Research Techniques for Personal Trainers: Evaluating Scientific Journals

Ron Clark

Last Wednesday we talked about some very basic research techniques to stay up-to-date in the fitness world. Today I’d like to discuss how to distinguish the good, bad and ugly when it comes to scientific journals.

If you live near a medical school, consider yourself lucky. You can easily utilize their medical libraries. Although journals you’ll find here don’t exactly make for light reading, it is exponentially better than buying these expensive books.

Most people place great stock in medical studies reported in professional journals. This can be dangerous. Your clients may be exposed to people with legitimate medical degrees out to sell them unreliable products based on “medical studies”. Unfortunately many people unquestionably assume that a medical professional isn’t out to deceive them.

How then should you evaluate the plethora of new medical studies? Try using the following criteria to judge the accuracy of such material:

  1. ResearchMost importantly, is the study published in a peer-reviewed journal? Such journals have a board of recognized experts that evaluate the quality of studies prior to publication.
  2. Did the study use animals or humans as subjects? Many studies use lab animals, such as mice or rats. These results may not always be relevant to human physiology.
  3. Did the study feature a control or placebo group? You need at least two groups to show a true effect.
  4. Did the study have enough participants? A good study has at least 100 subjects. The greater number of subjects that show an effect, the greater the chance that the tested substance really has value.
  5. Was the substance or effect tested in more than one place? This helps limit bias on the part of researchers. In addition, if other researchers find the same result, it adds weight to the value of the tested product.
  6. Do results show statistical significance? Do the numbers indicate a real effect?
  7. Do the results of the study have clinical significance? Do the results have practical value for the majority of people?

Using the methods outlined here will allow you to answer virtually any question from curious clients. You’ll also remain current on the rapid advances in the field. This is a win-win situation. Take the time to study up, and be the best trainer you can be!



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