by Ninja Master Mark Fisher
I recently had a very intelligent friend ask me a great question.
This bright and hardworking fellow is getting back into personal training after a hiatus. Being studious and taking his work seriously, he’s dived back into reading and brushing up on best practices.
Like many of you folks… he’s reading many, many conflicting bits of advice.
His simple but brilliant question was…”How do you know what to believe?”
I think this warrants a further look, as I presume most of you get info from a variety of sources. How do you separate the cream from the poop?
Bias, Dogma, and Tricky Minds
The first thing we need to start with is the art and science of information processing. Before we get into the logistics of discerning if fitness info is useful, we need to first admit that we will all be biased by things on a subconscious level. (I think Influence by Robert Cialdini is a must read for… um… well, everyone.)
You are more likely to take the advice of a jacked trainer than a fit-but-not-particularly-impressive-looking trainer. This is unfortunate, as the former may be a product of great genetics and/or steroids but a total quack, and the latter may be full of legit knowledge. But this is the way the brain works.
If you’re reading info on the internet, you will be influenced by the “voice” and “brand” of the site/trainer you’re reading. Meatheads may feel comforted by sites with black backgrounds and pictures of chains, enormous powerlifters with tattoos and bikini models. Many women intimidated by gym culture will not be into this site regardless of the content of the info.
Furthermore, your perception of the info you read will also be affected by things like grammar. I know BRILLIANT people who can’t write for shit. And I know a lot of lovely writers who don’t have a lot of particularly helpful or accurate info.
And a final fun fact? Studies have show that people who don’t think they are susceptible to unconscious influences are FUCKED. Don’t think marketing works on you? I’ll pray for you. The good news is people who know they may unwittingly be biased have a chance of seeing true reality.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Once you can accept you will be biased to some extent by non-relevant things, we can get down to business.
Sorting Shit Out For Fitness Pros and Enthusiasts
The next step will depend on how much you love reading about fitness. If you’re in the business and you love love LOVE fitness, ideally you’ll read your ass off.
Although you will see plenty of disagreements, if you read enough, you’ll start to find threads of things that pretty much everyone agrees on. In the rarified air of elite athletes, things will be more complicated. Bodybuilders, Olympic athletes, powerlifters… things get complicated when you’re pushing the very limits of human potential.
If you’re a trainer working with regular folks (or you’re just looking to get leaner and improve your own health and hotness), you’ll get most of your results from focusing on the big rocks. You needn’t make yourself nuts over the relative merits of different block training protocols, or exactly how many carbs to get in while doing your carb cycling.
You can usually do great by focusing on what basically everyone agrees on. Work out at least a few times a week. Focus mainly on full body movements. Do strength training first, and make sure your program has progression, variation, and precision. Develop reasonable levels of strength in the full body movements. Manage your stress, get consistent sleep, and eat reasonably. Get sufficient water, focus on whole, unprocessed foods without becoming a weird zealot who brings chicken in Tupperware to dinner parties. (No judgement here, I’ve totally been that guy.)
For a bonus tip, I’m actually a fan of looking at research. Here’s the thing about research; it doesn’t lie, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. That said, it doesn’t fucking lie! If you’re not up for spending time on Pubmed when you have questions, I highly recommend the Alan Aragon Research Review for nutrition stuff and the Strength and Conditioning Research for training stuff.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!
Now what if you HATE fitness and see it as a necessary evil? What if you don’t want to spend virtually anytime on it. How do you know who or what resources to trust?
This is where it gets a bit harder. You’ll most likely rely on advice from people you know. And this makes sense. Unfortunately… how do THEY know what good info is?
Certainly if they got good results, that’s a nice start. And indeed, any trainer or resource worth their salt should have testimonials. But how do you know those testimonials are valid? And even if you get to talk to the expert in question, how do you know they’re not just a snake oil salesman who is incredibly articulate and confident?
My counterintuitive answer is… look for humility.
Say it with me again Ninja readers… our battle cry…
“Trust those who seek truth, be wary of those who’ve found it.”
At MFF, we try to never be more than 99% certain. As a student of philosophy, I can be 100% I exist. Everything else is conjecture. No offense everyone else in the world, but I’m with philosopher Bertrand Russell on this one. I only KNOW FOR SURE that I exist.
By first recognizing the very human quality of unwittingly slipping into dogma, we cultivate an honesty about our own biases. If we are CERTAIN that we are RIGHT, I believe we loose the mental flexibility that is an a prior condition of intellectual honesty.
One of the most telltale signs is someone who claims their methodology is the One True Way. Additionally, when someone spends a lot of time calling out other folks, I would be wary.
Finally, if you’re actually looking to hire a fitness professional, I think you can get a lot of info by interviewing them. Some of my favorite go to questions are “What are your five favorite books on training?” (most trainers won’t have read five, sad but true) and “what are the four muscles of the rotator cuff” (not the most basic question, but still something any legit trainer should know).
And I’ve said this before, but let me say it again. If you are in a different city, but you trust ME, I’m really happy to do a quick phone or email interview with any prospective trainer so you can at least know they have the MFF seal of approval!
Just email us at [email protected] and I’ll help yooooou!
Choose Your Path
So there are two paths before you.
For folks that are going to read widely and deeply in fitness (either pros or enthusiasts), look for the common threads.
Try not to get too lost in the minutiae and petty disagreements. If and when those become meaningful to your work or training, it’s likely you’ll have been in the game long enough and will have enough of a base of knowledge and experience to be discerning.
For people that hate fitness, you’re gonna have to outsource a lot of your education and find a resource you trust; be it a book, a membership site, or a real live fitness expert.
In this scenario, you will of course want to make sure the person has experience, education, and testimonials. Unfortunately, there are many folks out there with all of the above who are not particularly sophisticated in their methodologies. So once you’ve checked those boxes, I would actually look to see if they have humility and an open mind.
One of our most cherished values at MFF is being a life long learner. You’re looking for someone who is capable of changing their mind based on new information.
One. Mo’. TIME!
“Trust those who seek truth, be wary of those who’ve found it!”
What do you think? Am I off base here? Are there other techniques you use for deciding what information is or is not credible?
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