Good detectives know that asking the questions who, what, where, when, and why can lead to solving a mystery. Knowing the right way to exercise can seem like a huge mystery can’t it? Everywhere you look, you see exercises and programs that claim to be the answer to the ‘problems’ of your body. How do you know what is worth the investment of your time and energy? In this three-blog series, we’ll use these five sleuth questions to know if an exercise is science-based, right for your body, and likely to lead to feeling better and staying motivated.
Part 1: Is it science-based?
Many exercise programs say they are science-based and some even cite research to back up their claims. How do you know if it is pseudoscience or the real deal?
Who is giving you the info?
Because anyone can call themselves a fitness expert many exercises you see in the media are based on how we used to think the body was designed, or how we wish the body was designed. Often, a program is based on one piece of scientific information about the body but missing key information. For example, getting your heart rate up is just one change that happens in your body when you move, but it is not what makes the cardiovascular system stronger. The hyperfocus on heart rate has created programs that miss the mark but sound very science-based. Steer clear of exercises given by a ‘fitness expert’ or ‘exercise enthusiast’. Instead, learn about exercise from someone who has a degree in exercise science so you are more likely to get the whole story about how your body works with exercise.
What branch of exercise science?
Just like there are specialists in medicine, there are several branches of exercise science. When you want answers about a specific medical problem, you would go to a specialist. If you want to improve sports performance, look for advice from a person who is educated in training for that specific sport. However, if you want to be healthy and well, look for a program designed for that specific purpose.If you have a specific health concerns, look for a program guided by clinical exercise physiologists. There is very little crossover between exercise for athletes and exercise for health, yet they are treated as interchangeable in popular exercise programs. If the program was invented for athletes, or promises you will have the body of an athlete, keep looking for a program that is right for your body and what you want for it.
Where is the science from?
If the word research is used, get curious about what type of research. Do they mean they did an internet search or are they citing a specific clinical trial that was published in a peer reviewed journal? A red flag is when the general terms “studies show” or “in one study” are used but no reference is given. If there is a link, click it to make sure it is not just another blog but is research published in a peer review journal. Notice who funded the study too. Often companies will fund their own research on their program, resulting in biased results they can use as ‘scientific evidence’ in advertising.
When was the exercise invented and studied?
Exercise science has grown tremendously in the past few decades. Better technology has given us more details about how the body works. For example, we used to think stretching was about making muscles longer. Now we know it is more about changing the way the nervous system responds to movement and the state of the connective tissue. Stretching research is just starting to show is that what we used to think was a good stretch is actually doing the opposite of helping to improve mobility.
Why are they giving you this information?
Marketing is a science as well, and advertisements are designed to capture your brain’s attention. Ads can have a science-y look to imply the program is based on movement science, when in reality, it is far from how the body actually works. For example, a core program shows images of core muscles and states scientific research showing the core muscles are activated 500% more during their exercise program than typical core exercises. They want you to believe that because the muscle is activated more, it is burning more fat and because the person doing the exercise has six pack abs, they have a strong core. However, just because someone has well-defined abdominal muscles, it does not mean their core will help them in movements of daily life. Plus, those highly-activated muscles are not burning the fat stores next to that muscle. Spot reducing has no scientific basis yet makes millions of dollars in sales every year.
Bottom Line: When you exercise based on the way your body was designed, you feel better and get more real and lasting results. Scientific research is a great guide as it adds to our growing knowledge about how to exercise right for health and wellbeing. But even the best scientific research does not give you all the answers about the right way to exercise you personally. The next two parts of this series will help you solve the mystery of knowing that an exercise is right for the real results you want for your body and your life right now.
- The true function of the core and how to strengthen without planks and sit ups.
- Cardio beyond heart rate