Cardio vs. Weights part II – The Efficacy of Research in Program Design

I came across an older but still extremely valid article the other day.  Alwyn Cosgrove, owner of Results Fitness, had a great article a while back discussing research and program design. There was a quote that stood out in particular:

“First – we see what works in the gym – in reality. Then we talk to fellow gym owners and coaches as to what they see working in their facilities and share what we see. We adjust certain things and see if it works better or not. Then we look at the research to explain the why. So – it’s our own experience and observations. Then it’s the experience and observations of some of our colleagues. And then it’s the research. So when I quote research here in my newsletter or blog, it’s actually step three. I’m not looking at research for methods – I’m looking for further explanation as to the mechanisms behind what we see on a daily basis at our facility. Charlie Francis once mentioned that he felt training research was at least five years behind what coaches and practitioners are doing. Maybe that’s not too far off. So, we don’t ignore the research. But we also don’t look for research to tell us what to do — We’re looking for research to explain why what we do works. Sometimes we find those studies- sometimes we don’t. But we keep training people in our own little “research lab”. I don’t think any research paper has ever changed what we do in practice too much.”

This is priceless. Too many trainers, therapists, etc. have their intellectual capacity seized too hard by the grappling hooks of research to get out of the box and try some stuff.  If it ain’t evidence-based, it’s trash in their eyes. 

On the other hand, is it odd for someone to look back to research in retrospect to see if what he’s doing is actually working? Isn’t that a bit bold, perhaps even unsafe to not stay within the limits of research? Hell no! It’s called “building on success”.

Let me explain: Let’s say you’re training “Bob”. Bob’s 60, and has been battling a knee problem for years. He would like to be able to run again, but hasn’t been able to (not even on a treadmill) for a decade. He went through physical therapy with a PT, working on a “evidence-based” program focusing on terminal knee extension work and hip stabilization exercises to strengthen the patellar tendon and provide a stronger hip joint (respectively). However, the physical therapist did not incorporate enough tri-planar stretching, looking at mobility deficits at other joints distal or proximal (far or close) to the affected joint, or any soft tissue work distal and proximal to the affected joint (basically 3 very significant areas to consider with knee pathology). As a result, physical therapy was only partly successful,  and Bob still has pain because of the incomplete approach to proper rehabilitation. Since the “backed by research” program didn’t work out for Bob, the PT gives him the declaration that he should never run again, for fear of further degeneration of the knee joint.

Now Bob doesn’t have his head in the sand, and he’s not about to give up hope just yet, (AS HE SHOULDN’T EVER!) so he hires a movement specialist personal trainer to see if he/she can offer any insight.

This movement specialist is well versed in assessing clients from the nose to the toes, looking for potential deficits in strength and range of motion in key torque converter areas of the body, the significance of moving in all 3 planes, and all the while improving body composition. So, after a few weeks Bob has been able to see progress, because he has been faithful with his homework the specialist has given him regarding his soft tissue work, stretching, and strengthening exercises, and he’s being careful about increasing awareness of and reducing/eliminating time that is spent doing the offending activities that exacerbate his pain. 

He’s also so happy that you’re not wasting his time with prescribing overly-easy or incomplete exercise protocols that insurance companies will only reimburse for factory farm PT clinics that prescribe them.

He’s now progressed to the point that he’s able to squat, lunge, develope core stability, and increase mobility in all 3 planes, all with pain free motion. You know, the stuff that human beings need to do every day anyway. 

Basically, Bob is seeing “success”. He reports his knee has never felt better in years.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not saying that research is wrong, or ineffective. Obviously, there have been proven techniques in the past that work for individuals pursuing fat loss, or in our case with Bob, joint injuries. All I’m saying is that maybe we should try to think outside the box a little more and try something a little out of the ordinary….as long as it’s within the constraints of building upon previous success. This is what people like Gary Gray, Paul Chek, Mike Boyle, and plenty more have been doing for decades, and these are the movers and shakers in the field! They build upon previous success, and if it doesn’t work out… whether it causes pain, or is an ineffective strategy for losing body fat, then they get back to the drawing board and start again.

I’m out! MG

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