According to a Recent Study…

Do you remember citing your first paper? It was probably a book report in elementary school.  Your teacher asked you to write down the name of the book, so everyone knew what the hell you were talking about.  In middle school, you had to include 3-5 books.  In high school, it was 10-15, and there was always that one teacher that waxed poetic on the differences between MLA and APA formatting.  College work can lead to far more, and I’m sure that you’ve learned to not give a shit about research.

So have I.  That makes me sad.

Our culture loves to cite research, but it gets no respect.  According to Pretentious Organization Name that Harold Italicized, the second you see italics, or bold, or a trademark logo, your analytical brain turns off and you think, “This sounds legit.”  Example:

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“According to a new study” is the inflatable doll of the HOV lane.  Once used, it allows you to do whatever you want, which may include using the HOV lane to bypass traffic.  You may think you’re resourceful, but you’re going to piss off a lot of people.  Don’t be that guy.  (If you’re unsure, the HOV lane is the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.  In New Yawk, it’s for cars with multiple people, to ease the woes of a rush hour commute.  If this explanation was helpful, than I’m envious that you’re not dealing with urban sprawl and don’t have to worry about that.  +1 for you.)

I’ve considered myself scientifically curious from 7th grade when I built a lacrosse stick catapult to test how different pockets impacted distance of the ball thrown and the length of the first bounce.  The project took me to a science fair on Long Island, but compared to the kids who were studying growth of cancerous cells and global warming, lacrosse physics wasn’t that appealing.  I see the same things in the fitness world, and it makes most research boring as hell.

To properly study something we need to identify the “dependent variable” or effect,  the “independent variables” or cause, and account for the infinite other variables that may impact the study.  The rigors of scientific study can lead some of us to believe that we have to exercise just like people do in studies.  Let’s call this “research based fitness“.

Research based fitness is governed by the necessities of isolating variables.  It requires exercise machines to control human movement, metabolic carts to measure oxygen consumption, and sometimes lasers or x-rays.  If there’s too much exposure, it can make you think that this is what a good gym should look like:

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Last week’s exercise physiology hot topic was the 7-Minute Workout, and we became a victim of sub-par science and media sensationalism.  You can read more about the sub-par science in THIS post from Adam Bornstein.  The media sensationalism is my take on our culture giving so much hype to a goddamn 7-minute long workout.

“Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt!”
“It looks like she did the 7-minute workout, do you think we should ask her about it?”
“Um, no, because anyone who thinks that working out for 7-minutes per day is going to give you a big health or aesthetic impact isn’t worth talking to.”

Srsly, 7-minutes?  There are some awesome short-duration workouts out there, but they’re far and few between, not to mention that the intensity is so high that they’re not possible or appropriate for most people.  This isn’t an isolated event.  This happens far more frequently than you’d think.  It’s led to a culture that largely believes that exercise is a necessary evil, not a readily enjoyable pleasure.  We look at exercise as a way of burning calories, not creating a meaningful long term change in our bodies.  Why are we so reluctant to move for the sake of moving?

I think it’s because our culture prides efficiency, both of information and time.  The more information we have about exercise, the better use we can make of our time.  Less time exercising, more time catching up on The Voice or watching The Biggest Loser.  Irony.  Go to a concert and dance.  You’ll have more fun, and you’ll be semi active.  AmIRight, EDC crowd?

There is a disconnect between the clinical exercise physiology world and the other 99% of people.  Few people want to sit under florescent bulbs and a droning HVAC system.  They want to have a good time while working hard and getting results.  They want to move.  How much movement do you see in a little gym?  Not very much.  In fact, so little, that when you see something like this it’s completely baffling:

Will you see this being studied in an exercise physiology lab anytime soon?  Unfortunately not.  That’s because of the vast variety in exercise selection, load used, movement strategies, and participation.  That variety doesn’t connect well to most lab rats researchers who are keen on isolating variables from the comfort of the lab.

In my dream world, we’d be able to study these less traditional exercises.  We’d look at MovNat strategies to see how they improve people’s movement quality in their daily lives.  We’d compare Zumba and treadmill usage to to see how they impact how participants feel, not just look.  We’d look at how strength training builds confidence, not just about how it knows muscle.  We wouldn’t quantify exercise less, but we’d qualify it much more.

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I’m all for peer review in the scientific community, but there needs to be a higher standard of peer review according to consumers of fitness information.  We need to take a better look at how we’re prescribing exercises, what the compliance rate of those exercises is, and how people feel while they’re exercises.

If you’re following an exercise program, you need to honestly look at what you’re doing and consider if you’re getting the results that you deserve.  You need to replay this information to your program designer.  You’re responsible for giving yourself the best experience possible, but also ensuring that those around you are enjoying the same successes.  Be part of the bigger picture.

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3 Replies to “According to a Recent Study…”

    1. I’ve mastered the Google Image search, and find lots on Imgur.com in particular.

      You’re on to me Mathieu, I have some workout templates that I’d like to drop into the Fitocracy world in the next few weeks. You’ll have plenty of warning 😉

  1. Interesting article. We’re also attempting a 7th grade science project identical to yours and I found your post. Can you share any details on the lacrosse stick catapult? We’re testing the difference between a boys and girls stick.

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