“In one corner we have the evidence based coach who won’t let his or her client/athlete perform anything without a PubMed reference in hand. And at the other corner we have the coach who relies on anecdotal experience and feels just because it worked for his or her’s clients/athletes that it must apply to everyone else.” – strength coach, Tony Gentilcore
Practice vs. research is an endless battle comparable to the Lannister’s vs. the Stark’s.
What side are we on? Who will stay alive? Who will claim the throne?
Sadly, this is where our industry is at the moment – in the midst of a burgeoning gap between practice vs. research.
Can’t there be a middle ground?
Or do we have to battle for what we believe?
I was fueled to write this piece on practice vs. research because of an image I saw on a soccer sport scientist’s Instagram story.
Here it is:
I find this disappointing. And for this image to come from someone in the industry who works with the pros and someone who I hold tremendous respect for, this was frustrating to say the least.
The above image not only is narrow minded, but it divides coaches in the performance industry even more.
It presents research as the end-all-be-all to performance training, and fails to take into account the athlete’s needs in the moment by the means of practice.
Moreover, it gives off the vibe that strength coaches and fitness gurus discount research altogether.
This is so incredibly far from the truth.
I, for one, read research every week.
This begs the question: what type of private sector coach would I be if I ignored it? Out of business and bankrupt, most likely.
Certainly, my athletes wouldn’t be getting better, and I would be failing as a coach and business owner.
Expounding further, most fitness gurus in the industry are just like me: they drown themselves in research on the regular so they improve their craft and deliver to their clients.
At the same time, they see benefit in diving into in-person coaching. You know, the good ol’ art of practice-based research.
This isn’t to say reading research studies isn’t important.
Especially from a functional anatomy, injury prevention, and biomechanical standpoint, it’s in our best interest to sift through the research and execute the best exercises for our athletes.
For me, I’ve applied numerous studies on ACL injury prevention training, speed training, and load monitoring.
But sometimes, I’ve tossed research in the trash, and have had to adapt on the fly to my athletes’ needs.
And I don’t see anything “wrong” with this for a couple reasons:
1) Some research is lagged years behind.
2) In-person coaching is sometimes the best research because it is up-to-date.
3) I doubt my athletes would want to see me reference the Journal of Strength and Conditioning mid-session.
No one cares.
As an example, the picture above with one of my female athletes and me represents me innovating on the job. Did I need a study to back it up? No.
My athlete had trouble getting into athletic stance, so I had to move into my creative coaching space to give her a cue that worked for her.
No study could’ve told me this shit.
Or how about my soccer boys who struggled to get into ankle dorsiflexion?
In this case, I had to put my coaching hat on and add in the low box to elicit that result:
When it comes to the actual art of coaching, I firmly believe no research study can tell us how to do things.
Rather, we must pay attention to the actions of our athletes and tweak in the moment. In a split fucking second.
Truthfully, I only get a few hours a week with most of my athletes, so you bet I’m plowing through and not referencing PubMed all the time.
We have shit to get done.
We have weighted Pull-Ups to crush.
We have force production to attack:
^ I will say, there’s plenty of research behind Contrast Training. I’ve used it. But I’ve also had to know when to take a step back due to the communication with my athletes that day. Or I don’t know, the phase of the moon that night.
Fuck outta here with the, “oh well the Journal of Physical Therapy says this…”
Alas, I digress.
Coming back to this sport scientist’s image, I find it comical that he mentions fitness gurus’ articles have a lot of images and are easy to read.
Well, no fucking shit, Sherlock.
More often than not, the people reading our blogs are Average Joes. Do you think they want to read a 100-page study with scientific jargon and a shit show of stats and numbers and graphs that cause seizures?
They’d much rather read an article that is informative, applies science, and hones readability.
Oh, and if you’re like me, you sprinkle in pop culture references and comedy.
My readers, to that end, have followed me for the long-haul because I’ve blended research, practice, and Lord of the Rings references into all of my articles.
I guess you can say…I’ve been able to dumb down the academic lingo, making it, yes, easy for people to read.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion and results, people actually read my articles from start to finish. Every sentence. Every word. In fact, many have said they’ve read my articles more than once.
So what can we learn from this?
Besides being a wizard of prose, I’m able to incorporate research into my work.
We can learn that there is indeed a middle-ground we all can strive for when it comes to both practice and research.
Research is reliable. Practice is reliable. Lord of the Rings references are reliable.
And it’s all about finding a sweet spot between all of these.
Returning to the ACL training I mentioned, I’ve used research a ton when it comes to writing programs for female athletes and programming a menu of strength and neuromuscular exercises:
^ It’s worth mentioning, yes, this is a neuromuscular exercise, but I came up with this on my own. I leaned into the art coaching. I leaned into creativity. Both things research can’t teach. ;-O
In summary, I don’t think it’s fair for the science guys to say, “fitness gurus don’t apply research at all.”
If anything, we’re using it weekly.
After all, most of us run our own businesses, so the only way we stay afloat is to ensure we’re delivering the best possible service to our athletes. We would be morons if we didn’t aim to get better in both worlds.
So for the guys who preach research as the only means to improving performance and delivering to athletes, it’s time to rethink your life.
I mean…it’s time to rethink how you do things.
Are you too caught up in data and studies that your forget how to coach in the real world?
So this bears repeating: both research and practice matter.
After all, our athletes aren’t subjects we control in a lab to support our personal hypotheses.