Real World Relevance and Telling The Whole Story

by Ray Gowlett

I read, A LOT.  I felt it gave me a leg up in the fitness world, like it put me ahead of the competition.  It left me with a sense of confidence, enough that I would make strong claims like ‘Lift weights!  You’ll run faster!’ …until you actually do it with enough clients to find out it doesn’t necessarily work, at least not all of the time.   My mistake?  Not reading the primary research and telling the client the whole story, that is, what differences they could expect in the real world?

Many blogs require clicks, that is, their truth depends on the number of people who read it.  Fair enough.  The harsh reality is, technical papers don’t get ‘liked’.   Now, reading well written blogs can be useful, but don’t stop there! You’re on the right track, keep going!  It’s like learning to power clean with an empty bar, and then never putting any weight on it.

Why go further? Quite often, blogs are simply a story of observations and experiences…not evidence.  The plural of anecdote, is not data.  Blogs can be fantastic take off places, tell a really cool story, but do not usually tell the whole story.

What then do you do?  Start reading better stuff!  Some editorials do have a useful function.  Think of them as a bridge between work that is incredibly technical and where you may be right now.  Take the following for example:

What’s the problem with blogs?  You don’t usually get the whole story…do you really want to make your client to make significant life changes for no gains, or almost no gains?  To get the best answer, you’ll have to read the best you can get your hands on.  You’ll have to start reading and understanding primary research to get the whole story.  Start here:

Back to the original problem…will lifting weights be a good answer for an endurance athlete?  It depends…what does your running client want to get out of working with you?  What, exactly, are they going to get out of the experience?  That is, what will be the ‘real world’ relevance of the training program?  Let’s look into it.

Scenario 1:    “I need a change.”  …great!  You’re getting bored of running, you’d like to try something else, it doesn’t look like lifting is going to slow you down at all.  At the very least, it doesn’t look like it’s going to affect your aerobic capacity if you keep running.   Real world relevance:  variety, learn different skills, get stronger, maybe get faster.

Scenario 2:   “I need a performance boost for my 5k run time.”    Oooof, that’s different.  It looks like it’s a bit of a gamble that may pay off.  In order to maximize our bet, it looks like we’ll have to do the following:    1.  We need to do pure strength training, at least twice a week.  2. You’ll have to do this for at least 12 weeks.  3.   You’ll have to add these sessions to your current running program.  4.  Finally, if it works, you’ll only likely see about a 20s gain in a 5k race.  Are you willing to pay that much of a price to be 20s faster???  Real world relevance:  maybe a 5k that will be about 20s faster for the price of a 12 week  structured lifting program.  Is that a worthwhile gamble for you?

Being completely honest with your client is critically important and telling them what the potential magnitude and real world outcomes of their work will be before you get started will help maintain your relationships in the long run.  Understanding the real world relevance of primary research is critical in that process.  Yes, a ‘confident claim’ that ‘you will get better’ will sell your product now…but how long until a string of failed or overstated promises start adding up and start catching up to you?

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