Fitness Info: How To Tell Good From Garbage

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L hand to L thigh, tap L forearm with R hand, double fists raised overhead.
L hand to L thigh, tap L bicep with R hand, double fists raised overhead.
R hand to R earlobe, L hand to belt, both arms cross body in X.

Turning my eyes from my softball coach, I’d return my eyes to the game knowing what was coming next. Those 1st two sets of arm movements looked nearly identical.

Depending on which one was given would mean there would either be a throw-down to 3rd to peel a runner off base & that I, in left field, needed to be creeping in to cover the throw behind the 3rd baseman…or, there was to be a gutsy throw-down to 1st to pinch the runner who was inching out too much of a lead-off. The 3rd sign was just to distract from the 1st two. It was just noise. The other two were the signal.

These intricate signals were part of what made competitive softball so damn fun. We knew the ‘signal’, and enjoyed making a bunch of ‘noise’ to distract & throw off the other team.

When it comes to following guidance for caring for your body, you need to be able to pick up the signal from the noise.

And in the fitness & nutrition world, there is so.much.noise (aka bullshit non-truths). The deluge of noise happens, in part, because working in fitness is something that anyone can say they do, regardless of whether they have any experience or knowledge – thus – NOISE.

On top of that, there isn’t just one signal that’s right for every person either.

So we’re looking at 2 issues:

  • Multiple good/useful signals depending on the person’s needs & goals
  • God-awful amount of noise to wade through.

Every single week, either in-person or online clients (or friends who know I’ll find an answer for them) shoot me a question regarding something they heard being pushed as a ‘fitness truth’. And they’re frustrated. I get it.

There was no “owners’ manual” given for our bodies.

Our culture has created this thing where something is either ‘right’ or its ‘wrong’, it’s either ‘yes’ or it’s ‘no’ – when in fact the best answer for so much of fitness & nutrition is ‘it depends.’

The 30sec sound-byte trumps the actual information, even if the sound-byte totally skews what the data actually says (this is true for almost every scientific study that’s discussed in mainstream media as well).

Nick Tumminello first brought this up last weekend at The Fitness Summit, in what I think was his 3rd standing-O worthy rant, and I vowed to blog about. So here I am. And here you are. Let’s discuss this signal/noise thing, shall we?

Let’s begin with Nick’s gorgeous rant –

The discussion was on how we can get our clients to comply with our guidance and not be distracted by incorrect/shitty information (fairly certain we were discussing whether Tracy Anderson served any value in the fitness world, but I purposely try not to remember anything TA focused so can’t be sure…)

Either way – Nick said the following:

Instead of telling your client why that info is wrong, why don’t you help them figure out how YOU figured out that info is wrong? We don’t tell someone ‘2+2=4. Remember “four”.’ We make them learn to reason it out. We have them hold 2 fingers on 1 hand, 2 fingers on the other hand, and use reason to figure out how that equals 4. But we don’t do that in the fitness industry. We try to make them drink the koolaid & listen to our every word, instead of helping them learn to use reason. Teach your clients to learn how YOU get to the conclusions you did & they’ll be able to spot the BS themselves.

And then Nick dropped the mic and walked off (not really, he actually bummed an iced coffee off me after that). 😉

I love being the source of knowledge for people. And I love sharing what I know. But I love even more when clients become self-sufficient little fitness monsters, who can spot bullshit from a mile away, without needing me to help them with it.

Sure, in high school, I liked it better when I just let my super-hot chem tutor give me the answer. But only in a ‘that felt good for a second’ way. To get that deep, long smoldering burn of feel-good feelings, I had to work it out for myself.

That ‘hey, I did it!’ feeling, and the pride & confidence that came with that – it could only come if I learned how to do chem equations with my own brain. It helped to get pointed in the right direction by said chem tutor, but as he handed the reigns over to me more and more, he was doing exactly what a teacher should do – teaching me to think for myself.

**Fitness pros: If you don’t get chills at the idea of being the catalyst that helps someone learn to think for them self, please GTFO.

And because the Universe always seems to give you the chance to practice the lesson you’ve just learned, the day after Nick’s rant, one of my clients emailed me this article, and asked, “I’m confused by one of the points in this article, and I totally trust you Kate, so what’s your opinion?”

The article was on foam rolling, which definitely has “signals” (good info) on the topic, as well as “noise”(BS). Her question was regarding one statement in this article that you should ‘never use a foam roller on your low back’.

Here’s my email reply back to her: (I’ve added my methodology for my response in bold here, because I want to show how I reasoned it out).

D3C_2780

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Thanks for passing this along to me! I appreciate getting articles & questions from you guys as it helps me know what’s out there and how to respond to it, and help you be a smarter reader of fitness info! Let’s discuss this article…

They start off strong with the quote from a guy who works at Cressey Performance, which is one of the top trng facilities in the country and where a whole bunch of MLB pitchers train, so that sets the tone that this probably is a reliable article.
(Not always true, but it’s a good sign when the guy talking is working at a facility known for being at the top of the heap in smart programming).

They continue with a quote from the girl who created the MELT method, which is a mobility type program I’ve read about and think has some merit.

(Having previous experience with info coming out of one specific program like this helps build trust that what they are saying now is legit).

Here are a few questions I have about the ‘low back’ part of the article –

1. What does she mean by ‘low back’? Does she mean the QL muscles that spread out to the sides from the low back? Does she mean the erector spinae that run down along side the spine? The “low back” can considered a broad area, and she’s not super specific.

2. Every other professional quote has a bit of detail as to the ‘why’ for their quote…this one does not.
(Detailed doesn’t make it correct, but lack of it makes me feel I need to investigate further)

3. She says “muscles will freak out”…WHY will they freak out, WHY do low back muscles freak out if they are rolled but no other muscles “freak out” when we put a foam roller to them?
(The point to consider is: if there is a truth about this one part of the body, why isn’t that truth correct about every other area of the body that has the same tissue-type as the low back. Critical thinking skills – ON – she’s not wrong, just seek to understand the WHY.)

4. Here’s what I think the author means: She’s probably is trying to ensure you don’t dig into areas that have important stuff in them, like vertebrae, nerves, etc. However, manual therapists are trained to get in and work on this area, so to say “never roll out the low back” doesn’t mean ‘never do bodywork in that area’, so it seems like she just wants to encourage you to go see a professional if you have tightness or discomfort in an area that has all that important stuff in it. 

Hope this helps you see more into how I read fitness articles.
Thanks!

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Fitness consumers (ie everyone with a body who wants it to work well for a long time):

Please know that us fitness pros are absolutely here to help guide you on your journey. But we also want you to learn how to make your body work for you, so that you can be agile & adaptive to life without needing us to decide what is most right for you. We want you to learn how to use reasoning to find the signal. That’s what I tried to do in my reply to my client.

We know lots of things, but we honestly don’t KNOW how what’s right for you. As David said at the 2014 Fitness Summit, “Our guidance for our clients is merely a suggestion.” We’re here to help you learn how to spot the signal from the noise.

Tell me – what signals are you most confused about right now? What fitness or health stuff seems to be unclear for you? Drop your question or comment down below and let’s start investigating it and getting you some answers!

 

One thought on “Fitness Info: How To Tell Good From Garbage

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