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.

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