Barbell Life / Fitness / Nutrition

How to make educated health decisions

This is my introductory article that will lay the groundwork for future topics covered here. I’m going to try and bring a clear, no-nonsense voice into the health arena. I intend on taking you through my journey as a powerliftering academic that is tired of hearing crappy (and sometimes dangerous) advice and hopefully after a while you’ll laugh at my stupid jokes.

The writer Raymond Chandler was reported to say everyone needs to write a million words of crap before they write something that’s any good. So, please bear with me and my snarky girlfriend until we start making posts that are readable.

I’ve noticed a recent influx of fitness related writers espousing the “ultimate muscle building routine” or “how to lose 30 lbs. in 30 days”. My goal for this post is to aid in your decision-making-process and to make it easier for you to sort through all the crap out there.


Me after 12 cups of coffee

Me after 12 cups of coffee

You would think that in this day and age science would be so advanced that we would have flying cars and hamburgers that can eat people, but you’d be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an “academic” and I love reading research and there are surely many benefits to having what my mentors call an “evidence based practice”.  Also, there are a lot of fitness writers that get it right when it comes to research, like Bret Contreras and Jamie-Chaosandpain-Lewis. That said, there are too many pitfalls to rely on science alone for all the answers.

Scientific studies as a source of information:

Pros– if the population (the people who were the lab rats) in the study matches up with what you are, then you’re golden Ponyboy. You can find the population in the methods section. If the population matches your training status meaning they are as physically active as you are, then you are still golden  (i.e. recreationally active). Some other things that make studies more attractive are:

  • The people running the study are often times experts in that field.
  • The scientific method is used (thank you Sir Francis Bacon).
  • Rigorous statistical analyses are in place to prevent making false claims.
  • Typically, more than just one person worked on the study (number of authors).

Cons– what if the population and training status don’t match up?

I’ll use a personal example to help make sense of this. In a study that’s recent enough for me, (1) a group of researchers compared the effects of one of 3 exercise protocols (squatting, plyometrics, and a combo)to see the effects on vertical jump performance. As you might guess, all groups got better, but the combo group increased the most. The combo group increased their vertical by about 11 cm (because 4 inches doesn’t sound as cool). It’s not like in this six week study they turned all of these people into Michael Jordanesque jumping mutants with frog DNA, but just about anyone would be cool with jumping a little bit higher.

Can you say outlier?

Can you say outlier?

But, upon further inspection the population consisted of those with “recreational lifting experience” (minimum of 1 year training experience) and little to no exposure to power training.  So, these results have little to do with me. I’ve had at least 7 years of training experience and I’ve done tons of power training, not to mention pre and post squat maxes weren’t even reported. I’d assume that would, at least, be a confounding variable.

“Expert” advice

Like I stated before there are many great sources of knowledge out there, but there are only so many pearls in the see of garbage and “bro science”. Oftentimes, trainers will recommend their newest and favorite exercise and training technique, essentially forgetting to mention  how they got to where they are and without any consideration for your genetic leanings. What I mean by that is that some of us are Grey Hounds and others are Saint Bernard’s and if you wanna be good at something you should do a sport or activity that you are suited for. Just because it’s a new year and everyone is running to try and lose some weight doesn’t mean that you should. I see so many women on ellipticals with naturally larger legs and hips that could get so much more out of squatting, but they just don’t because they want get thin or skinny.

She probably doesn’t need to go run a 10k

She probably doesn’t need to go run a 10k

Essentially, if your goals aren’t similar to mine, with the same training status, and a similar build, then my specific training program is of little value to you.

Logic and Reason

Aristotle, look up. -Plato

Aristotle, look up. -Plato

I saved the for last because I believe this is the best one for self-betterment. Try out this thought experiment with me real quick. If Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix were your parents, what physical attributes and capabilities do you think you would possess? If you answered slow and white, you need to punch yourself in the head repeatedly to clear out all of your dysfunctional neurons.

Another example for you, if in your younger days you could run non-stop without tiring, go try out a 5k. When I was a kid, I realized that I was pretty good at jumping and now at 5 foot 4 I can almost dunk a basketball (not sure how much that matters because I’m short and white). And once I started lifting weights at 16 I noticed that I got strong fast without getting any bigger, thus bodybuilding probably isn’t in my future.

This also applies to nutrition. For hundreds of thousands of years humans didn’t eat ice cream and pizza, so how could it be good for you now? Also, meat has been a crucial part of the human diet forever, so why would you not eat it now? (I realize that I’m a vegetarian and this a little ironic, but I’ll explain why in the future).

Taking all of that into account logic still has some pitfall:

  • It’s not perfect
  • Your logic may be unsound, invalid, or incogent (for my fellow philosophers)
  • There could be various variables that you forgot to account for
  • Sometimes things are just counterintuitive

Hopefully, this made sense to you. You can learn a lot from science, other people, and by just using your brain, and there are some great reasons to use all of them. But, the middle path is probably the best way, provided you use a careful, discerning eye. Ultimately, just make up your own mind, you won’t improve if you just take my word for it.


(1) Adams, K., O’Shea, J. P., O’Shea, K. L., & Climstein, M. (1992). The Effect of Six Weeks of Squat, Plyometric and Squat-Plyometric Training on Power Production. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research6(1), 36.


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