How to spot a dodgy fitness technique/ system

by | Jan 30, 2019 |

In an industry that has more answers than questions, I find it difficult still to see what works and what is made up.

My aim in this article is to help you with a system to find the best techniques and understand why things seem to work without a scientific basis to pin them to.

It seems to me that I share the same goal as many Trainers, Therapists and Conditioning coaches, I want to give my client the best training, results and experience I can.

Due to this drive, I am drawn towards techniques and gurus instinctively.

During a postural assessment, hands-on solution, featuring foam rolling, fascial scraping (no taping even then I drew the line in the sand), Stecco’s fascia points and a lot of filming while looking concerned about my client’s performance, I had a thought.

A while before this I was challenged to stop listening to gurus and instead read the research. So after the session where my thought occurred, I went and read and that changed everything. I have written about it a lot so you will see it in the blogs to learn more.

Once I had changed to an evidence-based trainer, where my evidence would come from the balance of research papers (good ones, from good journals) and not from my memory of a guru and their books, videos or courses.

This was great for me, but as an educator and a trainer with friends who used techniques because I had previously, I had a difficult time explaining why if you see it works, then that is not enough.

Also, I was having a time a half trying to work out the Biopsychosocial model over the use of the Biomedical model. This was mainly because I did not understand the Biopsychosocial model, was simply saying filter the whole experience and technique down into three sciences. Whereas the Biomedical model is based on changing chemistry or structure to fix a problem.

Applying a Biopsychosocial filter to techniques before you use them is a great way of deciphering techniques and guru claims.

I want to share this system with you like a recipe –

1 – Split the Biopsychosocial model down into its three sciences
2 – Take the technique and break it down into the sciences, think about the person delivering, the way it was delivered, the clients beliefs as well as the technique
3 – Analyse and build up what makes the technique appear to work
4 – Decide if you agree with all parts being scientific and then make a decision

Here is an example from real life, from me –
A student on a course, who had heard that I was an amazing trainer who could fix pain and injury with his biomechanical skills, came to a course and asked if I could work on her in the break. She said she had a bad knee.

During the morning session, I worked my magic with the group and they watched me perform. I was fixing imbalance and improving technique left, right, and centre and I was showing them how to do this too. By the break I had the guru status intact, furthermore, I found that the girl on the course was amazing and we had a bond.

She told me her knee hurt in a lunge, and so I asked her to lunge for me, which she did. I instantly started work, as my coaching eyes came through and noticed that her ankle was everting and dorsiflexing late, which was holding up the internal rotation and right lateral flexion of the tibia, and combined with the femur still travelling in, it was obvious to me why that knee would feel painful.

So I worked on it. I used a hands-on technique to help the midfoot and 1st MTP joint move more easily, which helped me then in the upright position to assist the tibia movement with correct timing, to get in front of the movement of the femur. This allowed for the correct sequencing and instantly she felt her glutes turn on and things were better.

I asked her to then hop around to test out her knee, as this was the main issue when she came in. So she sets off hopping, telling me it felt a load better.

I would have been so pleased, except she hopped off on the opposite foot to the one I had worked on. It was the back knee in the lunge, not her front one. I explained it away as her being more efficient, but that did not make sense because the hop was a one-sided test!! Grrrr.

Anyway, let’s look at this technique and see why it might have worked.

Biomedical Science – The idea was that getting the correct sequence of movement would reduce stress at the knee joint and remove the pain. In this situation even if that was true and the techniques work (that is a discussion for a different post), in this situation it would not be the explanation.

Psychology – She had seen other people who had not helped her and I was kind of a last-ditch attempt. However, she was determined that I would be the help and so everything I said fed into the fact that she thought it was correctable from movement. As pain is an emotion, and emotion is the response to a stimulus with a perception of what is required to defend and then promote positive actions for the body, it makes sense that feeling like this would work would change her emotional response to the input whatever I had done. Having a positive thought about the outcome and a renewed confidence around the movement meant that the cards were stacked in my favour.

Social Psychology – This is the interesting part I think. I ticked all the boxes, I look like an industry outcast. My language was different, I spoke against more traditional therapies and my content made sense. I played up to the rebel healer that could save, and I had a group of people who believed me and were reporting back positive results. We both got on and had mutual respect, which was a massive help as well. Essentially giving her attention and applying techniques would have helped her whatever as I fit the pre-conception of the therapist she needed.

So if I was going to give a score to what I achieved, then I would say I delivered a 66% experience with a positive outcome.

I never saw her after and so I do not know if the pain went due to coincidence, my trickery, or if it came back even worse. At the time I would suggest it was fixed, and if it came back I could just re-track the wrong knee and all would be good again.

Now I would say, wouldn’t it be great if I could take all the positives from this, and then use a biomedical technique that has scientific validity? That would be the best thing for my client.

Also in the future, I might not be lucky enough to have someone match my delivery so well. It is why we build the FASTER courses around rapport building, interviewing and the skill of almost cellular listening (not listening to cells, but looking at changes in the clients auditory and visual communication with us as they explain things). You need to know not only the biomedical side of what the problem is but the psychology of the client and their social psychology expectations.

**When I did look at the research it seems that her pain was coming from a fear of moving, I restored her faith in her body and then got her to move to prove it. This is something I could have done better-using hands-off coaching techniques for skill development, something that is also for another article or one of our courses (because I still have to feed the kids!).

If I have written this well enough and you have enjoyed it, then I would love to hear your stories of how you have applied this evaluation and come to a different conclusion on an event you think your technique cured. Pop them on our facebook page and I will answer each one!