A Cautionary Tale
by Dr. Lon Kilgore
I’ve written fairly frequently on why modern sport and exercise science has failed to produce much valuable information on producing elite athletes or good programs to improve fitness in the generally healthy population. I’ve pointed out misunderstanding of adaptive processes, ignorance of underpinning paradigms, errant hypotheses, and just plainly bad research questions. There is also the fact that lots and lots of sport and exercise science research is conducted on college students and then the results are extrapolated to athletic population. Starting Strength, Practical Programming, and FIT were all built on the concept that most of the available data was only relevant, at best, to beginners. What resulted from that position of disdain for available research data were three books that work and deliver instruction on how to get stronger, more enduring, and more mobile. Tens or hundreds of thousands of normal people have used the information and instructions in those books to create un-tabulated data about fitness.
Most recently I’ve been working on an interesting project with the owner of an international exercise instructors school to help align the instruction delivered with viable theory and valid scientific data. While doing some readings specific to the project I came across the following:
“The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.”—Abraham Maslow, 1954
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is standard fare in psychology, and his work is quite highly regarded. His statement above underscores the concept that we should not use sport and exercise research data from untrained or diseased populations to create an understanding of how to train to create peak fitness or improve athletic performance. To do so creates an approach to training relevant only to those populations. What this means in the context of everyday trainees and coaches is that while we need to read incessantly to learn everything we can about training and human adaptation, we need to follow the advice in the Proverbs of Alfred (circa 1300):
“Gin thu neuere leuen alle monnis spechen, Ne alle the thinge that thu herest singen”
This sentiment was much later modified into a more hippie and anti-press bent by Arlo Guthrie:
“Believe half of what you see, some of what you read, and none of what your hear”
In application in the gym this could be further modified to:
“Believe what you see working in the gym, some of what you read in the exercise science literature, and none of what you see on TV or in newsstand fitness magazines”
Dr. Lon Kilgore is an anatomist, a physiologist, a writer, an illustrator, and, in my opinion, a pioneer that quietly helps pave the way for strength coaches and fitness professionals to revolutionize the way the world looks at “fitness”.