Fast Food Solutions for Fast Food Problems

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” -Albert Einstein* Every time I go to a store with a large parking lot, I always see cars hovering around the front waiting for a space near to open up. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of … Read more

Narrowing the Bullseye

I often find myself describing science as a limiting factor. The typical lay-view, reinforced by Hollywood, stereotypes scientists as mysterious figures in labcoats handing down edicts the same way a king would hand down laws to his peasants. But it doesn’t quite work that way.

Most fields relevant to us — falling under the considerable umbrella of biology — are descriptive sciences: variable X causes event A, under circumstance Y. We watch it, write it up, and try to figure out what’s going on based on what we already know.

Rayleigh scattering causes the sky to appear blue on cloudless days. That’s the process of descriptive science. Watch a thing happen, and then explain the immediate causes and the circumstances in which it happened. Descriptive science leads to an ever-greater level of detail as causes and effects are established, leading us down the rabbit hole as more questions arise from each answer.

In these fields, published research establishes boundaries. Very rarely do you run into any kind of prescriptive knowledge, the What To Do, step-by-step user-manual kind of knowledge that seems expected by a considerable fraction of gym-goers. You can imagine how these conflicting views create friction between science and practice.

In the softer domains of personal training and S&C coaching, you run into real and very valid criticisms of exercise science research. While there are good points to make regarding validity and generalization — points I often agree with — dismissing research without consideration isn’t helping anyone. I find that to be as unhelpful as the crowd that can’t make any decisions without a Pubmed abstract.

Read more

Should we really keep it real?

Over the years, I’ve made it a point to be loud and proud about my criticism of the fitness and supplement industries. That’s the main reason this blog and site were started; I’ve always put the truth ahead of sales gimmicks and flashy marketing, in an attempt to introduce some honesty into the field. I … Read more

How do you keep motivated?

Yeah, I know — not the kind of thing I usually write about, right? The psychological elements of exercising and dieting are important, key even. I find that it’s fairly easy for me to get into a routine and stick with a plan, which is probably an artifact of experience. But from time to time, … Read more

Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers

I read a lot of science-related blogs and news sources, and I saw this linked on one of them just the other day:

NSF-Funded Ethics Report on Human Enhancement Released Today

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA – August 31, 2009 – The Human Enhancement Ethics Group today released a new report funded by the US National Science Foundation, addressing such topics as: definitions, possible scenarios, freedom & autonomy, fairness & equity, societal disruptions, human dignity, rights & obligations, and policy & law.

Entitled “Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers,” the 50-page report serves as a convenient and accessible starting point for both public and classroom discussions, such as in bioethics seminars.

You can read the whole thing for free here: Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers (PDF, 50 pages)

Read more

On Effectiveness and Conceptual Frameworks

I complain a lot about people and workout programs. Specifically, I complain about how people look at programs. And diets, for that matter.

Most people go about it wrong-headed. They place emphasis on the actual protocol they’re following, as opposed to why that protocol is actually working.

Your workout and diet are not important. There, I said it.

Read more

Bro-Science: You Can Find Research to Support Anything

The title here is clear enough; how often have you heard someone say that you can find research to support any position?

In this post, I want to touch on why that’s not true.

The Abstract Isn’t The Study

It’s all too tempting to do a quick search on Pubmed, dig up some abstracts that seem to be agreeing with you, and use them as support in an argument.

Problem is, the abstract may or may not contain enough information to draw conclusions. An abstract is, by definition, a brief summary of an article that gives you the rundown. The abstract should tell you all the basics; what was being studied, how it was studied, the results of the experiment, and what conclusions can be drawn.

Depending on the scope and complexity of the research, an abstract may cover most of the relevant points, but it could just as easily hit only the high points. For this reason, having the full paper on hand is necessary if you really want to see what went on.

Why is this important? Because knowing who or what was being studied, the methods used for the experiment, how data was collected and analyzed, and what conclusions were drawn (and why) are all important when you want to understand research.

All too often, somebody will just read the conclusion of an abstract and assume that it backs him up, only to find out later that it actually says the exact opposite. If he’d bothered to actually look at the methods used and what the authors said about their conclusions, he’d have realized that just relying on the conclusion was being hasty.

Point being, you can’t jump to conclusions simply based on a few lines in an abstract. You have to evaluate the entire study, even understanding its limitations, before you can take any meaning from a piece of research.

Read more

Asimov: The Relativity of Wrong

I was recently reminded of one of my favorite articles.

It’s by Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite authors. Mr. Asimov died back in 1992, but occasionally one of his gems will resurface and I’m reminded again why I enjoy his work so much.

This article, titled The Relativity of Wrong, was written to demonstrate a crucial, but still poorly understood, facet of science: the idea that a statement or idea can be less wrong than another. What, you might ask, does this have to do with strength training?

As it turns out, it has plenty to do with it. More specifically, it has plenty to do with the volumes of information (and misinformation) that pervade the industry, and the poor (if any) reasoning ability that comes along with this. Since my schtick in this game involves using principles of logic and critical thinking to tear down idiocy, it’s very relevant.

Mr. Asimov’s frustration and subsequent rebuttal are in many ways parallel to what goes on in the fitness industry.

It’s unfortunate that the mindset that he, and others of his kind, so actively try to discourage is so rampant. It’s not just in the fitness industry; you see this all over. When you can’t even teach science in schools because of superstitious traditions, you’ve got a problem.

With the levels of bro-science and general anti-intellectualism at all time highs, I feel the need to occasionally interject things such as this in order to help chip away at some of the ignorant thinking.

Enjoy.

Read more

Are you ‘result-based’ or ‘idea-based’?

One of the core problems facing everyone involved in fitness and strength training is how to figure out what is garbage and what is legitimately effective. This can be difficult because the entire field of exercise science is still made up of a lot of unknowns. Most of the knowledge and things we take for … Read more

Realistic Expectations

Have your mind right, the rest will follow

When people start weight training, they come in with a lot of pre-conceived notions. For the average raw newbie with the common if ill-defined motivation of “looking better”, most of these notions can be anticipated.

For men, they want a 6-pack set of abs. Women need to tone up the legs and firm up the butt.

Neither the average man or woman wants to get “too bulky, like the guys/girls in the magazines”.

In logic, it’s generally considered that if you start with a false premise, you will invariably end up with a false conclusion. If you’re in the gym busting ass and watching your diet like a hawk week in, week out, under the wrong idea, you’re probably not ending up where you want to be. A false premise has created the expectation of an outcome that doesn’t follow from what you’re doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely aware that the subjects of exercise and nutrition can get complex at times. Your job, be you beginning gym rat trying to figure things out or trainer trying to figure things out for people, is to reduce that complexity down to simple terms. It can seem like a daunting task.

The very fortunate reality of the matter is that, at the end of the day, it’s not that hard. While you’re being actively discouraged from learning and improving on your own by a fitness industry that needs your ignorance in order to profit, you can still make headway in this area.

Then we have the other side of the matter: how realistic is any given goal for you? As a newbie starting out, are you even asking the right questions? If your knowledge base is fundamentally skewed, how can you be?

Read more