Deciphering Research-Based Training Articles

After 6 years of pouring over evidence-based research articles during the development of our triathlon coach certification, I learned three primary things:

  1. Many areas of endurance sports training are inconclusive and require more research
  2. Most research articles focus on one specific area
  3. A lot of studies have small sample sizes

As a result of these things, it is often hard to come to a conclusion about the proper way to train after reading a journal article, much less an article on a blog or magazine.

THINK CRITICALLY

Whether you are reading an article in your favorite triathlon magazine or a post on a blog, it is important that you think critically. Where is this information derived from? How many people were in the study? What variables did they take into consideration?

Person thinking image

I could go on and on regarding areas to examine, however, the most important take-away is to not allow yourself to be a passive reader. Think! Does it make sense? What areas are they not taking into consideration? Is there an angle they are trying to work?

PRESENTATION OF DATA

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How data is presented can greatly influence how you perceive it. Let’s examine the below example – both taken from the same fictitious study.

  1. Runner A got second place in the race due to changing from a rearfoot to a forefoot strike
  2. Runner A finished in last place due to changing from rearfoot to a forefoot strike

As you can see, example one has a positive connotation whereas example two is largely negative. Did the presenters of the two examples manipulate the data? Not at all. They just presented the data differently to help justify their position.

The catch? There were only two subjects in the study

LOOK FOR TRENDS

Due to a lot of noise and other factors such as conflicting results of various studies, often the most effective way to get the most accurate information is to look for trends within a particular subject area. The more narrow the focus the better (less noise).

For example, if a particular area of study has 50 articles written on it and of those 50, 42 suggest that training method ABC is the most effective, 5 suggest that training method XYZ is the most effective and 3 are inconclusive – it is likely that training method ABC has some degree of validity to it.

“MORE RESEARCH IS REQUIRED”

Many studies conclude that there are no definitive findings and that more research is required. This is normal and to some degree expected, especially if the sample size is small, and/ or if the scope of the study is very narrow. Therefore the longer an area is studied and the more variables/factors are considered, the more accurate the findings in a particular area become.

upwards trend image

Therefore when reading a subject line of an article or advertisement, be very critical and think. DO NOT just accept things at face value because it says “a research study says…” or there is a fancy graph with a bunch of lines trending upwards.

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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