Have you noticed the domination of scientific research in modern strength training? It is trendy and dandy (and more importantly, marketable) to be ‘scientifically proven’ or ‘backed up by research’ nowadays. The general reading public readily accepts this, and everybody seems to feel the need to get scientific. However, despite the initially positive character of the trend, there might be a downside to it.
First of all, I absolutely love science and the scientific approach. People obviously wouldn’t be where we are if there were no science. To put it straight, let me quote Richard Dawkins:
“Science is interesting, and if you don’t agree, you can fuck off.”
Well, this quote might not suit my train of thought the best in this case, but it is indisputably awesome and deserves to be a preposterous adornment for the article.
Anyway, let me get to the point. The rise of awareness regarding strength training and nutritional scientific research has given the opportunity for geeks and nerds to blossom and to market their research-based ideas as “smart training” (kindly disregarding anything else). There is nothing completely wrong with this. Everybody does his own ‘thang’. However, the words “scientific” and “research” often create an illusion that it is the only way. And in regards to strength training, the reality can’t be further from truth.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
– I worked and trained with several powerlifting and bodybuilding pros here in Ukraine. I can assure you that they have not read any studies during their training careers, and this has not had any influence on their progress and achievements whatsoever. On the other hand, I haven’t met people with more determination and love for hard work.
– Look at old-school lifters like Pyotr Kryloff or Arthur Saxon. Lots of their strength feats are not surpassed even today. Again, there was no scientific research at that time.
These facts show us that the massive obsession with studies we see nowadays is at least non-essential. Furthermore, instead of thumbing the Pubmed articles all day long, lots of trainees could spend more time actually training. In the end, if your goal is to lift more, the amount of research you absorbed means nothing if you don’t lift more. If your goal is to have bigger biceps, knowing all the biceps-growing studies in alphabetical order means nothing if your biceps doesn’t actually grow.
How to Deal with Research the Scientific Way
Educating yourself with research can be a pretty useful thing though. However, you need to approach it right. Let me give you a blueprint for dealing with studies with class:
1. First of all, know the rules of science. Here is a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson (I guess, he knows a thing or two about science):
– Question authority. No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
– Think for yourself. Question yourself. Don’t believe anything just because you want to. Believing something doesn’t make it so.
– Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment. If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it’s wrong. Get over it.
– Follow the evidence wherever it leads. If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
And perhaps the most important rule of all…
– Remember: you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They were human.
2. In other words, don’t blindly accept everything you’ve been told. Test the ideas, be precise in execution, analyze the results, accept what is useful and discard what is useless.
3. Take any research results with a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of skepticism. Know that everybody is different. There still might be a possibility that your body will respond differently comparing to any study results. Value empirical evidence the most.
4. Do not forget to apply common sense. If something sounds too good to be true, most likely it is false.
5. Explore the roots of the research. For example, you might have heard that some studies are sponsored by nutrition companies. How can you be sure about the results of such a study?
6. Embrace simplicity. Simple stuff will always outperform overly sophisticated things.
Theory VS Practice
Practice without theory is like driving on a road with pot holes. Yes, you will swear constantly, and it will take you more time to get from point A to point B comparing to a smooth road, but you will still make it (if you possess at least basic analytical skills). Theory without practice, on the other hand, is like buying a map, but never really going anywhere.
You can be the smartest ass in terms of theory, but if you don’t put money where your mouth is, then you are just another pussy theorist and your words have no value whatsoever.
So, is scientific research useless? Hell-fucking-no. It can be pretty damn useful, and it can save you lots of time, money, and effort. However, it means nothing without application, and it definitely means nothing if your practical experience shows that it is wrong. Finally, it is always better to go out there, do something, and get some sort of results than endlessly exploring theory and doing nothing. That’s it. Thanks for reading.
Alex “Old-School” Zinchenko
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