By Brandon Roberts





















Evidence-based fitness (EBF) is a hot topic in the fitness industry. A variety of definitions have been applied to EBF, but mine is simple: EBF is when coaches use both science and experience to guide nutrition and exercise applications choices to different types of clients or athletes. In this article, I’m going to use an evidence-based approach to breakdown a few popular fitness myths.

Myth #1: A specific type of diet works best for everyone

Experience: As a coach, I’ve experienced that different people like different types of food, which can stem from a cultural, regional, or religious reasons. This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it makes it much more difficult to give dietary recommendations, since it’s not easy to apply the same template to everyone. I’ve helped people lose and gain weight using all types of methods, but the most important aspect is adherence. Can your client or athlete stick to the plan? If not, why? A good idea is to have an open dialogue and be flexible. However, there is a point where you may have to put your foot down and have a chat about adherence.

Science: There are several issues to understanding dietary adherence. First, dietary adherence may vary widely depending on the time of the year (ex. holidays). Another challenge to adherence are one’s existing behaviors, since diets usually require some modifications to a normal routine . Finally, some people simply don’t know how to cook healthy or make healthy choices when buying food (1). These are all things to consider when creating a plan for your clients.

One of my favorite studies to help people understand adherence is Dansinger, Gleason, Griffith, Selker & Schaefer (2005). In this randomized trial, 160 subjects followed one of three diets for one year (Atkins, Zone, and Ornish – 40 subjects per diet) Interestingly, ALL subjects lost weight (between 3 – 7 Ibs.), which the researchers concluded was associated with dietary adherence (2).

Myth #2: Having a personal trainer or coach won’t help

Experience: I had this mindset for a long time, mainly because I couldn’t afford my own coach. After deciding to do a bodybuilding competition, I knew that it would be much easier to hire a coach to walk me through the process. I was blown away by the progress I made - not because of some special program or nutrition advice, but rather by the accountability the coach provided. I ended up doing well and enjoying the process of stepping on stage. I now always have someone coaching me to help me reach my goals, even though I know exactly what to do. There are a range of coaches out there with different expertise. You could also rotate coaches over time to help you better understand certain fitness niches. You’d be surprised at the great information you can learn.

Science: Social support is an important factor when beginning a new training or diet regimen. A lack of support from  friends and family makes it  more challenging for individuals to achieve their goals. In fact, one study  identified  that support received from family, friends and exercise staff was a strong predictor to adherence after 6 months of training (3). In addition, direct supervision can increase strength gains under high supervision ratios (1:5), which is likely due to increased motivation. This additional motivation can lead to individuals working at higher intensities than they would under lower supervised ratios (4). This may be one reason for the popularity of small group training which uses similar types of high supervised training ratios. Finally, attitude towards exercise plays a vital role in one’s success, since many  people don’t enjoy it. However, a study from the University of Wisconsin showed 1-on-1 personal training can help change attitude and increase physical activity (5). It’s important not to overthink having a coach, especially if you’re a trainer. If you don’t want to hire someone, at least schedule time for your own workouts just like you would a client.

Myth #3: Training more often or at a higher intensity will lead to faster results

Experience: You may see this during specific times of the year, such as  in January or right before summer. People may think that if they train using extreme frequencies or intensities will result in achieving the body they want quickly. Although individuals may experience some physical changes when taking this approach,  it can often lead to mental burnout or overuse injuries , setting them back even further. As professionals, we also want to encourage lifelong habits to our clients to help promote long-term health & wellness. While increasing training intensity and frequency are techniques that can be implemented to improve results, they should be applied in a progressive manner and/or in small doses. For example, have one high intensity workout per week  (based upon the client’s capabilities), then have the rest of the week be low to moderate  intensity . Another example (depending on the client’s capabilities) is having a week of higher intensity training followed by a less intense week.

Science: I recently collaborated on a huge review of overtraining syndrome 6), which provides a synopsis of the negative aspects of training too hard and too frequent.  The majority of trainers are working with the general population, so let’s consider a few simple principles. Research  has demonstrated that variation is a critical aspect of an effective training regimen (7). The basic premise is that we need to focus on specific areas to improve. Trying to improve everything at once can  result in a dilution effect – this approach  can work over time, but it’s often excruciatingly slow. We also need to remember that people get bored. Therefore, we need to balance variation with consistency to see progress in a safe and effective manner.

Myth #4: Detoxes, wraps, and supplements will solve all my problems

Experience: I often have people approach me with specific supplements or ask about certain devices that will help them reach their goals. I love when this happens. Why? Because I really enjoy explaining why they do or don’t work. Between the lack of regulations and the rampant pseudoscience in the fitness industry,  you have a combination that leaves people guessing. I don’t blame them -   if there was a healthy, legal shortcut to my desired physique, I would be tempted to take it. My goal as a coach is to help people fall in love with the process of achieving their goals. This  way, they don’t look for shortcuts or fall for the marketing gimmicks they are constantly being bombarded with.

Science: I’ll start with detoxes, since I see them most often on social media. The general touted health benefits include eliminating toxins and promoting weight loss; however, currently there is no scientific evidence to support the use of detoxes for either of these benefits (8). Next, I’ll add that any type of body wrap or cellulite remover - which the FDA has been fighting since 1985 - won’t help with those problems (9). Lastly, there is an abundance of supplements that purportedly help with losing fat. Although some substances have been shown to be efficacious for fat loss (10), most are not and are simply marketing gimmicks claiming to be the next best thing for fat loss..

Conclusion

There will always be fitness myths. They range from being somewhat true to being completely false. Our goal as trainers and coaches is not to disregard them or brush off the people who believe them. Your mission (if you so choose) should be to take the experience and science we should gently point people in the right direction to help them reach their goals in ways that are both realistic and safe.

References

  1. Sherman, A.M., Bowen, D.J., Vitolins, M., Perri, M.G., Rosal, M.C., Sevick, M.A., & Ockene, J.K.. (2000). Dietary adherence: characteristics and interventions. Controlled Clinical Trials, 21(5 Suppl), 206S-11S.
  2. Dansinger, M.L., Gleason, J.A., Griffith, J.L., Selker, H.P., & Schaefer, E.J. (2005). Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: A randomized trial. JAMA., 293(1),43-53.
  3. Oka, R.K., King, A.C., & Young, D.R. (1995). Sources of social support as predictors of exercise adherence in women and men ages 50 to 65 years. Women’s Health, 1(2),161-75.
  4. Gentil, P., & Bottaro, M. (2010). Influence of supervision ratio on muscle adaptations to resistance training in nontrained subjects. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(3),639-43.
  5. McClaran, S.R. (2003). The effectiveness of personal training on changing attitudes towards physical activity. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 2(1),10-4.
  6. Tzur, A., & Roberts, B. (2016). Using science to solve overtraining: A practical guide based on 190+ studies. Retrieved from: http://sci-fit.net/2016/overtraining-underperformance/.
  7. Kiely, J. (2012). Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: Evidence-led or tradition-driven? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 7(3),242-50.
  8. Klein, A.V., & Kiat, H. (2015). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: A critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 28(6),675-86.
  9. Miller, R.W. (2005). Critiquing quack ads (1985). Retrieved from: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/PhonyAds/critiquing.html
  10. Jeukendrup, A.E., & Randell, R. (2011). Fat burners: Nutrition supplements that increase fat metabolism. Obesity Review, 12(10),841-51

Brandon RobertsBrandon Roberts is a strength & physique coach, scientist, and fitness writer. He works with The Strength Guys to help athletes perform better using an evidence-based approach. He contributes to numerous fitness websites while also publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals. www.FitnessandPhysiology.com