Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Guru Who Should Know Better

If there's one thing I've learned in my dozen or so years in the fitness industry, it's that there are very few, if any aspects of nutrition and fitness that are black and white.

That is why I was very surprised to read the opinions (stated as fact) of a well-known author of a weight training book (whose name shall remain anonymous - this individual is a bestselling author and an advocate of super-slow training).

The topic was on exercise - particularly cardiovascular exercise and how it may cause joint damage. I actually didn't disagree with the original blog post, although the comments that ensued prompted me to ask some questions. That's where things got interesting...

To preface - I am very pro-weight training. Lifting weights is probably the single best intervention for improving function, body composition (lowering body fat) and keeping posture, hormone balance and longevity intact. This is where he and I agree, and then it happened...

The author in question began making some curious claims - without qualification (my comments in italics)

"Too much joint movement wears out the joint faster"

No qualification, no acknowledgement of the complexity of joint degradation. There are many predisposing factors to joint wear that this individual glossed over. To simply state that using the joints too much causes them to wear out is ill-informed.

"Adding cardio after strength training will not provide additional physiological benefits"

A curious statement to say the least as burning additional calories will contribute to the deficit necessary to attain fat loss. Further, there are numerous health benefits to adding cardio to a comprehensive health program.

The debate then switched to what constituted "health markers". Here are some more gems from this guy:

"Lower resting heart rate and higher Vo2 (a measure of oxygen distribution capacity) are NOT health benefits and could be a detriment."

Hmmmm... in the words of Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I asked him if he had any data to back up this rather lofty and unconventional claim. (note: I'm okay with unconventional provided there is provenance, plausible theories or some repeated clinical findings). He presented none of this, insisting instead that I produce evidence that cardio impacts any markers that weights does not - a point that I never argued against. What I DID contend, however is that cardio impacted certain health markers to a GREATER DEGREE than did weight training (a contention to which I provided evidence for). It would only stand to reason then, that a combination of the two (and sound diet, of course) would produce the most optimal cardiovascular results.

His response after I posted studies... I "pick and chose and ignored the other evidence". Funny how he provided NONE of this supposed "contrary evidence". Not only did he not provide any evidence to the contrary, he went on to say that "the degree (of which a health marker is changed) is unimportant. Another curious blanket statement considering that there are varying degrees of "high".

He also claims;

"Weight training lowers blood pressure as much as cardio"

Great, show me the evidence....(crickets chirping)

I also provided ample studies showing an inverse relationship between mortality and high vo2 as well as resting heart rate as an independent risk factor for mortality and cardiac events (these supposed "non-factors when it comes to health). For good measure, I provided evidence of cardio training lowering markers of inflammation, blood lipids and blood glucose.

Here's another one of his assertions regarding exercise and the joints:

"It is proven beyond a doubt that millions of aerobically-active people are injured and require surgery"

It is also "proven beyond a doubt" that many people who eat rice have black hair, but I'm not going to go around telling people that eating rice causes you to have black hair. You would also think that "proven beyond a doubt" would mean that there are reams upon reams of studies demonstrating such.... still nothing. He presented anecdotes, conjecture and heresy to defend this one. Further, he made no qualification regarding predispositions, types of "aerobics", intensities or durations - all important factors to consider when making such a claim.

To be clear - excessive and otherwise inappropriate aerobic training can lead to joint wear/pain in predisposed individuals. To claim, however that wear is an inevitability - regardless of predisposing factors is careless and completely misguided. I provided a study showing that individuals showed IMPROVED joint function with walking.

He ended by making a pseudo-qualification to one of his arguments, but disguised it such a way that it didn't look like he agreed with me. I made one last request for evidence (after a follower of his tried to unsuccessfully defend his untenable arguments). It ended with him telling me I had stooped to "jabs and barbs" (a response to me calling his claims as "glib generalities").

To Summarize

Weight training is awesome. Weight training in addition to healthy eating and cardio will supply benefits above and beyond just weight training. Well-planned programming is key and one must be careful not to overdo things and to incorporate variety.

There is no room for blanket statements in the world of exercise. It's also imortant to look at the evidence objectively and not let the pendulum swing too far the other way.
I don't make a point to go out of my way to question people, but I do hold people who write books on the subject to higher standards. Also, upon browsing this guys blog archives, he seems to have no qualms about ripping those he disagrees with, whilst cherry picking information that supports his views.

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