When I began studying at the university, I thought it would be the place to find answers. I was sadly mistaken. The academic world provided me with powerful tools with which to deconstruct all of the scientific literature I could get my callused fingers on, but it didn't offer satisfying applications in real-world scenarios. On the contrary, it encourages a narrower focus on the minutiae. While this provides intellectual entertainment to no end, it hardly does anything to provide real insight.
This is what the evidence-based fitness community does so well in my opinion. Evidence-based practitioners comb the current body of scientific literature for solutions to problems as well as novel applications to address those issues. However, while this is a step in the right direction, it's not the end goal. Reading papers is great, but the reality is that most of it is done on untrained subjects and few funding sources are going to shell out a fat stack of cash to see how we can make the fittest humans more fit. While you or I may care deeply about that, the rest of the world probably doesn't give a shit and most researchers are probably going to spend time working with disease models as a result.
Even if these studies were valid, there would still be a crucial error in following their findings to the letter. While 'bros' make the mistake of thinking what works for them will work for others, I often see evidence-based coaches make a similar mistake. That is, that they think what works for the average in a study will work for the individual.
Enter the world of individualized training prescriptions - the holy grail of fitness. In an ideal world the individual coach weaves academic knowledge, evidence-based methods, and an understanding of an individual's physiology to construct a program. It's hard to argue with this three punch knockout combination.
But, the reality is that a LOT of people don't even train hard enough to warrant a perfectly dialed program from a personal coach. I'd rather someone do a program that isn't 'optimal' by my arbitrary standards and stick to it week after week because they enjoy it than follow a perfectly dialed in program from a personal coach that they hate doing and won't commit to.
I'm personally not above that either. You can scoff at that while wearing your 'HTFU' or 'beast mode' shirt, or you can realize that progress is about consistent behaviors. As a coach, I like to know what the research says and what appears to be optimal based on our current evidence, but at the end of the day we need to make it work for the individual.
Whether you come from the academic world, evidence0based fitness community, are an experience-based practitioner, individual coach, gym bro, or scientist doesn't matter. WE ARE ALL WRONG.
However, that doesn't mean we can't all try and do our best. You need enough objective data and information to make informed decisions, but you also can't discredit real world happenings. Where the rubber meets the road is how you combine these things.
Written by Evan Peikon