When a fitness fact isn’t really a fact: 5 reasons to question what you read..

There are lots of people in the fitness industry who like to flood social media with outlandish ‘quotes’ and ‘scientific evidence’ that ‘proves’ the most outrageous and varying statements imaginable. The truth is…much of it is rubbish. But how do we separate the good information from the bad?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate good quality information from bad, because of the seemingly ‘good quality’ of bad information. It looks good, and it even claims to be backed by ‘science’, so it can’t be bad information right? Alas not. Have a look below for some handy tips on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  1. Look for a hidden agenda

If somebody writes something that seemsprimate-1019101_1920 to back up a product with ‘science’ this should set the alarm bells ringing. By product I mean anything that they can sell you, including training and books.

When the scientific study quoted was paid for by the company who makes the product there is a much higher chance of unconscious bias (if you want to read more about this then this book is excellent) than if the study was paid for independently. Researchers don’t mean to do it but this kind of thing is a well documented fact (and if the research didn’t back up the product the firm wouldn’t be talking about it!).

That said, the vast majority of science is independent, but is the stuff that people are quoting in articles about the fitness industry really science?


  1. Is it actually science?

People claim all the time that wmathematics-757566_1920hat they are saying is backed up with science, and will even give you links to the science that they are talking about. Check the link that they provide, and have a look at the article that they cite.

Is it an original research paper? Is it a summary of a research paper? Or is it a good looking article that has no actual research in it at all? (an original research paper means a paper that has been published in a peer reviewed journal, such as the American College of Sports  Medicine’s journal, or Nature)

This is tricky for most people because if it is an original research paper, many people will not understand it, because many people aren’t scientists. If it’s a summary, then there are no guarantees that the summary is accurate. Newspapers, for example, have a tendency to sensationalize research papers; they make them seem more exciting and promising than they really are. There are very few people who write unbiased summaries of promising research papers, so be wary. One good reviewer of fitness based research is Science Daily. It’s also something I like to do (I’m secretly a science nerd and a Sports Science research student), so you can check out my blog too (or even ask me to review a paper for you).

  1. ‘The revelation!’

place-name-sign-1647341_1920‘Chocolate has been proven to make you thin’, ‘Eating avocados prevents cancer’. Ever seen a headline that runs along those lines? In reality, ‘big discoveries’ are rarely made in this industry. Probably once in a generation based on the current timeline of fitness related research. If a fitness professional (or website or newspaper as well) claims that some big discovery has happened, then be very wary. If there has been a major breakthrough in the industry then it is likely that it will make national headlines, or at least be mentioned on almost every fitness related outlet there is. If it’s less than 100 people talking about it, it’s probably rubbish.

  1. ‘In my experience’

light-bulb-1042480_1920One of my lecturers at university once told me that, if anybody starts an answer to a science based question with ‘in my experience’, it basically means that they don’t know what they are talking about. I stand by that. ‘In my experience’ is code for ‘I don’t really have any evidence to back this up’. Some of you may read this and think ‘but why do I need evidence to back things up?’

  1. You don’t need science

smile-1591798_1920‘You don’t need science to back up facts.’ ‘Nature has been around for longer than science.’ I read this all the time on social media. What a load of rubbish.

If people don’t have science to back up their claims, then those claims can’t be considered as reliable. The Oxford dictionary definition of ‘fact’ is – ‘a known or proven thing’. There are plenty of people who ‘know’ things, which is fine, because they think that they are therefore true. But they don’t count as actual facts.

People claim that ‘because it worked for them, it will work for you’ and it might. But it also might not. And without a strict scientific study we can’t say whether it is fact or coincidence.

The bottom line

Ultimately fitness is a minefield of facts, myths and hearsay. If you’re not sure about something that has been claimed, it is your responsibility to have a deeper look into it and ask around for some advice from a fitness professional.

If you don’t believe a fitness professional, or something just doesn’t feel right when you hear or read something, then that should set the alarm bells ringing.

If you take things at face value, great! Good for you. But swinging from the social media lampshades and screaming about it opens you up to a whole world of scrutiny, unless you have done your research.

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