Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Don't go to a gym that looks like a gym

Image stolen from here.
My favorite math blogger (yes, I do have a favorite math blogger) posted this yesterday. It's a great introduction to an insidious bias that we encounter everyday but don't realize. The gist is that when you have a selection based on a sum of two independent properties that the properties become negatively correlated.


The linked article tells the story of Hollywood actors. Let's say that there are two criteria that are needed to select a person off the street and make them an actor: 1) how pretty they are and 2) how talented they are. A very pretty person can get away with a small amount of talent and still be "good enough" to be an actor. Likewise a really talented actor can be not pretty if they are really good. What we see is that prettiness and talent are negatively correlated. But that's because we're not observing the entire population, we're only observing those who were selected.

When I read that, I thought I had a brilliant insight: don't go to a fancy gym because fanciness is negatively correlated with quality of instruction, or more simply: don't go to a gym that looks like a gym. A gym can either have a large fancy open space with the newest fanciest equipment that Rogue has for sale, cold-plunge pools, use awesome stock photos in their social media ads, and offer slick 6-week challenges (for a limited time only!) every other month. Or they can offer boring programming that slowly gets you strong with only barbells and a cranky owner who turns off the fans in the middle of summer because the noise bothers him. Of the gyms that survive, the fancy ones are necessarily worse than the boring ones - the math says so.

So after I wrote that, I read a comment on the original post that linked to a pre-print of a chapter in Taleb's new book entitled "Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons."  It's the same idea, you want folks who don't look the part because if they made it, they had to be that much better than those who do look the part. Of course the last section of that chapter is "Real Gyms Don’t Look Like Gyms."

So I wasn't original and clever at all!

Here's that last section copied here since I know most of you don't follow my links (go read that chapter, it really is worth reading!).
This education labeling – which provides a lot of cosmetic things but most certainly misses something essential about antifragility and true learning – is reminiscent of gyms. People are impressed with expensive equipment, fancy, complicated, multicolored, meant to look as if it belonged to space ships. It is made to appear maximally sophisticated and scientific – but remember that what looks scientific is usually scientism not science. As with label universities, you pay quite a bit of money, largely for the benefit of the real estate developer. Yet people into strength training (those who are actually strong across many facets of real life) know that users of these machines gain no strength beyond the initial phase – and have known that for at least two and a half millennia. In fact, by having recourse to complicated equipment that typically target very few muscles, regular users will eventually pear-shape and get weaker over time, with skills that do not transfer outside of the very machine that they trained on. The equipment may have some use in a hospital or a rehabilitation program, not for regular people. For, on the other hand, the simpler barbell equipment (a metal bar with two weights on both ends) is the only one that gets you to recruit your entire body for exercises – and it is the simplest and cheapest to get. All you need is to learn the safety skills to move off the floor the heavier piece of metal you can lift while avoiding injury.


row 500 / run 400
crawling lunge
10 KB swings or snatches
double KB overhead lunge
10 TGUs or windmills
10 goblet squats
5 pull-ups or push-ups or dips


squat 8-5-3x5


2 pull-ups + 2 dips between strength sets

Group Workout

6 rounds:
5L, 5R kettlebell front squat 


6 rounds as quickly as possible:
5 pull ups
5 push ups


2 minutes of v-ups


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