Opinions in the Fitness Industry
In the fitness industry there seems to exist an overabundance of opinion. Fitness enthusiasts, self-proclaimed gurus and even TV doctors chime in on what, according to them, is the best technique for an exercise, the best modality for training, the best dietary strategy, the best program for fitness and the list goes on…. An issue with the health and fitness industry is opinion should have a very limited place in any given decision-making process. Specifically, decisions regarding one’s health and fitness behaviors should be fact-based not opinion-based.
Disciplines based in science are subject to facts, theories that demonstrate a preponderance of the evidence, and practice validity substantiated by experience. When human physiology is the target of the efforts, there are discernible markers which can be tracked, metrics which can be measured and documented for quantifiable outcomes, and consistent responses which can be used for determination of reliability. When objectivity is the focus it is much easier to determine whether something is right or wrong, more effective or less effective and more consistent or less consistent. Subjectivity comes into play as a matter of preference, but not necessarily fact. For instance someone may like to use kettlebells, and therefore claim kettlebells provide the best workout. Another person may like suspension training using the TRX system, and therefore claim that modality provides the best workout. Both are opinions, not necessarily fact.
Identifying the goals of the training would be the determining factor for what method may or may not best yield an optimal result specific to the intention and desired outcome. When a physiological metric is assigned, different modalities can be compared for the greatest adaptation response respective of the purpose. The fact that the person enjoys kettlebells may help them to engage the activity more frequently, perform the actions at a greater effort and possibly tolerate the effort for longer periods of time compared to other activities that produce the same physiological response. But to say kettlebells provide the best workout would not be possible unless an unbiased comparison of measurable modalities were compared with equated variables.
To say one thing is better than another without a valid comparison is an ignorant thing to do professionally as it reflects a matter of opinion, and may in fact be wrong. An important attribute to understand is that everything involving humans will have a subjective aspect if emotional and psychological characteristics are considered. Therefore, a person may have an opinion but it may be rooted in absolutely nothing more than personal interest. This exists among people whom are overly-passionate about something and allow their subjectiveness to interfere with objectiveness.
Novel modalities, techniques, and programmatic variations are entering the fitness industry at a much higher rate than experienced in prior decades thanks to the information highway. As expected, people engage in these modalities and activities and many form strong opinions based on their enjoyment, perceptions and hopefully some quantifiable outcome. Sports have seen similar expansion from traditional approaches and experimentation seems to be in vogue. There seems to be different camps forming which criticize any activity that is not consistent with their beliefs. But again a belief does not confer fact.
Enthusiastic engagement does not replace valid measures of evidence or peer-reviewed support of whether the action is valid for the purpose. Sometimes the purpose is so general the metrics surrounding the comparison become less meaningful. For instance, consider caloric expenditure – how many calories are expended? If this is the only quantifiable component then who cares what modality or technique is used to accomplish the outcome as long as it is safe and appropriate for the participant. Yes some activities burn more calories than others, so if a comparison was made you could identify which is better. If it is specific to the individual though more deduction is required because the subjective aspects of participation must be considered – time, intensity, motivation interest etc. If on the other hand the purpose is sports power than several considerations must be made including biomechanical, metabolic and neuromuscular factors. Therefore for a person to simply say squats are best for power would be an opinion, not fact, because there are too many missing components to the statement. A review of the literature may show full squats increase power, but far less than when compared to ballistic and plyometric training. Here comparisons have already been made, yet there are still trainers that say “squat”, when asked, “What is best for power?” So is the answer a belief, an opinion, or partially correct? Likely, all three.
Due to the proliferation of new workout methodologies, supportive or unsupportive research does not exist in many cases to reflect broad and powerful opinion statements - but not having something appear in a peer-reviewed publication does not unto itself suggest it is false. In fact, many practices employed over years of implementation have been validated among qualified practitioners – just not published. Validly-tracked metrics of human physiology by qualified professionals which do not appear in any peer-reviewed context can be considered similar in evidence to a degree because they have been studied (in practice). Of course this requires years of data collection and “tweaking” to remove variables that were present but not validly-contributing to the measured outcome. In this case the scientific evidence is based on experience and data analysis rather than rigorous clinical trial, but again is not opinion, but rather a conclusion.
While having information is important and very helpful in making decisions, it can also be dangerous when it comes without requisite instructions of use or clarity in understanding what the information actually means. This is particularly important when activities are performed at high intensities, in more hazardous environments, are used in conjunction with changes in dietary intakes or supplements as well as among certain audiences. Fitness professionals should learn to lose their opinions and gain more knowledge based on fact, practical evidence, and consistencies through experience. Here there exists evidence – not opinion. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but it should never replace the facts.