Fitness people love to argue. Seemingly more than they like fitness.
“The best training program is X.”
“Okay. Show me your evidence.”
“Well, it worked great for my clients.”
“That’s just anecdote. Here’s a study indicating that, logically, the best training program would be Y.”
“That study was four weeks long, there were only three participants, and the average age was 104.”
“Yeah, well, it worked for me. And you have matchsticks for calves.”
…and so it goes.
Now, the evidence vs. experience (sometimes framed as science versus “bro science”) thing has been debated to death, so I don’t want to add much to it except to say that most of the time it’s a red herring.
First, a truly evidence-based person still considers the evidence of what occurs in the field. Yeah, they understand that it’s anecdotal, so they apply it to what the peer-reviewed research has shown, what the limitations of this or that study were, what the open questions are or how this or that confounding variable might be more or less relevant, and how all these things exist within a much larger context. It’s not an either/or proposition.
And… even with all that said, an often overlooked factor in the decision-making process is even simpler: what fits YOU, the end user?
More specifically: what fits your needs, your schedule, limitations, family life?
This isn’t just practical; it’s powerful, since it renders many “what’s optimal?” arguments totally moot.
“What’s best for building muscle, training four days a week or five?”
Well, it’s moot when, if you’re being realistic, nine weeks out of ten, you can only consistently train three days a week because of work.
“What’s the best glute exercise?”
…is a meaningless debate if the end user doesn’t care about building bigger glutes. Or they’re training at home and the “best” glue exercise involves a piece of equipment they don’t have.
The examples you can think of here are endless, and once you key in on what you (or your client) really want and need, thinking for a second about the actual, practical context like this clarity to your decision-making process.
The catch is that this isn’t always easy. We don’t like admitting we’re not superhuman, and it feels much more motivating to tell yourself you’re doing “what’s totally, absolutely 100% optimal” instead of “what’s optimal for you.”
Sure, maybe a program with “more volume” actually is more optimal — as in, empirically, 100% proven by the evidence-based research, more optimal — if you look at your life and only consider basic contextual factors like age, gender and weight. But if you consider that right now you’re getting four hours of sleep each night, you’re working 14-hour days, and you’re stressed out of your mind about some pretty serious personal stuff… well, in that case, maybe “more volume” isn’t going to accomplish much except cause you to crash and burn.
“Well, I’ll just work through it.”
No, sorry, that ain’t how the body works. Even if you miraculously avoid a massive crash-and-burn, in these circumstances you’re genuinely not helping yourself. What’s optimal is about what’s optimal for you.
Once you start appreciating this idea, you’ll see that a lot of the debates are just fitness industry noise, only applicable in a context-less vacuum that never existed in the first place. Interesting perhaps, too a few people, but irrelevant in comparison to what really matters.
– Coach Bryan