Don’t trust your trainer!

OK the headline is a little bombastic but there are a few reasons why you should genuinely doubt whatever it is your trainer tells you. I am not normally a trainer-basher and a really like a few trainers that I know. However, the threshold (which they will readily admit) to becoming a trainer is not very high. More worryingly, it has little to do with actual science.

I recently ran across an Outside article (found here) which dispelled a lot of myths that persist in the industry. A lot of times these articles are fluff pieces, but this one includes a couple of pet-peeves of mine that raise my intellectual hackles every time I hear them.

First let us review what “scientific” means when I talk about “scientifically proven”. When I say that, it broadly means that science guy studied an idea blind or double blind to the results and then plotted the results against a control group. The trend lines tell the story. If the trend lines for the non-control group is noticeably different than the control group, you may have a causative effect for whatever you are studying. This is a really good standard. You may lack a control group or worse, rely on self-reporting (which is susceptible to the reporters biases) but even in those cases researchers figure some sort of compensating control so they can trust their results. If you get evidence that is not generated this way, we call it anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence is anything that happens to you or a small group of people with little to no regularity. Get enough consistent anecdotal evidence and it can cross the “scientific” threshold into a noticeable trend. Your buddy telling you “a couple guys I know who use XXX product see XXX result” is anecdotal.

When you start applying that standard to your judgments you start seeing things differently. Why, exactly, is HGH banned as a PED? Why is marijuana illegal? Why do people insist on small class sizes (oh yes, look up that sacred cow)? Why do we think sugar (look this one up too) makes kids hyper? It gets so bad that you will find yourself immediately doubting what anyone says to you unless you see some sort of believable evidence to support their claim.

When it comes to sports science there is a plethora of short tidbits of wisdom which, it turns out, have very little sound scientific evidence supporting it. For example, stretching to prevent injury. Scientifically, this hasn’t been proven, and in the studies looking at it, the stretching group had an injury rate slightly higher than the non-stretching group. Another example is salt and cramping. I have always been fascinated with the obsession with sodium replenishment in sports because, while sodium is an important part of the cell, it is generally understood that the body needs very little sodium supplementation and the use of salt in the cells doesn’t go up under exercise. Indeed, when studied, no link between sodium supplementation and the prevention of cramps is found. In fact, science hasn’t even proved that mild dehydration really effects performance that much, if at all. The old adage “drink before you are thirsty” is not based in reality. It should be “drink when you are thirsty” which makes a wicked amount of sense. We wouldn’t have survived evolution if our bodies were that bad about telling us when we need to replenish our internal water supply. “Fat burning zone”, don’t even get me started. Let’s just call it “complete hogwash”. 

Facts and educated opinions underpin a successful modern society and, in the sports world, it can help clear up a ton of misconceptions. Cross-check everything your trainer tells you against trusted sources. Not everything on the internet can be trusted, but you are normally only a few clicks of a google search away from sound scientific evidence.


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