Personal training is a unique profession in that we are charged with the development and implementation of programs that can impact people’s weight, body composition, performance, injury status, emotions, and health. Yet, as a profession we struggle with the fact that our brains are shadowed by our awesome physiques people just don’t take us seriously.
Heck, I’ll even admit that when a friend or family member tells me that they’ve hired a personal trainer my first reaction is to cringe (at least on the inside). Trying not to jump to conclusions I usually ask a few questions until I get a feel for the background and, more importantly, the methods the trainer is using to bring about results. And all too often, I am disappointed to hear that my initial response was appropriate and that makes me sad for our profession.
While there are probably many possible reasons for this, I think that a major part of the problem stems from the fact that many trainers are researching health exclusively from the same places as those they are supposed to be trying to help. To make matters worse, many of those trainers have no objective method to determine whether the methods presented in the materials they are reading are valid or are just pseudoscientific hype fueled by money and marketing. In short, a lot of us are falling prey to the same mistakes as the people we are trained to serve.
No wonder nobody takes us seriously!
Instead, my hope is that we as a profession can move towards an evidence based approach which is similar to that of physicians. My vision is that our practices will be dictated by what has withstood the scrutiny of scientific testing instead of following the trend of the month or blindly implementing the methods of others. To take it a step further, I would love to see a day where people in this industry would no longer rely on the interpretations of others who read health research, but begin think for themselves and gain the power to make their own interpretations.
But it isn’t easy…
You could easily read 10 blogs in the time it takes you to read a single health research paper, but at least once you read a paper you know the information has been through an extensive peer review process and isn’t just the opinion of some genius who exists only on the internet random “expert”.
Of course, I’m not going to lie to you here and tell you that learning to read research is going to be a cake walk. It is difficult process that takes years to master. In fact, when I started reading papers over 10 years ago it would literally take me up to two hours to fully comprehend each paper I’d read. It sucked. And to make matters worse, some of the courses I was taking required me to read up to ten of them per week!!!
But over the years I’ve become accustomed to reading health research and I can now tear through the average paper in 15-30 minutes to extract information on how the study was designed, what the results were, and most importantly, how to apply this to my clients. And having read research for a long time, I can also relate and compare results to other papers I’ve read for a more balanced understanding of the area as a whole.
How to Get Started
Assuming you too want to become an evidence based professional rather than a trend follower or a guru worshipper, I’d like to provide a short tutorial here on how to get started. And ultimately, it begins with questioning all of the things you’ve accepted as fact in your programming.
1) Select a very specific aspect of your methods that you want to examine. It could be the macronutrient composition of your fat loss diets (high carb verus low carbs, or high glycemic index versus low). It could be many meals per day versus few. It could be high protein versus moderate. Just pick something.
2) Go to PubMed.gov.
3) Above the search bar click the word “limits”.
4) On the page that follows click “meta-analysis” and “review” in the box titled “Type of Article”.
5) As you’re just starting and probably don’t want to pay for an article, click on “free full text” in the box at the bottom titled “Text Options”.
6) Enter the topic you want to look up in the search bar at the top and click “Search”.
As a result of this process you should have at least a few free papers on the topic that you’d like to examine. If you don’t you’ll probably want to revise your search terms until you get what you’re looking for. Very much like Google, if you don’t specify clearly what you want, you’ll get the wrong stuff (or nothing at all).
The papers you do get though (meta-analyses and reviews) should be comprehensive summaries of the research to date on a specific subject. At best, they’ll be very good and give you a solid picture of both sides of the argument on any issue.
At worst, they’ll provide a solid list of references at the bottom that you can look up to get a better look at the studies on the topic. Of course, the studies themselves are the best places to look so you can interpret their value for yourself, but a meta or a review is a fantastic place to start and get used to the scientific lingo in the field.
Frankly, I feel that reading research will make you better at what you do and will always break you free from the dogma that the fitness world has a habit of surrounding us with. But even better than this is that it lets you separate yourself from rest of the pack. While 99% of the fitness industry is spewing the same repetitive nonsense, you’ll know the true facts and your practice (and the results you’re getting with your clients) will speak for themselves.
To take it a step further, you’ll also be able to interact with and gain respect from other evidence based fitness professionals and even physicians because they see you in a different light than the rest of the industry. If you want to start apart from (and above) the rest of this industry, you can start shining the light on yourself as a true PROFESSIONAL by reading something other than what your clients are reading.
Both they and other professionals will respect you for it.
If you want more info on critically evaluating and reading fitness research I’ve created a dvd set directed only at the truly dedicated fitness professional: