You probably don’t understand science.
It’s the hot new thing in the fitness industry these days to be “evidence based”.
We all know that there are plenty of bad coaches and trainers out there. Up until recently, everyone just sort of did their own thing, with one-size-fits-all programs that may or may not work out for their clients. This has led to all kinds of garbage training fads, get-jacked-quick schemes, and misleading information. The average person, sifting through mountains and mountains of low quality training information, is very easily confused.
This led to a countermovement: coaches and trainers who drew from the latest fitness research to try and be as objectively knowledgeable as possible - evidence based.
The problem is, exercise science is still a relatively new field. We know a lot more than we used to, but there’s still plenty of places where the data is missing, incomplete, or of poor quality.
In a general sense, NONE of us are very knowledgeable when it comes to understanding or evaluating science. Most people think that all you have to do is find a study that agrees with your argument, and you’re set. This has led to a lot of trainers and coaches who think that they’re "evidence based", when the reality is that they’re anything but. It’s a lot more complicated than just stringing together a few studies.
If I had to make just one statement about how to understand science, it’s that you should probably never believe anything you read in the mainstream media (and most alternative media sources) when it comes to reporting on scientific studies.
In a general sense, mainstream publications are scientifically illiterate and will report on virtually anything that can drive attention and gather more clicks and views. This means that they tend to make exaggerated claims not supported by the scientific research that they cover, and pass off poor-quality scientific information as being important and respected. Over time, this leads to general confusion about the real scientific process, as well as the impression that science itself is misleading and exaggerated.
You probably know the kind of stories I’m talking about. Sitting is the new smoking, they say. Chocolate is good for you, they say. Put butter in your coffee to get healthier, they say. Subway’s subs have yoga mat chemicals in them, they say. We’re constantly being bombarded by these silly stories which have no real basis in scientific evidence, but somehow become the topic of the month or year with shocking regularity.
The reason that we fall for these things is because we’re just as scientifically illiterate as the people writing these stories. We don’t know how to sort good from bad quality evidence, so all forms of scientific evidence appear to be of equal value. We think of science as a series of "cool facts about things" instead of an ongoing process. This becomes confusing when we try to understand why there are so many clearly conflicting messages out there.
Most of us aren’t evidence based. Some of us are more evidence based than others, but no one is completely based on quality scientific evidence alone. In many cases, there simply isn’t good evidence for why we do certain things and not others.
For this reason, high level theory and personal preference becomes a significant factor in understanding why certain coaches or trainers do things in certain ways. At the very least, in cases where there is no scientific evidence, good coaches and trainers try to work based on their own personal experiences and the experiences of their clients over time. There is still a great deal of “art” that comes into the training of any serious athlete, and there’s no such thing as a “perfect program” or a program that is 100% evidence based.
So how can we learn how to be more scientifically literate?
This is the beginning of another new series of blog posts, this time on the ways that we misunderstand science, and what we can do to avoid it. As I post more, I will update this post with more and more links to the coming articles.
Once again, here I am writing a long series on my latest pet topic. I'm gonna need more coffee.
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