Isolation is the key

On Mar 05, 2007 In Tags:

Just like in CSI, evidence comes after the crime has been committed.

Innovation, or at the very least, new gimmicks, theories and training methods must occur before evidence or proof of its effectiveness can be seen. And thus, evidence always not only seems to lag behind innovation, but actually does. You can’t test what doesn’t yet exist.

But not every innovation is worth pursuing. How many new gimmicks have you tried? Physio balls, Bosu balls, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, the Bowflex, Time under Tension, HIIT, Sleds, Vibration platforms, Medicine balls, the Atkins Diet, the Zone diet, the Abs diet, the South Beach diet, the last ab gadget you saw on TV, caffeine/ephedrine, Surge, Boost, NO, glutamine, bitter orange, ginseng, creatine?

Research into effectiveness aims to separate the wheat from the chaff. And while whole-body workouts can be one great strategy for a work-out program, the key in research is isolation. Isolation is a tricky thing though–because you need to still consider the intervention in its entirety. It’s no good to test how effective vibration platforms are if you don’t use them the way everyone is using them. But you do need to strip away some of the confounding factors to get at what the effect of the platform is from the rest of the protocol. This is why randomized studies are the gold standard of evidence generation. They make it possible to isolate the most contributory component of an intervention with a minimum of bias. Do these studies take place under ideal conditions? Not always, but often they do. Do they take place under unrealistic conditions? Not always, but sometimes they do.

The thinking behind ideal conditions is that if an intervention can’t be shown to work under ideal conditions, then it is certainly not going to work under non-ideal ones. Don’t get me wrong, no randomized controlled trial is fully ideal, but what matters is whether the groups remain comparable to one another, because the only thing that should be different between them is the presence or absence of the real intervention.

There is a school of thinking that wants you to believe that research into training is impossible–that it is simply not possible to reduce training into component parts and that training is too holistic to study systematically. My response to this school is not that they find research intimidating, but rather, they haven’t had the experience to know what is possible, or what the new innovations are in trials design. Training research isn’t special. It’s just that there are poor liasons between the people with the training experience and the people with the research experience.

Maybe that bridge will be built stronger some day.

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