What do we do when science and anecdote collide?
I ask because I love exercise science. I find the subject fascinating. I’ve written several posts in recent weeks looking at studies.
But I also recognize there are limits to what science has to teach us about exercise. What do we do when the two run smack into one another?
Science is fantastic because it gives us concrete evidence about how best to approach our training. It tells us the set and rep schemes that will stimulate the greatest adaptation for strength, hypertrophy, fat loss, whatever.
It’ll explain why something works as well, which allows us to break it down and apply those principles to other aspects of our training.
Science removes the guesswork out of training. It gives us firm, actionable information that helps us make the most out of our time training.
Look, science is fine and all, but it doesn’t know everything. More importantly, anyone who has been training long enough can show you examples of people who defy what science says should be possible.
Maybe they grow muscle on just three reps per set, for example. Perhaps they only get stronger if they do a minimum of eight reps, which is supposed to spur hypertrophy more than strength.
Besides, experience applies far more than what some eggheads in a lab try to tell us.
Which Is Correct?
When science and anecdotal evidence on training collide, it becomes difficult for us to understand just how to proceed. Especially if we want to base our training on hard data.
However, there are a couple of things to understand. For one, “anecdote” may well end up as the precursor for “science.” If enough people make a claim, some scientist will decide to test and see if it’s true.
In other words, they’re not necessarily antagonistic. Science has validated a whole lot of anecdotal information about training over the years.
However, science isn’t everything. Much as I love it, there are limits.
For example, exercise science tells us how the average person functions and should probably train. The problem is, in some way, everyone is an outlier. If that way is in the field of exercise, the science may not necessarily be helpful.
After all, if the training says muscle activation is greater with a dumbbell overhead press than using a kettlebell, but you get better results with the kettlebell, guess what? You’re not going to really care what the science says about EMG readings.
Nor should you.
Zach Even-Esh has talked about how so much of the way he trains his athletes goes against what science says is best, yet he gets results. Why?
Who knows. I’ve got my own hypothesis as to why, but I can’t say for certain. What I do know is that Even-Esh didn’t get where he is today by giving people crappy training and not getting results.
Frankly, a lot of what he says makes sense to me, though his training is fairly unconventional. That’s something I love.
When anecdote and science collide, what you do is simple. You follow science unless the anecdote in question is yours. If science doesn’t work, then take a step back and try something different. That includes anecdotal information. At that point, what do you have to lose?
Now, all of this goes out the window if you’re paying someone money to train you. You should, by all means, listen to the guy you’re giving money to. Especially if you know they get results.
If they don’t, stop giving them money and find a way that will get you where you want to be.
Also bear in mind that I’m not a scientist or anything of the sort. I’m an enthusiast, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. Just as you should with everyone else.