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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Just because you're right, doesn't mean I'm wrong

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Just because you're right, doesn't mean I'm wrong

By Brent Brookbush MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

Just because you are right, does not mean I am wrong. This idea can be

described as a “zero-sum game,” but our use of this thinking in fitness, wellness and human movement science is a logical misstep that can only hinder our growth.

“In game theory and economic theory , a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant's gain (or loss) of utility  is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of other participants. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero%E2%80%93sum_game ).”

Why fitness is not a “zero-sum game”:

Unfortunately, the fitness industry has adopted a belief that a new solution to any problem is matched by the dismissal of any previously proposed solutions. It’s as though only one person or organization can have the right answer at any given time, and everybody else must be less credible.

Although zero-sum game theory has its place in the analysis of two businesses competing for the same, limited market share, it would be a logical misstep to apply the same logic to all the information that comprises our body of knowledge in fitness, health and human movement science. In order for this logic to apply to our field we would have to know everything; making every new discovery a challenge to an already complete model of understanding. Since this notion is a bit ridiculous unto itself, we must be mindful of exclusionary, combative and dismissive rhetoric that is evidence of this “zero-sum thinking”.

Exclusionary versus inclusionary thinking:

The largest problem with “zero-sum thinking” is not that it assumes a

limited number of solutions, but that it imposes a limit on growth and progress. The inherit limit of zero-sum thinking is the exclusion of potentialsolutions. For example, if I believe “active stretching is effective; therefore, static stretching is not,” I lose any potential solutions that include static stretching. In contrast, if we become inclusive of all relevant, theoretically plausible ideas we find that our potential solutions increase exponentially. Using the example above, if I determine that both static and active stretching are effective and use both in practice - I increase my possibilities of administering best-practice by the amount of effective solutions that include static stretching, as well as those solutions that include both static and active stretching. While exclusionary thinking is often adopted for the promotion of a particular idea or product (often in opposition to research findings), various examples of integrated training models provide a framework for inclusivity. In an “integrated model” all

effective techniques are included in a rational order, and the results of various evidence-based combinations, orders, progressions, and applications are compared.

Refinement and critical thinking:

Although we should adopt an inclusionary mind-set it should be ascribed a caveat. Inclusionary thinking is not an excuse to adopt techniques that are potentially harmful or lack a scientific rationale. I am not proposing that our field is free from the shackles of right and wrong, nor am I proposing that all techniques are effective and no one technique is better than another. However, in our pursuit of refinement we cannot return to exclusionary thinking. A little more sophistication is necessary to ensure progress over obstruction. This can

be achieved with the addition of critical evaluation. Consider the following definition of critical thinking and the various thought processes it comprises:

"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness."

Michael Scriven & Richard Paul - Presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987 http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

The application of this definition to the fields of fitness, human movement science, rehabilitation, and performance enhancement may read:

We must be inclusive of new information attained through basic research, clinical research, observations, experience, application, reflection, and ingenuity. It is our responsibility to conceptualize, reason, analyze, and evaluate the application of this information. The goal of our critical evaluation is to create an integrated model of best-practice techniques that can be effectively applied and communicated to those under our care.

Example of critical thinking: You read a study that shows the side-lying leg raise increases gluteus medius muscle activity more than clams. When you try these exercises yourself you notice that clams are easier. You attempt to switch your clients who are performing the clams exercise to side-lying leg raises, but notice that less experienced individuals cannot perform the side-lying leg raise with good form. Your more experienced clients perform the side-lying raises well, and seem to benefit from the change. From your observations you reason that clams with good form are still better than the side-lying leg raises with bad form. You remember the concept of lever lengths from physics and theorize that the clam exercise is easier and produces less muscle activity due to the bent position of the leg - decreasing lever length and force resisting the gluteus medius. With this reasoning you develop a gluteus medius activation progression: clams --> resisted clams -->side-lying leg raises --> resisted side-lying leg raises with ankle weight on knee --> resisted side-lying leg raise with ankle weight on ankle. After several weeks of applying this progression all clients make progress in gluteus medius strength, and significant improvements are noted during reassessment.

What I learned from Einstein:

Albert Einstein realized certain formulas broke down in relation to a moving frame of reference. Further, he was troubled by the fact that neither mechanics nor electrodynamics could claim exact validity except in limited circumstances. His solution to this problem was “special relativity.” Now the exact details of this story are not important for the premise of this article, however, the method in which he derived “special relativity” may serve as an example for continued growth in our field.

Strictly speaking, special relativity is not a theory; it’s a postulate.

"In traditional logic , a postulate is a proposition that is not proven or

demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom

In other words, “a possibility of discovering the true laws by means of constructive efforts based on known facts (Einstein, Autobiographical Notes, 1949). Despite issues with the laws of mechanics and electrodynamics at the time, Einstein did not exclude them. He evaluated previous work in these fields and constructed a postulate that could provide a framework for further progress.

Imagine if the fitness industry as a whole used this same tool for the advancement of our practice. For example, what would happen if rather than

dismissing one set of effective exercises over another, we integrate these

ideas and consider the common factors that make all sets effective? Could we create a new postulate that leads to the next generation of performance enhancement training?


I am continually searching for the perfect session. Asking, “what is the optimal combination of techniques for a desired goal?” I continue to consume as much information as I can, critically evaluate my current knowledge and practice, and test various techniques against one another. Often techniques will overlap, contradict each other, or one technique is excluded for time, but it is not exclusionary thinking that leads to the absence of any particular technique within a program. This decision is based on a postulate of sorts; developed by the critical evaluation of results and the integration of the information that is currently available to me.

The sentiment, “I’m right, so you must be wrong” is combative, exclusionary, and results in more damage than actual progress. In the end, such a myopic view can only lead to a narrow scope of practice and missed possibilities. The body is an incredibly complex network of integrated systems. No one individual has all of the answers, and given the rate at which our knowledge grows it is unlikely one individual could. As our understanding of the human body grows so does the number of variables to consider. The only logical means of achieving best-practice will be the inclusion, critical evaluation, and integration of great ideas. Who knows, maybe the “Einstein of human movement science" is already using this methodology to develop a ground breaking postulate that will forever change the way we practice.

This subject of this article was the topic of a Panel Discussion. Check out "Fitness is Not a Zero-Sum Game" at: http://b2cfitness.com/trainer_forum/index.php?board=1.0

© 2011 Brent Brookbush

Questions, comments, and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged -

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