Understanding Training Bias

I had a new article go up on T-Nation today sharing five training tips, which you can read HERE.

I want to cut-and-paste an excerpt from the article about understanding training bias when you read fitness information. This is something I feel very strongly about, and I think understanding this concept would help eliminate a lot of the stupid (and almost always unnecessary) internet arguments that seem to pop up on a daily basis.

Understanding Training Bias

Adopt the ability to sort through the influx of information you’re exposed to on a daily basis and figure out how to best put it to use.

The internet is replete with training information – some good, some not so good, and some downright atrocious. Read as much as possible and subscribe to the adage that “knowledge is power.” But knowledge can only be power if used correctly.

Sifting through the quagmire of information can be overwhelming, especially when so much of it is contradictory. For that reason, many lifters stay mired in “paralysis by analysis” and spin their wheels.

To keep from going down that path, you not only have to focus on the information presented to you, but you also have to take into account the context behind the information, as well as the biases of the person sharing the info. Whether they admit it or not, all writers, lifters, and coaches are biased, myself included.

That’s not meant to be a slight. Think of bias as “baggage.” We all have baggage, meaning we’re all products of our experiences. That’s a good thing. It makes for a more diverse and comprehensive smattering of information to be disseminated.

Most writers won’t explicitly state their biases up front. They may not even be aware of them, but they are inextricably embedded in the writer’s message. So as a reader, it’s important to be aware of a writer’s personal bias so you can understand where he or she is coming from.

Context is just as important as the information itself. When you read an article and take it at face value, all you’re really getting is a miniscule snapshot of the author’s mind. What you can’t see in that snapshot are all the factors that led to that opinion. Those things are the biases.

For example, let’s take a simple question: What’s the best way to squat?

You’ll get some very different – and sometimes contradictory – answers depending on whom you ask.

For a powerlifter, the ideal form is the one that allows you to move the most weight. A geared powerlifter will likely advise you to take a super-wide stance and sit way back into the squat to recruit more of the hips and get the most out of the gear. A raw powerlifter might suggest a narrower and slightly more upright stance to get more from your quads and avoid beating up your hips.

But both will advise squatting exactly to the required depth because any higher won’t count and any lower will force you to take weight off the bar.

An Olympic lifter, however, will advocate rock-bottom squats as they’re most specific to the Olympic lifts, and they’ll likely also recommend a heavy dose of front squats, too.

A bodybuilder is squatting for quad development, so he’ll suggest a more upright posture and more of a knee-dominant squat pattern to put greater emphasis on the quads. He also isn’t as concerned with the range of motion and may even suggest squatting a few inches high.

Depending on who you ask, they may even recommend using something like a machine hack squat to take the stabilization component out of it to allow you to just hammer the legs into oblivion.

Ask a guy with a bad back and he’ll likely recommend doing front squats, belt squats, split squats, or single-leg squats. Ask a guy with a bad knee and he might recommend box squats with a vertical tibia. Ask a guy with a bad shoulder and he may recommend squatting with the safety squat bar.

You get the idea. The answer to any question depends on which guy you ask.

The key is to make sure you ask the right guy for your goals.

Here are some of the things you should consider about the source of the info before you evaluate it:

• His goals
• His strengths and weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. People tend to like what they’re good at and dislike what they suck at. In turn, they’re more likely to promote what they’re good at and criticize what they suck at.
• Training background
• Injury history
• Are they a coach or are they just talking about their own experiences?
• If they’re a coach, what types of clients do they work with?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it’s a good place to start.

Again, you can read the rest of the article HERE.