Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How not to review a study

The mass media generally does a terrible job of covering exercise/diet studies.

For example, look at this one making the rounds today:

Aerobic exercise beats weights in belly fat face-off

It starts with the catchy headline - who doesn't want to lose belly fat, or keep it off once it's gone?

From the article and the study's written statement:

The eight-month study followed 196 overweight, sedentary adults (ages 18-70) who were randomized to one of three groups: aerobic training; resistance training or a combination of the two. The aerobic group performed exercises equivalent to 12 miles of jogging per week at 80% maximum heart rate. The resistance group performed three sets of 8 – 12 repetitions three times per week. All programs were closely supervised and monitored to ensure maximum effort in participation.

Okay, great - both the news article and the study lack important information.

- "exercises equivalent to 12 miles of jogging per week at 80% maximum heart rate." Not jogging 12 miles at 80%, but "equivalent to." What was it?
Can you base your exercise choices based on a statement like that?

The article at CBS refers to these people as "the joggers." Were they actually jogging?

- "three sets of 8 - 12 repetitions" of what exercises? At what percentage of their 1-rep max? Did they increase the weight progressively or just pick a weight and stay there?

- what kind of body composition change did they have overall? Pre- and post- study inception body fat percentages aren't listed. Did they check them?

From elsewhere in the study's statement, and totally missing from the article:

The combination of aerobic with resistance training achieved results similar to aerobic training alone.

- Similar isn't the same - what was the similarity and what was the difference?

The CBS article doesn't care, and in fact implies that aerobic is the way to go and you could "ditch the weights." Because, you know, there are no other reasons whatsoever to lift weights. Not as good at one thing = useless for all things, apparently.

You can click on the link to the journal that published the article, but the article itself isn't directly linked. You have to go find it. Want to take bets on how many journalists will actually go and find it, nevermind readers? I dug around and didn't find it, and what I did find required a login and a subscription. So

Finally, both the article and the statement conclude that intensity doesn't matter, you just need to burn calories aerobically. The proof? Reference to previous studies that aren't linked to or named, so you can't check them.

I'm an exercise professional and I can't take either the statement or the article and learn enough to apply it to my clients in any meaningful or supportable way. Where does that leave the casual exerciser?


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