Critical Learning: How to Read and Respond to Fitness Info on the Internet
I was reminded by a video shared on Facebook how important it is to never lose your critical eye. You should question everything, including YouTube videos, fitness articles, and even your coach’s advice. Most of the content generated on the web and the coaches teaching you are genuinely trying to get it right and help out, but there is just as much misinformation out there as good information. Good sources such as Breaking Muscle help expedite the process of sorting through the junk, but even so we are not perfect. When you read something don’t simply accept it as fact. Rather, read more, find other sources, and verify the information.
Here is the offending video that inspired this article:
First of all this is not a slight against Nike, because overall my experience with the company has been great, but this Turkish get up video demonstrates that even a huge company can get it completely wrong. (Here's how to do it properly, by the way.) Even more surprisingly, this is part of a video series that includes Shawn Johnson, an Olympian, and plenty of other famous people in the fitness industry. Just because content features high profile coaches or athletes is not a guarantee that the information is legit. There are plenty examples of high-profile mistakes such as Jillian Michaels’ kettlebell video, which features her showing not only bad form, but also potentially risking serious injury.
The purpose of this article is not to slam people who make mistakes, but rather to use this as a learning opportunity and to make sure we don’t fall prey to misinformation. So how do you know if something is legit or you should forget you’ve ever seen it?
1. Look at the bottom of the article or video.
There should be citations.1 Fitness articles are no different than academic research, and in fact the really good ones are the same. They should be based on valid evidence and ideas should be proven.
2. Compare and contrast.
If you research this topic do others tend to agree or disagree with the ideas and conclusions put forth?2 Is high repetition Olympic lifting okay? Search it and find the differing opinions.
3. Reflect on challenges to your beliefs and values.
Did the article make intuitive sense and sit well with your current beliefs? Just because it challenges your thoughts doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, if it challenges you it’s even more important to research the topic. You may just have stumbled upon a hidden gem and you may have to unlearn something you previously thought was correct.
4. Check the source.
Who generated this content? Ask yourself who they are and what their purpose was - both the author and the publisher. People don’t often write fitness articles for the fun of it. Usually the author is a coach looking for more traffic, a paid writer, or some variation of these two. Go to the author’s personal website and see what he or she is all about. Is this coach simply trying to sell you a product? Or does he or she have a genuine interest in helping people?
Critical learning is a skill and something that does not always come easily. It takes more time and effort than simply skimming an article and taking it as fact, but you’ll be pleased with the results. Then, once you employ the practice, the question becomes how you handle when you get bad advice.
If you are in a group setting and the coach or instructor is teaching something you think is wrong, what do you do? The first priority is always safety. If the instructor is putting people at risk, it is your responsibility to prevent this situation from turning bad. The best approach is to ask if you may have a moment of the instructor’s time and get away from the group. Challenging an instructor’s authority in front of the group puts everyone in an awkward position. The coach will respect you more and be more open to criticism or advice if taken aside. If the problem is something minor that doesn’t risk injury, then chances are it can wait until the end of class. If the instructor doesn’t agree with your input, provide him or her with information. At this point if you cannot get on the same wavelength you may want to look for a different place to train.
More often the situation comes up that you find bad information online. An article is written telling you it’s okay for a beginner to perform 500+ impacts in a plyometric session. How do you address this? Usually the more tactful and respectful your approach the better results you will get. Sending a private message or email to the author can be more effective than blasting him or her in the comments section. Let the author know, “Hey, I don’t agree with that article. Here is some research why.” See if the response you get is positive, or better yet, if the author changes what was written. Readers can respect an honest mistake that is corrected, but not one that is covered up. Give the author a chance before you let others know this information isn’t so great.
Together as a fitness community we can make a difference. Comment on posts that you really like, or ones you don’t agree with. Share quality information with your friends. Let writers know what topics you want to hear about. Become a part of the solution and help everyone to become fitter, healthier, and happier.
1. Judy Hunter, "The Importance of Citation," Grinnell College.
2. "Comparing and Contrasting," The Writing Center, accessed September 16, 2013.
3. "7 Critical Reading Strategies," Salisbury University, accessed September 16, 2013.