Question everything

If you’re still reading I’ve hopefully convinced you, or at least you’re open to the idea, of learning higher level concepts before making permanent lifestyle changes to become fitter. And you’re happy to listen to my ideas of what those concepts and lessons should be.

Thanks. I’m flattered.

More likely though is that you remain curious and yet to be convinced. That’s perfect, and that’s exactly the skeptical mindset you need to retain. Never lose your questioning, suspicious, doubting way of looking at new information that is given to you. There are a few good reasons for this:

  1. I’m the first to admit, I don’t really have a clue what I’m talking about. Unlike the posts on this site that talk from experience about being a software engineer with degrees in computer science, I have no formal training or qualifications in training individuals. The only person I’ve trained is myself, and though I’m happy with my journey thus far, I’m not arrogant enough to consider myself an expert yet.
  2. It’s likely that the only two people in the world with the same genetic makeup and workout routines are identical twins training together e.g. the Hodge Twins. For everyone else you’re going to have to listen to the advice of others which may or not work exactly as expected on your specific body, diet, sleep/work/rest cycle.
  3. The whole reason for this set of posts is that there are people who in presenting fitness and diet information, whether consciously or not, may be giving bad advice that works contrary to your long term goals.

I sincerely don’t consider myself to be in category 3, but you have to treat what I suggest with caution and suspicion regardless. It may be I’m not experienced enough and something I suggest is placebo, or has no beneficial effect (category 1); or something I refer to that has worked well for me doesn’t especially for you (category 2). However, this isn’t just true for what you read here, but what you read or learn about anywhere.

How to be suspicious

Generally speaking there are two questions to ask when presented with new information:

“What is the motive of the person or site giving this information?”

Motive is key. Are they trying to sell you a grand plan with partial information that only gets you part of the way there? Are they trying to sell specific products that you’ll become dependent upon? I’ve been blogging on this site for over 8 years now, helping others without trying to monetise it in any way. I hope that convinces most of my goal of helping people because I like helping people.

“What is the proof that this technique/exercise/food works in the way claimed?”

Placebo effects are all over the place. As are cargo cults. The most effective technique to combat both of the above is peer reviewed science. Now, I used to be a scientist and it took me about a year of reading academic papers in one specific subject area before I started to understand them well. It’s a bit much to ask everyone to take on board not only my lessons and advice, but at the same time dig deep in arcane journals behind paywalls that you find yourself, to verify that what I’m saying is true.

Though peer reviewed science (as imperfect as it is) remains a good resource, which is often more accessible than you’d expect, there are easier ways of gauging the applicability of fitness and diet advice. Primary of these is the fitness subreddit.

Reddit’s /r/fitness subreddit has a great community of people who know what their fitness goals are, and are achieving them day by day, week by week. They cut through the BS of category 3 (see above i.e. snake oil) salespeople and trainers; point to peer reviewed scientific studies; offer support, encouragement and healthy debate about different approaches to all ranges of subjects.

Favour experts who know about human physiology when it comes to recommending exercises or diets e.g. Mark Rippetoe or Martin Berkhan. Many would do well to head straight for their books, videos and online guides. They come, however, from a background where pure strength or a Hollywood “ideal body” is the goal – their regimens, though valid, are tougher than most and aren’t what everyone wants. In getting straight to the point, they can miss out or gloss over key insights about fitness. I present higher level lessons that will guide you toward good practice, and away from poor, regardless of the routine you choose.

Paranoia about claiming to have The One True Path to fitness and happiness aside, I’m a cynical person and I generally think that the world in general is suffering a dearth of questioning about what we see and hear. That said, everything that I am about to disclose to you in future posts I believe to be true. It will be the distillation of years of reading and exercising, of success and failure. With the motivation, strategy, and disclaimers taken care of in the past few posts, we’re finally ready. The next post will have the first pieces of tangible advice of things that the wider populace are doing wrong and how you should progress to reach your fitness potential.