Exploring My Errors: Stuff I Was Wrong About

The world of professional fitness training is constantly coming up with new methods and techniques, which is great. But what the fitness field needs more than anything, especially from its leaders, is (intellectual) honesty and humility.

On almost a daily basis (on Facebook) I encounter smart fitness professionals who begin to perform feats of mental gymnastics that I can only admire in order to avoid admitting that they are wrong when I’ve provided them with the evidence clearly showing that they are, and/or have caught them making logically flawed or inconsistent arguments. This is something that I can’t understand because, as a professional trainer and teacher, I’m dedicated to delivering the most accurate information I possibly can.  So I welcome opportunities to discover when I’m wrong, and will happily admit when I am because realizing that I was wrong allows me to better align my beliefs and practices with reality. Plus, it also saves me from spending any further mental energy on a false belief.

In this post I’m going to cover things that I’ve said in my past articles, blogs, videos or at workshops that were just plain wrong.

“It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I’m right” Molière

This is a great book, which I highly recommend.   I've included several quotes (in grey) from Kathryn Shulz throughout this post.
This is a great book, which I highly recommend.
I’ve included several quotes (in grey) from Kathryn Shulz throughout this post.

Not being intellectually honest about anecdotal evidence. 

I pride myself on remaining as intellectually honest as possible about the things that I say. In that, if something is based on anecdotal training experience, I go out of my way to preface it by saying things like “We’ve found that…” or “Here’s one of our favorite applications of…” or “The way we use this application is…” However, there are certainly times where I have slipped – like in this video below – and asserted anecdotal claims as if they were highly evidenced.

Now, the exercise isn’t the problem, its the claims I made about the exercise that are the problem. Unfortunately, asserting one’s anecdotal evidence as if it’s established fact (because, you know, science just hasn’t caught up with your genius yet) is an all too common (intellectually dishonest) practice among the professional fitness training, conditioning, and rehabilitation fields. And, that is something that makes one part of the problem (by creating confusion as to what is evidenced and what isn’t). Not to mention, the arrogance involved in looking at one’s own anecdotes as infallibly true, which is ignorant of how our brilliant brains can (and do) often go badly wrong due to a Baskin-Robins variety of cognitive biases and illusions.

The well-established psychological facts that make us very poor at judging the evidence of our own experience is something I’ve begun to discus in my What Smart Trainers Believe Stupid Things series, and will also explore in other future posts as well.

Put simply, anytime I have asserted anecdotes as if they were well-evidenced facts (in past my articles, blogs, videos or workshops), I was wrong for doing so. And, if there is any time you find me doing this in the future: I am also wrong, and I invite you to call me on it!

“A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of the facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.” 


Appealing to Authority: Repeating what “experts” have said (as if it was fact).

This is another issue that I’ve always tried to be conscious of not doing, as I’m well aware that it’s a logical fallacy to appeal to authority by simply believing something just because some so-called “expert” said it. However, when I look back, there are certainly times where I have fallen prey to this flawed thinking process even though I know better.

An example of where I simply repeated what another so-called “expert” said without really giving any thought to the validity of the what I was claiming, is in our Secrets of Self Myofascial Release DVD. In that DVD, I asserted that “self myofascial release improves tissue quality.

The trouble is that statement is just something I heard Mike Boyle say and thought it sounded good so I just repeated it. So not only was I wrong for appealing to authority, but it was boneheaded of me to repeat something, and assert it as a fact on the basis that “it sounded good” to me.

At this point, I don’t think any good (scientific) evidence currently exists to warrant any claims like “self myofascial release techniques improve tissue quality.”

“As a culture, we haven’t even mastered the basic skill of saying “I was wrong. By contrast, we positively excel at acknowledging other people’s errors.” 

I talked about a type of study that would be impossible to run.

Back in December 2012 I wrote an article called Squat Like a Baby: 7 Reasons this is a Ridiculous Myth. After going back and re-reading this article recently, I felt I didn’t do a good enough job of organizing the information and getting across the main take-home points I wanted you (the reader) to come away with.  So I went to work on this revised and reworked version, which I’ve titled Squat Like an Adult, Not Like a Baby. I’m confident this new version will give you a “fresh view” on the information (if you read the original version), along with delivering a much clearer, more concise and more cohesive resource (than the previous version).

Now, in the original article, I mentioned something like  “we would need some sort of double-blind squat study” in order to show if there are any real (special) benefits to having the ability to squat like a baby as adult, beyond those people like Olympic lifters who obviously need it in order to participate in their sport. Or, something to that effect. That part has been removed (from the original article) for the the following reason:

At the time of writing that part into the article, I was well aware that you couldn’t “blind” an exercise (in a study) because it’s impossible to do an exercise without knowing it. Where I went wrong was that I assumed that a study like this could be done without informing the participants “why” they were squatting, or informing the observers who were analyzing each person what the specific criteria was they were looking for, as not to cognitively prime them to seek out and only take note of the things that fit the specific criteria.

After posting this, my good friend Dr. Jose Antonio, who is well-versed on how exercise (and nutrition) oriented research studies are run, informed me that you would not get approval for an exercise-based research study that attempted to create a blind in this manner because the participants would have to be informed why they were doing the squats.

The point is, not only was I wrong for simply assuming something and not checking my facts before I wrote it into an article that contained many things that I did take great time and energy in fact-checking. But I was also wrong because the criteria I proposed just did not line up with reality; the reality of how a study involving the squat could be done. 

Using and referring to Dumbbell Pullovers as a Lats (isolation) exercise!

In the very first sentence and throughout my Top 3 Ways to do Dumbbell Pull Overs post, I repeatedly referred to Dumbbell Pull Overs as a “Lats exercise.” I also included dumbbell pullovers in my Full-Spectrum Bodybuilding: Lats article.

