because it's complicated. Don't fall for it.

I'm not saying that we should put our blind trust in the academics - after going that route, I see no reason to trust academia any more than any other institution (in fact, I often trust it less). What we all need to do is put a critical eye to everything we see, question it, and try to really understand the problems that we want to solve and if the solutions are really giving the right answers.

I hope that when you come talk to me about nutrition or when I correct your form on the lifts you notice that I just don't bark a bunch of rules and list a bunch of studies at you. I often take way more time than you hoped to explain why I'm giving you certain nutritional guidelines to follow, or I start talking too much about the physics of the lift and why you need your shoulders a little bit in front of the bar on the clean! (just wait, I'm in the middle of putting chalkboards up in the gym, you'll never get away from me explaining things ad naseum now!) Just as I hope that you'll question every bit of nonsense you see on teh intarwebs, you'll question me when I give you advice. The only way to learn and the only way to progress is to understand and question. Don't accept just citing fancy looking studies and not understanding what's beneath the surface.