Lots of people these days like to make a point to reference “the literature”. “The literature” is really just another way to say sports science research, but I guess people think it makes them sound more educated and science-y. Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly popular to base claims on “the literature”. Science is becoming one of the most effective marketing tools, and when this happens, you can be sure that what’s being called “science” isn’t always truly science (where science is defined in the traditional sense as essentially the process by which humans attempt to learn about the natural world through observation and experimentation). These days, science is often about making money for corporations or for the sake of getting published so that somebody whose job it is to “do science” can justify his or her position.

Before the trolls say that I’m “anti-science”, let me make this point very clear: I am not saying that all science is bad. But a lot of it is, especially these days. Take the following example:

In 2008 a study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the journal of the NSCA, titled “No Difference in 1RM Strength and Muscle Activation During the Barbell Chest Press on a Stable and Unstable Surface“. The abstract goes on to say “these results indicate that there is no reduction in 1RM strength or any differences in muscle EMG activity for the barbell chest press exercise on an unstable exercise ball when compared to a stable flat surface“.

I am almost at a loss for words here. The only way that I can imagine someone drawing this conclusion is that they have never been exposed to any sort of serious strength training. To anybody who has ever spent time training a heavy bench press, it’s painfully obvious that you can bench more on a stable surface than on an exercise ball. I am not going to spend time explaining this. The fact that a team of researchers even thought this was a good question to ask is quite strange. The study had many problems such as a tiny sample size (10 men) and the fact that none of the subjects were trained lifters. The fact that it was published in what most people consider to be a reputable journal is astonishing.

My point is this: just because somebody says that something is “science based” or they reference “the literature”, this doesn’t mean that what they are saying is true! This is especially relevant for studies on supplements. Marketers are clever at finding studies that support their claims, but they will usually fail to inform you about the studies that contradict their claims. To take things even further: the scientific research community is currently undergoing an issue known as the “replication crisis”. It boils down to the fact that many published studies cannot be replicated. Reproducibility is one of the cornerstones of the scientific method, yet the journal Nature found that 70% of scientists polled could not reproduce the results of a peer’s studies. 50% of scientists could not even reproduce their own results! There are even more problems with professional research worldwide, such as fraud in the peer review system, but it is not the objective of this post to identify all of the many issues facing the scientific community and the lay-person’s interpretation of it.

You have to think critically whenever confronted with scientific claims about fitness. Don’t adjust your training or diet based on the latest “study” until there is a broad base of research making similar claims, plus little to no research opposing it.