Why I now listen to Fitness Charlatans

A good friend of mine recently bought me the book “AntiFragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A very fascinating book with lots of hidden gems in it (worth a read).

One of those gems was a little paragraph about “Charlatans”. In this chapter Nassim explained that a ‘Charlatan’ was someone who relied on experiment and experience to ascertain what was correct…

…Basically, someone who figured out what worked through trial and error and tinkering. Which of course is thought to be, or suggested to be, inferior to the ‘learned’ version of figuring out what works.

Pretty much the old street smart vs book smart argument.

So really, ‘charlatan’ was the derogatory term given to anyone not “in” on the scientific thought of the day. Not certified, licensed, approved… basically not part of the establishment.

But Charlatans did, and do have experience. And, if you are able to look past the typical mistakes that charlatans make when they try to sound like they’re part of the establishment, they can have some absolute gems of wisdom.

Here’s an example.

Trainer X has, through trial and error, developed a workout program that has shown time and time again to help athletes gain muscle — so much so that he begins to develop a reputation of being an expert in muscle building.

Then Trainer X is interviewed and during that interview he states that his workouts are effective because they are able to turn Fat into Muscle.

Obviously a mistake – trying to sound like an expert the way people expect an expert to sound – book smart.

The scientific establishment, or in this case what I like to call the OEC’s (Online Expert Commentators) quickly point out that you cannot turn fat into muscle. And due to this error they label Trainer X as a fraud and his workout as bunk.

Only the workout wasn’t bunk, the explanation was the bunk.

Baby and the bathwater.

The fact is the workout was effective, but in attempting to fit in with the establishment and appeal to everyone’s love affair with science, trainer X overstepped his expertise and tried to explain WHY his workout worked…

And he got it wrong. But the workout was still effective.

Truthfully, I would probably be one of the people who would have jumped all over Trainer X pointing out his error (at least the old me would have), but now I’m not as quick to judge.

Yes, it is incredibly hard to separate correlations from causation from catalysts in real everyday life, but to be honest, there are a lot of examples in life where you don’t need to know why something works to know that it works.

(case in point, I have no idea how my car works – I mean seriously – zero clue – but I know that it works)

Bottom line, the point of today’s email – careful with today’s health and fitness establishment, we’re quick to argue over science, and sometimes we are blind to results.

If something is working for you, but the explanation for why it works is less than perfect, it doesn’t change the fact that is is working for you.

The goal is results, not the best explanation for how the results were reached.



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