Be Wary of the 'One Thing' to Fix Everything

“This one weird trick will make you beautiful and rich and awesome! It’s easy and anyone can do it!”

We all know the snake oil when we see it, but we (trainers, coaches, athletes) still fall for the next big thing. A prominent coach comes out with a new method or technique and suddenly everyone is doing it. It’s an easy trap to fall for.

Chris Duffin popularized proper breathing mechanics and suddenly it’s all good coaches talk about. Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) becomes a popular movement certification, and now you see it in Powerlifting warm-up rooms all over. Innovation is good and advances our field. However, we have to keep in mind every advancement needs to undergo long-term testing in the real world. People have squatted for over 100 years and it still works, we know squats are awesome at getting people stronger. This exercise has survived the crucible of experimentation. New techniques simply haven’t had this real-world stress testing, and you know what? Some of the newer trends don’t last. So how do you know what to try and what might be snake oil?

 
snake oil.jpg
 


Be wary of anyone or anything who claims to fix everything. Life is complex and often requires complex solutions, and in a world like fitness where minimizing your variables is literally impossible, the solutions you’re looking for like getting stronger or feeling better likely don’t rely on just one thing. This type of thinking will just lead to moving from one new trend to the next, and never finding the complete solution you’re looking for.

In fact, here are a number of articles in chronological order showing the pendulum swing we see so often in the training world. The first claims that the new method of foam rolling is the greatest thing in the world and will fix everything. Later after some real-world testing, coaches declare that the old method of foam rolling is in fact bad for you! At last foam rolling is determined not to be all good, or all bad, and is ok to perform once again. You can’t make this up, some of these articles are by the same author.

Foam Rolling

2004- “Take our advice, and receive a lifetime of relief”

2014- Foam Rollers are for wimps


2015- The foam roller may be the single biggest time waster in the fitness industry.


2016- “Foam rolling has some benefits…...but is not a cure-all”


Below we see the same proces with the Couch Stretch. It comes out of the gate in 2011 as the best thing in the world, and by 2017 enthusiasm has waned.


Couch Stretch

2011- “Even top athletes need to (couch) stretch”


2015- When the Couch Stretch doesn’t work


2014- Is this a good thing or a bad thing?


2017- “Here’s how to get the most out of it”


So what gives?

Nothing is a solution to everything. Remember that people might have an interest in bucking the trends and getting some elbow room in a crowded fitness field rather than just provide practical (and sometimes boring) information. Know that new things need to be tested. Try, experiment, and drop things that don’t seem to work well over time.

The problem is complex, and the solution is simple. It is incumbent on you, yes YOU, to educate yourself to a sufficient extent that you are in a position to evaluate information issued from a position of authority. You are supposed to be able to able to recognize silly bullshit when you hear it. And I’m sorry if it’s hard to think all the time, but the consequences of placing your responsibility to do so in the hands of others can result in a closet full of Thigh Masters, which will make it necessary to find somewhere else to hang your shirts- like on your Bowflex.

- Mark Rippetoe


I speak on this subject with a passion because I fell hook line and sinker for both foam rolling and couch stretching and gave them both to all my clients for years. Here is what I found: both methods fixed some things, and not others. For some, it made a big difference. For others, it made none at all. Neither was the cure-all that it was sold as. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Recognize the ebb and flow of fitness advice that often follows this All Good to All Bad pattern. Most things are somewhere in the middle

 
 The height of fashion never goes out of style…

The height of fashion never goes out of style…

 

In the end, the pendulum is a good thing because this is how information is learned, tested, and added to our common wisdom. But just remember that coaches have an incentive to stand out, and there’s no easier way to do that than to slay a sacred cow or invent a new thing that fixes everything. It’s boring to read and learn about the basics over and over again. It’s doesn’t sell well to propose that rarely is anything all good, or all bad, but likely somewhere in between.