The problem is:  This 2011 study in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics showed that barbell pullovers worked the pecs better than the lats. So, not only have I been wrong in my labeling all Pull Overs as if they’re primarily a Lats (isolation) exercise, I’ve also been wrong for a long time about where and how I applied them in workouts, as I’ve always applied them as part of Back focused workouts.

Thinking that reading articles and attending workshops/ conferences was “doing your homework.”

As someone who not only regularly writes articles, but has the honor of teaching workshops at a variety of fitness centers and national conferences throughout the year, I’m well-qualified to say that I was wrong for thinking (and for telling my past interns) that attending conferences and workshops, and reading training articles was “doing your homework.”

Put simply, attending workshops and conferences, and reading training articles simply exposes you to variety of the experiences had by, along with the beliefs and approaches held by the coaches and trainers who have put the articles and classes together. Whereas doing your homework is ‘fact-checking’ how those various beliefs and perspectives line up with the current body of scientific evidence.

Lets face it, some of the beliefs and perspectives about a given training topic – Corrective Exercise is a great example – are very different and mutually incompatible, so it’s impossible in these instances for all approaches to be correct. And, the only way to get to the bottom of things is to look at the current scientific evidence (i.e., fact check).

Heck, not only does this post display why you should be fact-checking people (like me) who teach fitness continuing education courses and write articles, but it demonstrates the importance of becoming more reflective about the beliefs we ourselves have and the things we say, by being willing to fact-check yourself.

“We all toss around claims to knowledge with profligate enthusiasm. We know, or think we know, innumerable things, and we enjoy the feeling of mastery and confidence our knowledge gives us. Unfortunately, the barometer we use to determine whether we do don’t know something is deeply, unfixably flawed. By contrast – our capacity to ignore the fact that we don’t know things works wonderfully”

 Now, I realize that the fact-checking process requires a tremendous amount of intellectual work because I spend lots of time doing it. But it’s the type of work that must be done if you’re dedicated to having your beliefs and teachings lawfully in-line with reality, which comes from the current best evidence.

Note: This is not to say that we need scientific evidence for everything we do, as I certainly share plenty of things based on anecdotal evidence. Watch this video for more on that…

Additionally, fact-checking empowers you with the ability to see those who provide information that consistently aligns with the current scientific evidence, and those on the other end of the teaching spectrum who consistently speak about their personal anecdotes as if they’re well-evidenced and seem to often make claims that are not aligned with the current body of evidence. Not to mention, you’ll see who continues to teach/ defend false beliefs vs. those who remain intellectually honest about their anecdotal evidence and are happy to admit when they’re wrong because they’re dedicated to aligning their beliefs and practices with reality over preserving beliefs they’re professionally or emotionally invested in.

“We have an amazing capacity to reach very big conclusions based on very little (good) data.”

In other words, once you’ve been engaged in the fact-checking process you’ll begin to see that there are certain people who are out there teaching and writing articles who are providing more accurate (and more intellectually honest)  information than others. And, from this point you can begin to assign confidence values to the reliability to the various people who are out who are teaching and writing.

Here’s a list of some writers and teachers (in the fitness, nutrition and rehabilitation fields) of whom I assign high confidence values to because their information (although, like me and you, they’re also not perfect) is consistently intellectually honest and/or scientifically founded: Bret ContrerasJonathan FassBrad Schoenfeld, Jim KeilbasoAlan AragonLeigh PeeleMark YoungJason Silvernail, Lars Avenmarie, Spencer Nadolsky, Stuart McGill, Mark Comerford, Vince McConnell, Todd Hargrove, Paul Ingraham, Mike T Nelson, Cassandra Forsythe, Jose AntonioGregLehman, Mike Reinold, Eric Cressey, Dave PariseMarie Spano, Mark McKean, Sol Orwell, Charles Staley, the late (great) Mel Siff.


Final Words

When you first saw that this post was about the things I was wrong about, you may have thought that I was going to show you a list of exercises that I’ve changed my mind on. If so, let me take this opportunity to clarify that there is a BIG difference between changing your mind about a subjective thing (Ex: You now like a certain exercise that previously you didn’t like or vice versa) and being wrong about an objective reality (Ex: You claim that cooking in a microwave oven alters/ reduces/ kills nutrients in food, which is simply false.)

In other words, being wrong has nothing to do with shifting one’s (subjective) opinions; it’s about embracing when our beliefs (or claims we’ve made) about objective things are not lawfully aligned with reality.

“The standards of right and wrong apply to facts but not to preferences.”

So, talking about how you’ve changed your mind about a given exercise that you’ve now decided that you like or dislike is no more a display of intellectual honesty and humility than it is to say that you used to like pepperoni on your pizza, and now you prefer sausage.

Secondly, in a post that focused on things I was wrong about, I can safely say that something I’ve done right is to avoid using/ teaching exercises based on training fads (that come and go like clothing styles).  Sure I’ve refined the way certain exercises may be coached or utilized, and become more intellectually honest about the claims I make about their benefits; but when you base your exercises on proven principles and on the general rules of human physiology (instead of on fads), it’s unlikely you’ll go wrong.

Finally, one of my main goals with this post is to urge you to rethink your relationship to wrongness because it is only by fostering an intimacy with our own fallibility, welcoming exposure to our mistakes, and admitting to them (like a true professional should) that we learn and grow.

This self-reflection process (i.e. being your own toughest critic and inner fact-checker) has helped me to become even more aware about the information that I put out; how I go about delivering that information in the most accurate and intellectually honest manner, and has empowered me with the ability to make it less likely that I’ll make these same mistakes in my future works.

“It is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are. Wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.“ 

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