Become a better bullshit detector

With the recent growth in Mixed Martial Arts and combat sports, there’s been an explosion of products marketed towards the up and coming combat athlete. Nutritional supplements, training gear, equipment, books, DVDs and seminars all promise to take your game to the next level and give you that crucial edge over your opponent.

But how can you tell the difference between a training program, supplement or piece of equipment that will help you get the results you’re after, and something that’s a total waste of money – or even harmful? It can be a minefield.

First of all, here’s what you shouldn’t pay much attention to:

Glossy marketing. Having spent a lot of money on a marketing campaign is not necessarily a warning sign, but it’s certainly no indication that the product lives up to the hype.

Fighter endorsements. Fighters are often sponsored by companies and paid to endorse certain products. Even when a fighter genuinely believes the product to be the secret of his success, there’s no guarantee that this is really the case.

Technical explanations with lots of sciencey sounding words. Pseudoscience is everywhere, from shampoo adverts to MMA training gear. Marketers rely on the fact that many people are intimidated by science; and use it to cover up some outright nonsense. If you find yourself immediately impressed by a sciencey explanation or vague references to scientific research, consider it a warning sign. Look more closely before you part with your cash.

Extraordinary claims. Beware of products that promise to be “revolutionary” or to produce unbelievable results. Perhaps it’s all true, that this is the greatest invention ever to hit the MMA world and the key to making you a UFC champion – but it’s much more likely that the claims are exaggerated at best, and completely fraudulent at worst.

So, with that in mind, how can you tell the good from the bad? It’s tricky, but there are a few things you can do.

Seek out the opinions of people who are experts in their field, and have a track record of getting good results. The best people to talk to are those who have a balanced view and an open mind. In this game, nobody has all the answers – and if someone thinks they do, that’s definitely a warning sign.

Educate yourself. If you’re looking into nutrition products for example, then understanding the basics of nutrition will help you to make better choices. It’s never been easier to find information – but make sure you get that information from a source that isn’t trying to sell you something!

Look for independent, high quality scientific research. If you have a scientific background, then try to look up the original research papers wherever possible. If not, then see if you can find someone you trust who does and ask them for their opinion.

Look for products that focus on doing the basics well. As with MMA fighters, the best companies and products out there are usually those that get the fundamentals right, rather than coming up with lots of revolutionary new fancy trademarked gizmos.

Stick to trying one new thing at a time. If you suddenly change everything you’re doing all at once, then whether you get good or bad results, you have no idea which piece of the picture was responsible. Was it the protein shakes, or the new workout plan, or the diet you got from that book?

Measure the measurable. When trying something new, look for measurements you can track. Although some aspects of MMA training are hard to measure, there are still plenty of options. Objective measurements are ideal – such as your resting heart rate, the weights you’re lifting in the gym, or your run times; but sometimes it can also help to keep track of things like your energy level or how sore you feel by using a self-rating scale from 1 to 5. This can give you valuable data. Looking back at the numbers, it’s sometimes easy to see a pattern that you might otherwise have missed.

Even after doing all this, there’s no guarantee that you’ve got it right. It’s notoriously hard to tell whether something is actually working for you, even if you’re certain that you can feel a benefit. So the last tip is…

– Question everything. Maybe you felt really good this week while taking that new supplement, but was that really what was responsible? Perhaps your fitness would have improved anyway. Don’t be too quick to make up your mind, and always be prepared to change your opinion if you find new information. As the saying goes – “half of everything we know is wrong, but we don’t know which half.”

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