Evidence Based Fitness

What is evidence based fitness? Let’s start with an explanation of its predecessor, evidence based medicine.

Evidence based medicine (EBM) is defined by Rosenberg as, “the process of systematically reviewing, appraising and using clinical research findings to aid the delivery of optimum clinical care to patients.”  In other words, it is the use of tangible, measurable results (evidence) of a clinical approach that WORKS.  Evidence based medicine requires not just research but application and evaluation.

So what does this have to do with fitness?  Exercise is a form of medicine and should be treated as such.  The same clinical, results-focused approach to medicine can be used when it comes to delivering fitness programs and protocols.  It’s no secret that the health and fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar money-making machine.  Anyone can CLAIM something works, but what we really need is evidence demonstrating if it truly is effective or not.  Whether it’s a nutritional supplement or workout routine, how do we really know if it works?  Research.

Not every member of the general public is adept or interested in reading the results of research. Further, they might not care.  This lack of diligence or interest works out great for those companies looking to make money off of claims, products, or services that have no evidence as to whether they work or not.  For some people, a picture on social media is all it takes (unfortunately) to get them on board with the latest fad.

Another issue of concern is that there is a HUGE gap that exists between research and practice, especially when it comes to fitness trends.  There are practitioners out delivering classes and programs with no rhyme or reason to justify their approach.  We all see the next-big-thing in workouts appear on infomercials and online LONG before there is any research done to support or refute if it works or not.

So, whether you are a professional working in the business or the general public looking for the latest, greatest fitness tip, it’s important to make sure that what you are doing is safe and going to be effective.  For the general public, here are some very basic tips I would give when it comes to being a critical consumer:

  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Use good common sense and listen to your body.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be talked into something too easily. Require more than a picture or testimonial to get on board.
  • Nothing takes the place of hard work and sound nutrition. Let food be thy medicine.
  • Nutritional supplements are not screened or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a free-for-all and you could be spending money on absolutely nothing.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before dropping a bunch of money on something that might be a waste.
  • When accessing public websites, blogs, and social media ask yourself these questions:
    • What is their purpose?
    • Are they selling something or pushing a product?
    • What is the source of the information? Is it cited?
    • Do they provide any evidence beyond some testimonials or pictures?
    • If there is a “study” conducted, what are the details? Is there a conflict of interest or bias present?
    • What type of credentials do the authors hold?

For professionals trying to use an evidence based approach to fitness:

  • Accessing and using scholarly information is a key to what sets you apart from the general fitness consumer. Be on top of it – bottom line.
  • Gain a membership that gives you access to peer-reviewed journals and the latest research.
  • When you attend continuing education, make sure the presenters are respected scholars who are actively conducting research and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Take a college course on research methods or statistics. It helps!

A couple of online resources that may be of help:


Source:  Rosenberg W, Donald A. Evidence based medicine: an approach to clinical problem-solving. BMJ 1995; 310:1122–1126.

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