In the fitness world, there seems to be two divided camps. The ‘Research Camp’ where nothing is believed, tried, excepted, or even argued unless there is a decent body of research behind it. The other camp is the ‘real world experience camp’ where practitioners tend not to care what the research says, or even if there is research. The latter camp recognizes in their own right that research is probably irrelevant because they are getting results using methods that are tried and true, to them. Which is better? Is that a fair question?
If you are trying to lose weight, and your trainer tells you that five research studies show that eating a low carb diet, followed by high intensity interval training is the best way to shred fat fast, you are going to try it. Let’s say, for argument sake that you follow this advice and still don’t lose fat fast…what will you think then? Another trainer, for argument sake, approaches you and tells you that he has a proven method that works, but offers no research to back it up, only 20 testimonials from people that have tried it and have had great results…will you try it? (assuming it is safe and will not hurt you) You try this other method, and lose your fat fast and look and feel great. No research, no scientific “proof.” What will you think then?
This scenario occurs more than you know it. People will tend not to care about what ‘doesn’t’ work, whether there is research or not. I am not suggesting for one second to ignore research in the least. I come from an academic background, have read my share of research, and have done my share as well. I have also worked in the real world for over 15 years, hands on. I tend to try to bridge the gap between ‘research’ and ‘real world experience.’ I believe the answer lies between the two worlds.
We must not forget that just because there is no research on a subject does not mean it will not work or is irrelevant. At the same time, we need to understand that just because something in the real world gets results does not mean it will be valid for every person out there, and does not mean that more research on the subject is not warranted.
There has been plenty of research out there that has flat out contradicted some of the things that I have with my clients and athletes. Does that mean that I am wrong? Is the research always right? I got and still do get results even though I am doing things that research says is wrong. So who is right? During my graduate studies, I had a professor tell me once that research can never be 100% absolute because there are way too many factors to consider. Just the human element can cloud the findings in one way or another. In addition, good, valid research studies are very hard to find. Many research studies are flawed and biased at best. You always have to find out who is doing them, what methods they use and how valid they are. That is not an easy task for the majority of people out there.
I also use research frequently when I am learning my craft. I am always reading and always trying to educate myself more, trying to be the best and most informed that I can be. Research studies are always on my list to finding the truth. Or, at least pointing me towards the truth. I use studies a lot with my clients. Frequently, I will tell my clients something along the lines that research shows (fill in the blank.) You see, research points us in the right direction and it is up to each one of us to use that information, combine it with what we know from our experiences and develop our strategies. I believe that the best practitioners out there are the pros that have a good understanding of the research, but at the same time never abandon their own experiences, and find a way to combine the two worlds, bridge the gap.
The final element for me is that a lot of the research that I do each day, is done in the “real world” lab. Meaning, I have 100’s if not 1000’s of “studies” that were and are performed with clients and athletes whether they or I know it or not. Just by practicing my craft, I get better. If I find that a method or methods work with the majority of my clients, then that “research study” has value for me. I will always try and find some real research to back up what I am doing, however its not always necessary for me to continue to do what I know works.
I believe we can live in both worlds and probably should. I cannot explain everything I do and why it might work. Sometimes I just know it does. No research to back it up other than my own. That is what real world experience is all about. Besides, I have always maintained that it is the practitioners out there that are working with people day in and day out that give the researchers their ideas anyway. Once we start to hear about a brand new, sometimes ‘crazy’ method that is sweeping the nation or world, someone, in some lab is going to find a way to study it and research why. A few studies later, we may have our answers. Or we may not. Either way, practitioners will keep practicing and researchers will keep researching. Both together make for a better product. Neither should be totally discounted.