Fact vs. Opinion

By August 11, 2010 Training Philosophy

I get asked this question a lot:

“What’s the biggest problem in our industry right now?”

A while back I was reading an interview with Rob Panariello and he gave a good answer to this question. One of the points he made was that many trainers/coaches these days make decisions based on opinion rather than fact. The more I think about this, the more I realize that he’s correct. I’ve been reading journals night in, night out for the past couple of months and searching to find material on all sorts of topics. My verdict is that much of the popular methodology espoused in the industry today is based on opinion. While science indeed doesn’t “prove” anything (it just provides for “the best present theory”), it’s still mandatory that we utilize journal research, scientific principles, and anecdotes to formulate our beliefs – not emotion, loyalty to a certain guru, or “tooth fairy science.”

When reflecting upon your current methodology, beliefs, and systems, please ask yourself, “Is there any journal evidence to support my belief, does the science make sense, and does it seem to go hand-in-hand with what’s happening in the “real-world?”


  • Nick says:


    As a student studying manual therapy (Osteopathy) as well as working in a gym setting in Australia, I can tell you that practicing based on dogma, opinion etc. is prevalent in many disciplines, not just fitness.

    The leaders of the industry will always be well read and up to date, but the vast majority will rely on what they learnt at University and little else, aside from compulsory ongoing education, which is usually in the form of a seminar, which low and behold, is a presentation of someone’s interpretation (read: opinion) of current and past literature.

  • True that Bret. Its a fine line between staying in front and being metaphysical. The balance is tough. I always like the idea don’t be the first and don’t be the last.

    Journals are completely under-rated in the fitness realm and often (as Nick stated) in the medical realm as well. Your approach is good.

    1. Read a Damn Journal
    2. Understand the Basics for Yourself.

    Cheers Mate

  • Ronald Berkamp says:

    I think it can be a “mistake” to consult journals withou a vry thorough background in research methods…………….and to be frank, most folks looking for information don’t have what would qualify as a sufficient background. I also think that this tendency towar consulting science gets far too many people overthinking things and doubting what they are presently doing.

    For those actively involved on the therapy side of things, by all means consult scores of journals. But for most folks just looking to get bigger and stronger, I just dont think there is nearly as much value in it as gets portrayed, because if the true secrets were waiting to be uncovered, then all of those old-time strongman and (later on) many of the “Golden Age” bodybuilders would never have succeeded. That doesn’t mean we can’t do different and better, I just think that too often we end up muddling the overall composition and engaing in mental wanking instead of clarifying things.

    • Mark Young says:

      I’m pretty sure we’re not in any danger of too many people getting paralyzed by science if they actually take the time to read and understand the studies. The problem comes when people are reporting from abstracts or stuff that they hear second hand which confuses the masses.

      Another issue is when people fixate exclusively on mechanistic stuff (i.e., such and such increases fat mobilization) without consideration for whether that mechanism results in any real world fat loss.

      That isn’t to say that we can’t do something that hasn’t yet been validated, but when something negates what you are doing you should reconsider that practice.

    • Ronald, I completely see your point in this regard. I think for people looking to get stronger and more muscular, they can do very well by just following the advice of past and present strong and muscular people.

      However, if one is ever wishing to come up with something revolutionary or innovative, often the answer lies within journal research.

      Furthermore, in sport-specific training there are more variables (combined training, transfer of training, many goals, etc.) in play so the science is more important for that field. This makes journal research more important for “functional” training purposes.

  • PolyisTCOandbanned says:

    journals are very much underappreciated.

  • Nick says:


    I don’t think this was aimed at those “just looking to get bigger and stronger”, rather, it was intended for professionals in the fields of fitness, physical therapy and those others that are associated in dealing with people’s physical health and well being.

    What I think Bret is getting at a call for more evidence based, as opposed to opinion based practice, which nobody can say is a bad thing. A push toward this will result in more credibility for fitness professionals, better results (through better methodologies) and perhaps more importantly, more critical thinking, which is lacking in many ‘average’ fitness professionals. – unfortunately.

    • I think the main thing that annoys me is not that we don’t really know a whole lot, it’s the cocky attitude that some have regarding their methods even in the complete absence of journal support.

      • PolyisTCOandbanned says:

        Just become more like Alan, not like Lyle. And it’s NOT just that Alan is sweeter than Lyle. He’s actually more thoughtful. He writes about what we know, what we don’t know. He concerns himself with first principles (which are WAY more important for almost everyone) than abstract trivia.

        Lyle will give an in passing caveat, then down a rabbit hole of speculaing and secondary effects. And it actually is the wrong thing for people sometimes. And especially on diet. All his diet complexity is actually counterproductive for the average person, who would learn more from calorie math and from promoting adherance, rather than worrying about precise details (usually where Lyle gets into weaker and weaker grounds in terms of support).

        Plus Dan Duchaine was a doper who got his girl’s foot sawed off.

        Um…and Lyle banned me for spamming and trolling.


  • Travis says:

    Bret, great post!

    You know, journals are fantastic!

    Lots of great information and studies that show results that will ultimately help us get our clients results.

    Knowledge. Every fit pro should read up!

    The important thing to think about is this – You can read all of the journals you want, but if you don’t get out into the real world and under the bar, you’ll NEVER be a great fitness professional.

    Only real world experience and coaching on the fly will mold you into a solid fitness pro.

    I’ll read a few journals here and there but I’ll train a ton more people.

    You’ll learn more by doing than just reading all the time.

    BUT yes! Journals based on REAL RESULTS should be more common!

  • Ronald Berkamp says:

    Mark, Bret, and Nick,

    Duly noted. I need to work on being far less hasty and considering more of the angles. But at least I am in the right place for people to set me back on course if I start to stray.

  • James Cardwin says:

    You think the people that are reading the blog have a problem with this? The people that read the other blogs are the problem. Write about manly training defended with science that will tool on the blokes like those functional skirts. Lead us to the promise land brother!!!!!

  • Good stuff man!

    I love research and data. Love it.

    But, clients pay me for results. Period.

    If there is no research to support it, but I can test it and it works (while being safe and legal of course) I will do it.

    I think it was my buddy Frankie Faires who said something like
    “Research points the way, me-search provides the answers”

    Research gives us a starting point to run our own tests.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson Phd(c)

  • Cian Lanigan says:

    Yes yes yes!!!

    Fact V Opinion, couldn’t say it any better.

    I disagree with some of the previous statements saying that it’s just as important, or more important to make sure you focus on “real world science” based on the results you see with your clients.

    This is of course important, but in my eyes it comes no where near as important as investing yourself in research. Everything you do in the gym should be based on research, how you tweak the methodology they used in the research for your own results is in my eyes “real world science”.

    Coming up with a training methodology that is loosely based on one or two studies you scan read is not “real world science”.

    But the big point that I think Mark Young touched on is that you must understand how to read research before you start to read research. The ability to be objective and pick apart a study seems to be a lost art.

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