Friends, media, sciences… who believe to progress?

You have the soul of an explorer? The rigor of a senior executive? The search for truth in blood? If you answered “yes” to any of these 3 questions, this article is for you!

What is your opinion: Apply cold in recovery or rather heat the muscle? Prioritize light or interval sessions? Intake sugars after exercise or follow a low-carb diet? Minimalist / maximalist shoes? Stretching? Running under fast?

For each of these questions, you probably have ideas, even opinions. Opinions that may differ from those of others. Opinions that may even differ from your previous opinions – time forges experience… Our sessions have always been animated by debates where subjectivity is not lacking and where criticism is king. Example: Who hasn’t heard discrepancies with regard to minimalism, altitude acclimatisation or compressive garments??

“Criticizing” the product or the method is not very constructive: one relates experiences (sometimes non-lived), the on-dictions of others… in short, one comments. But criticizing the way the system works makes things more serious. Things even become exciting since we then question the “How”, and no longer the “What”. How is minimalism involved in tendinopathies or rebound qualities on the ground? How does altitude change the training load (read more)? The “What” comments. The “How” explains.

It is in this “How” that science takes its source: in order to understand the answers that its approach provides. Its approach is that of people translating their ideas into protocols whose design must allow a hypothesis to be tested in a well-defined context. Whether the hypothesis is validated or not, the rigour of the protocol then makes it possible to establish cause-and-effect relationships with the object of study.

This experimentation-interpretation game feeds itself until it finally succeeds in “predicting” a situation. Example: “Given that it is 34°C today, that there are few supplies on the course and that I suffer from the heat, here is what is very likely to happen, here is how I should manage my race”. From this game flow the recommendations that we read or hear: recommendations that are credible by their source, but recommendations that are also limited by that source.

Yes, it is! Any protocol is also limiting because it deliberately “freezes” certain variables: population of men or women, high-level athletes or poorly trained subjects, presence or not of a pathology,… to reduce the factors of influence. By definition, therefore, a study deviates from the complexity of reality. Consequently, shortcuts can quickly be misleading if one does not take the time to understand the context of the observed results (a recurring manoeuvre of the media which extrapolate information to extend its applicability, and therefore its attractiveness).

Caution therefore: whatever it may be, an opinion must always be recontextualized to stand as a recommendation. Example: heat-acclimatization is often recommended before a competition in a warm environment to avoid making “pressure cooker” at the very first effort. But acclimatisation can be counter-productive for sprint activities (read more)…

Now that the theoretical foundations have been laid, it is now your turn to test your tools and assumptions reliably. For that, we will list some “scientific principles”: they are an aid to better interpret your performance, an aid to forge you an opinion based on the “evidence”. It is important that you include all of these principles in your approach otherwise the validity of your results will be undermined – it is usually their lack that characterizes studies as “pseudo-scientific”.

1- Dose the intervention well. The intervention corresponds to what you want to test (a training method, a food supplement,…). Dosing the intervention therefore corresponds to quantifying the time/substance needed to observe its potential effects. Here, your best ally will be internet: look at what is offered for a person of your characteristics, you will then not be far from the truth. Example: studies on caffeine propose 3-4g of caffeine per kilo of weight, those on heat-acclimatization between 7 and 14 days of exposure, those on cold baths sequences of 10′ at 10°C.

2- Have a controlled situation. This is cru-cial. This corresponds to doing exactly the same thing but without the intervention. For example, drink 750ml of water per hour instead of 750ml of exercise drink; train as much as when training at altitude but on the plain. This implies allowing sufficient time to return to a normal physiological state between the “control” session and the “experimental” session. In some cases, you can even ask a friend to choose the order for you to limit the placebo effect (e.g. for comparing the effectiveness of different stress drinks).

3- Identify the most important confounding factors, and control them. These are all obvious factors that can bias your results. Example: the preliminary meal to measure blood sugar, hydration to study heat tolerance, mental fatigue of the working day to estimate the level of pain, training the previous day to analyze muscle endurance…

4- Have standardized tests. That goes without saying. To compare your results, you must perform the same performance tests under the same physical, water, nutritional, schedule, material and environmental conditions.

5- Measure the right variables. Often it is performance that counts. But it is not easy to carry out repeated tests especially when you carry out your own studies during the season. A useful parameter to measure can then be the perceived effort at sub-maximal intensities, or the heart rate. They give you indications on the efficiency of your organism during the exercise and thus on the effectiveness of your object of study.

6- Judging if it is “really” worth it. Is winning 30” on a 30′ event worth it? Is winning 0.1” over 100m worth it? It depends on you and your level. A strategy deserves to be adopted as soon as it makes it possible to leave a zone of usual performance. In this reflection, we must also weigh the negative effects (side effects, sacrifices, logistical constraints) that can tip the balance. Example: is it worth walking around with a mini fridge to carry cold drinks before an event?

7- Drive your studies at distance from your deadlines. That’s the last point, that of timing. This is an important point because driving his little study imposes a minimum of mental rigour, which is not always easy to maintain in sports, family and professional reality. Example: How many of you are ready to do home-trainer training sessions in their bathroom to heat-acclimatize before an important race?