Posted March 30, 2010

Breaking News: Fun Study Points out the Obvious

Common knowledge is a great thing, especially when it comes from a highly reputable source. Take for instance the position stand from the ACSM on the health benefits of physical activity (2006). The paper essentially said that those who worked out more had better overall health, while those who worked out less had a greater risk or incidence of disease. I know, try to contain yourselves, but this was breaking news in the day (four years ago, we were all quite a bit more naive), and apparently required the combined resources and man-power of a large national organization to determine this as a hard fact.

While I am all for reviewing research and following recommendations that make sense, let’s face it: there is a large volume of research that is either complete BS, or is just waiting to be dis-proven. Many of the studies have proven issues with their sampling, method of application, statistical review, or application to the real world. Especially with studies looking at exercise and health benefits or comprehensive studies looking at improving performance, many use college students (who else would be willing to participate for a small benefit, as well as being a readily available population at a university), have small intervention times (long enough to complete the intervention, analyze the data and defend a thesis for a masters degree, this gives about 6 months intervention time), or involve single-intervention study designs, that don’t look at how the body adapts to exercise over more than a small window of time.

There are lots of theories about how the body works, and how it adapts to exercise. Many academics will say that in order for them to believe a theory is based in science and therefore has relevance (or is the “truth”), it has to be backed by research. While this is a safe concept, it has some inherent flaws. First, most research designs cannot conceptually prove the interrelations of the body adequately, and will therefore probably never occur. Second, people will get fit and fat with or without the understanding of the complex physiological adaptations that take place, and will continue to do so whether we understand how or not. The key fact to remember is that research can only point out what can be discovered through the research design, and by nature it is a fairly limited scope to view the world through.

For those who deem the research to be the main impetus for how the body adapts to exercise, they will be behind the times. The use of a stability ball has been common-place in most fitness facilities for more than a decade, but the research body is just deciding to devote time and resources to looking at how it works. Does it mean that since the research isn’t there that using a stability ball isn’t effective? Of course not. Imagine how long it will take for the researchers to acclimate themselves to something like a Bosu, or kettlebells, or a TRX system.

Perhaps we need a new system of developing and implementing research than currently exists? Maybe universities will consult with the health clubs and personal trainers of the world and ask them what are the big issues they face, what resources they are using, and maybe see what the effect of using those resources in specific ways will have with their clients. While I am more than keen on reading about leptin or C-reative proteins and their effect on the body during and after exercise, this doesn’t provide any information that the average or even above average personal trainer can utilize with their clients, other than merely quoting it so they can seem smart. So let’s say that there are people out there with some real knowledge. Sure, they don’t have any research papers in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but they have been working with clients for about 10 or 20 years, and have a few things that the know work in all their clients. Should we dismiss their knowledge as being merely anecdotal? Let’s listen to the wisdom of our elders, and weigh each opinion we hear as opinion that helps us form our own opinions, and that the research also helps assist in our formation of opinions to offer to clients and ourselves for our own exercise programming.