Jun 232012
 

“It’s the exception that proves the rule…”

I spend a lot of time at work ranting. Basically, we have a lot of time where not a lot is happening and the primary part of our role is “just be there”, so I have plenty of chances to empty my brain all over people.

Recently I had a shift where one particular conversation brought a few things into forward focus and made me realise I should touch on them here. Today, a big one.

You often hear about “The exception that proves the rule”.

It seems to be a fairly accepted idea that any rule that exists will have exceptions. (Except grammatical rules in Esperanto, but to be fair most people don’t care about that. (Sorry, Mum! I just can’t see it catching on when the reward is usually “talk to more old people”.))

The basic gist is that any rule worth its salt will have some exceptions or outliers, no matter how “solid” the rule seems to be.

I have to wonder, though: “If the rule has exceptions, is the term rule really the best one to use? Wouldn’t guideline perhaps be more appropriate?”

Why simply being “a research based trainer” is never going to be enough on its own.

There is a lot of fuss these days about physical trainers being “research based”. People wear the term like a badge of pride and as if being proven as such means their word should now be accepted without question. Well, I am a very big fan of a statement made by one of my favourite research-based trainers I know of, one Mr. (soon to be Dr.) Mike T. Nelson (herald of Metabolic Flexibility and fellow in The Movement):

“Research is a great place to start testing.”

The problem with many fitness and health magazines.

If you open the pages of Men’s Health or any of the magazines in the same vein at your local newsagent you are quite likely to be hit with lots of “the latest research”. Or, more accurately, snippets of interpretations of excerpts of relatively recent research that have been crushed and edited to fit a certain part of a certain page on a certain topic with a certain agenda.
A.K.A. Not the whole story.

I see the same attitude as being common with those who think themselves educated in fitness and health. The attitude that by seeing the conclusions made by scientists in a particular study they now have access to some rule that can be applied to all training and in relation to any person.

Beating the spread

The problem is that in many studies specific data points can vary massively. Just because the mean or even the median of data implies something that doesn’t mean it was even significant for some in that very study.

Lets put that into context: Studies usually chose a specific group of people (age, training status, weight, sex etc) that may not match up with your own status and even within that group results are rarely completely consistent.

So what good is research? Or as my workmate asked recently “So if you’re saying that no true rules seem to exist, then how do you judge what to question?”

Try Mike’s idea; which I would implement thusly…

  1. Pick a goal (a desired outcome).
  2. Research methods that have achieved similar outcomes (How have others succeeded? What has the most data in support of it being a successful method?)
  3. Sort the research by context (Which examples seem to most closely match your current state?)
  4. Test the best candidate method.
  5. Observe and evaluate the results.
  6. Tweak or change methods.

Craig Keaton of The Movement Dallas once mentioned the idea of “turning research into me-search”. (Or something like that. I forget EXACTLY what he said…)
I love this concept. I couldn’t care less (for personal application) about what specific exercise protocol improved the cardiac function of Olympic cross-country skiers (Sorry, Tabata protocol); I am nowhere near Olympic level fitness and I haven’t touched skis in my life.
I couldn’t care less about what the latest hot MMA fighter does as fight prep; I’m not logging extensive training hours at martial art or training up for a high stakes competition. Hell, I don’t move or need to move like an MMA fighter (not that I’d mind in some cases).

However, when someone talks about grip development, skin toughening, muscle building on classical hard-gainers or strengthening joints, I’m all ears.
I don’t hope for an answer. All I’m looking for is a clue to the right question.

Lots of people love to try to hand us the answer; it makes them feel good and powerful to act superior and knowledgeable. Is anyone trying to help you ask the right questions?

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