Anecdotal Evidence, Statistically based Conclusion, and Functional Training

Health Blog

Good Morning my dear readers, recently I had a conversation with a friend regarding exercises certain “youtube stars” peddle at their channel. It came down to “If what you say is true, then how come X and Y can do this and that movement and seemed fine?” So allow me to explain here the reasoning on why imitating any movement someone else demonstrated might not be a good idea:

Anecdotal Evidence

Back when I was practicing Kung Fu, even my shifu would say that only certain people with certain type of bone structure can train the 1 finger handstand. And as Dr. McGill has aptly proven in his three decades of spine research, the spine and pelvic ring structure of humans are highly varied, with some are more specialized towards certain tasks than others. This is why all the fastest sprinters in the world have a common ancestor from a specific region in Africa and why 90% of Scottish people cannot do a deep squat with a straight back but are stronger than average on highland games. Different people are also born with different spine flexion/extension capacity. Some people can do 2000 sit ups a day. But if I do 700 sit ups a day for a month, for sure I will get disk bulges again.

Now for an extreme example, check this “tutorial” that will send you one way to my clinic:

First think I would say is notice her youth. Younger people tend to have more flexible spine disks. As part of normal aging process, the disks will start to loose its flexibility and it would not like being contorted into those positions. Second, notice how thin her bones are. If you are born with the bone structure of an NFL line backer, forcing yourself to practice those movements, even progressively over 1 year period will ensure you become my patient.

Hence proper training program isn’t simply imitating someone else’s training. Each individual has his/her own limit of end-range of motions, both due to soft tissues (muscles, tendons etc) that can be trained or hard tissues (bones) that cannot be trained. They also started their training at different fitness level along with different movement proficiency. A good program must consider all these factor along with the consideration on what the goal of the training is. A good program must also maximize the gains compared to the risk associated with doing certain exercise.

Statistically based Conclusion


Now this is the main reason why I love Dr. McGill’s approach. No “motherhood stories” about why he/she thinks this “primal pattern” or what not is important for you to train. No “chikung toe touch” or funny exercises based on “ancient eastern wisdom” either. The man simply did his research and after gathering the data points, draw the conclusion that were tested on both normal civilian and world class athletes.

Hence if a fitness guru claims that he is so good and one of his “proofs” is him training a second division hockey team, then my question is how good was the team before, what is the marked improvement the team did competition wise (moved up the rank, moved to first division, or won the Stanley cup?). Simply claiming that “they look fitter” doesn’t pass the muster. Any gym rat can make a football team more muscular, but might actually damage the team’s athletic capability. As mentioned in my past post regarding training with a purpose, proper strength and conditioning must first design the movement pattern and goals to be achieved before proceeding with the right program design. And more importantly, how does your trainer justify his program? based on anecdotal evidences or from research on hundreds of gold medal winning athletes.

Functional Exercise


Real Athletes have done real functional exercise for ages. And for day laborers, their functional exercise is basically their employment. It basically means you train specifically for your goals. This is also something I highly recommend for recreational sport enthusiast that wants to get better at their game. I also understand that some personal trainers felt the need to develop their own “novel approach” to exercises to make their name, constantly develop new exercises to keep their clients entertained.

However, combined these two factors and you get yourself the bastardized version of exercises with funny devices we see at many gyms these days, invented by people whose main motivation is to sell equipment. Some of them are simply silly and useless unless you plan on applying to Cirque do Solei, pretty much useless. Some others are simply harmful and does not keep up to date with the latest science.

Strength and Conditioning should be about building up your strength and movement competence. Getting you “gassed out” should not be the main objective. It might even ruin your neural drive according to several people more knowledgeable than me. And it should not damage your joints but make them stronger. Dr. McGill gave a detailed explanation on how to properly develop your own REAL functional exercise in his book “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance“. The exercises listed here are some of what I will consider as true “functional training”. Keep in mind that proper movement is essential and great programming involves selecting the movements that will help you reach your athletic goals and according to your current athletic capabilities.



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