Written by Greg Nuckols
The most pointless arguments in the strength world – and the most common – tend to relate to very specific issues.
Should you squat high bar or low bar?
Should you wear a belt or not?
Where should your elbows be pointing when you catch a jerk or snatch?
And I won’t even wade into the pseudo-religious sects in the realm of nutrition…
Here’s the deal: None of that stuff matters. I mean REALLY matters. Sure, one option may be quantifiably better than another for a particular person with a particular context engaged in a particular pursuit with particular training goals. But will it probably make a difference of more than a few percentage points? And are you confident enough in its superiority to really state that it’s a rule that should essentially apply to all people at all times in all (reasonable) circumstances?
But this is precisely what happens, and you see people at each others’ throats all the time for issues that are effectively minutia: issues that *may* make the difference between first and second place at the elite level, being argued about by people who would come in 15th and 16th place on the state level.
Why? More than anything, it’s because people are focused on “whats” instead of “whys”; prescriptions over principles.
I think this issue is embedded deep in our psyche. Humans are tribal creatures, and we always have been. We are small and weak compared to most of the creatures in the world, so to survive we had to band together for protection and help with hunting. We’re still as tribal today as ever, but that tribalism takes different forms. For some it’s excessive identification with a political party. For others it’s being overly invested in their favorite professional sports team. And for others yet, it’s banding together with people who adhere to the same diet or exercise notions as you.
Something happens when someone questions the beliefs of your tribe – the articles of faith for your sect. You feel it as an attack on a very personal level. It’s no longer about your individual assent to and belief in some independent practices. It’s about personal and tribal identification: who you are and how you define yourself. Within your sect it may be acceptable to question some of your common beliefs, but if there’s similar questioning from someone on the “outside,” it’s time to circle and wagons and prepare for battle.
Is this rational behavior? Not at all. But solely rational behavior isn’t to be expected because humans aren’t solely rational beings.
It’s easier to surrender a degree of personal decision making for group decision making. What you surrender in autonomy, you gain back in people who will affirm you and have your back when challenges arise.
A hallmark of such behavior is group identification around specific precepts. And here’s where the problem is. There are a finite set of principles that are really at the heart of all strength, fitness, and nutrition information and advice. And about these, there’s really not much argument. So, to define who your tribe is, you have to pick and choose bits of information – usually small details rather than foundational principles – that “we” do but “they” don’t. And, of course, your group is better than all the rest, so everything you do and think must be right.
So you wind up with various camps who mostly agree on most of the important stuff, squaring off at each other because they quibble over details. Conversation between groups is difficult without someone perceiving a challenge as an outright attack. Furthermore, the vitriol from both sides is almost bound to increase as the importance of the issue decreases (this is known as Sayre’s Law). Ultimately, this keeps the discourse in the industry on a very low level, thus stunting your own personal growth and learning.
Stop fighting (or even worrying) for a moment about what beliefs are right. Don’t pride yourself as being the person who’s right all the time and has the best information.
Rather, pride yourself on being someone who has good reasons for what you believe – not as someone who necessarily has all the correct beliefs, but someone who knows the proper way of coming to defensible beliefs. Now, delving into everything that entails would require at least a semester-long philosophy course, but in general this should help point you in the right direction.
1. For anything you believe, accept the fact that you might be wrong
2. Ask yourself why you believe what you do. Instead of just thinking it (we’re good at skipping over a step or two in our heads), write it out on paper. “I believe X because of Y. I believe Y because of Z. Here are my reasons for thinking Y and Z to be true, so I have good reason to think X is true.”
3. Ask yourself what could possibly shake your belief and cause you to discard it or modify it? Then, actively seek out that information, perhaps with the help of people you know disagree with you. If you find it, modify your belief system appropriately.
When you do the above, you’re starting to shape a new identity for yourself. It’s defined less by dogma, and more by a process of thinking. Rather than feel attacked when someone disagrees with what you believe, you’ll welcome disagreement because it gives you an opportunity to discard something you may have believed for bad reasons.
And that, ultimately, is what will help you move forward in your personal journey of learning, growing, and becoming the best athlete or coach you can be.
Greg is the Content Manager for Juggernaut Training Systems. An accomplished drug-free powerlifter himself with best lifts of a 755 squat (raw with wraps), 475 bench, and 725 deadlift in the 242 class, he wants to bring more scientific skepticism and rational discourse to the fitness industry. You can find him on Facebook and check out his Blog here.