Bias in the fitness industry

This is a follow up to our post we made on whether you guys think bias is good or bad. There is absolutely no doubting that we all have bias, whether towards a method, a person, or for some, a philosophy. The question is, is this necessarily a good or bad thing? As always, it kind of depends.


Firstly, I want to define the term bias. When I google the term (I know, evidence based lol), this is the definition spat out:


“An inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.”


A few things become apparent, to me at least. First off, it may be semantics, but I think the word opinion & bias are commonly misplaced & misrepresented. Secondly, I ask, is bias directed towards a way of doing things, or is it against the group of individuals that follow a different view point? Can you be biased towards a particular practice in itself? Or is it the wanting to be part of a group/system of individuals you admire or envy the proprietor of bias?


Again, I think bias ( ;) ) would cause you to determine either way. To me, bias is a systematic mode of thinking, based on multiple different factors. Potentially past experience, experience of others, fact & more. I think that an opinion can grow into a bias, & I think an opinion is just an idea, thought to be correct, that isn’t necessarily held in emotional regard, based on observation from the individual. I don’t think we can say out right that bias is good or bad, it really just depends.


& what does it depend on? I think for me, it depends mostly on intention, & then the ability to understand that there is no one way of doing anything in the fitness realm.


If you’re bias is to want to help people in any way, there are a lot less circumstances that will arise that bias draws you a cropper. A bias based on upholding your status or position of power (which can all too often happen) on the other hand, will likely leave you lacking somewhat. Level of bias likely falls somewhere on a continuum, just like dieting, with more rigid forms & more flexible forms. I think to continue to develop in your understanding of a field, there must be a level of flexibility within someone to new ways of thinking.


This is rarely easy, even for the best of us. & on first glance, flexibility may intuitively seem the opposite of bias, but bias doesn’t have to live in a world without flexibility. Bias, as a systematic mode of thinking, can be a very positive thing, helping us make decisions on a day to day basis that are calculated (depending on how/why the bias was formed) & likely correct & consistent. A bias towards the training principles is likely not a bad thing, & a bias towards the importance of calories over food composition is likely not a bad thing either, but understanding that they can be is also important. Our knowledge develops on a daily basis, & understanding that we will rarely ever know anything as an absolute truth is a must, in allowing our understanding to develop alongside new empirical evidence.


Think to yourself, how many times have opinions changed in the past 10 – 20 years in almost any industry. These changes in opinion develop as we become more accurate in our methods of testing, & our understanding develops. This developing will likely never stop, & we will likely be learning new things for the rest of time. We must be flexible enough to not let our biases cloud our judgement, looking at things as objectively as we can, when presented with an opposing view. This is the reason I like the evidence based model of thinking so much.


I feel the bigger issue comes when educators &/or people in positions of power (when it comes to distributing knowledge) create a dogma around a particular way of working, & avoiding any discussions on context. Things will likely look different in certain circumstances, likely from person to person. Hyperbolic commentary is not going hold much ground in the fitness industry. We are all physiologically made up quite similarly, & respond to the same types of things, but the amounts of each thing, rates of adaptation & psychology between individuals can vary vastly, all changing how we apply any intervention & create an environment for an individual to succeed. I am all for somebody posting up a theory of a hypothesized favourite mode of doing things, as long as it is accompanied by the understanding, & the message that there is no real best way. If there is, we definitely haven’t found it yet.


Nowadays with so much data online (empirical), more people are starting to dip their feet into reading research. This is a great thing for the community, especially as we develop more holistic views on research that can include more on application & anecdote. The issue can be how hard it is at first to really decipher research, understand its shortcomings & look beyond the abstract. Fitness research can be riddled with issues of internal & external validity, making it hard for those that don’t have any scientific background to really take much away from it (this is why I strongly recommend following a research review like M.A.S.S or AARR).


The above becomes even more of an issue when individuals that have quite strong biases, dip their feet into this data. Combining confirmation bias & research can create a very convincing argument for a lot of potentially incorrect viewpoints. Firstly, there is the issue of cherry picking studies, not taking a view of the balance of all the data. Second, poorly controlled studies can be manipulated to the layman, to try to confirm a bias that should likely not even exist. Thirdly, for the average information consumer, this creates a mind field of information, with no way to know what is & isn’t correct.


I think bias is neither a good or bad thing, it depends on the individual’s degree of flexibility around a subject. Cognitive dissonance can describe a situation in which someone feels a genuine emotional discomfort towards an unfamiliar mode of thinking. I don’t think this is conducive to furthering anyone’s understanding. I think we should seek out new information, that contradicts what we think is true. If it turns out to be false, this gives us more insight, & if it turns out we weren’t quite right, this likely gives us even more insight.


The pursuit of knowledge to fulfil our needs, will likely see us changing our minds again & again. The more we do this (rationally & logically) the more we hone in on that ‘ideal’ situation, or way of applying training & nutrition principles. We should not fear the unknown. This is what causes us to grow & move forward. You must ask yourself why you are doing certain things. If you don’t know, find out. You will subsequently have a deeper understanding that will not only help you, but help others too. No matter how high or low you are in the fitness industry, no one of substance will ever be able to look down on you for being wrong in the pursuit for higher understanding. & if they do, f**k em’, theyre going to be the ones you leave behind in the dust.


Find some overarching principles to follow, until proven otherwise, then allow your mindset to be flexible within them. Don’t be tied to one method. Try new things, with yourselves & other clients (as long as they are happy to). Help us all further our knowledge & make training & nutrition science a better place.



Aaron Brown