A Spartan’s Guide to Going Home for the Holidays

Aroo! I’ve got my Spartan-themed [insert whatever holiday floats your boat this time of year here] decorations up and I am psyched for an EPIC holiday season! (To be honest, I put them up the day after Halloween because that was my last #RestDay).

However, as we Spartans migrate home this season to celebrate with family and friends keep in mind that there are some “Don’ts” a thoughtful Spartan should avoid after he or she has sucked down a couple of Michelob Ultra-lights and is feeling cozy in the den.

DO NOT give your family a play-by-play account or (god forbid) force them to watch nauseatingly shaky GoPro footage of all your races, or any of your races, or even of any single obstacle! They don’t care and they don’t understand. You’ll end up feeling hurt and misunderstood.

misfit toys

DO NOT bore them to death with “Your 2016 Trifecta Plan” and the logistics of how it will involve volunteering in six different time zones and skipping the rent for a month so you can earn three identical medals with slightly different color schemes!

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DO NOT overdo it on the race pictures! Yes, Aunt Emma will have her three albums of cat pics and cousin Bob is gonna show you those amazing snaps from his latest fishing expedition, but that doesn’t mean you should try and trump them with multiple different angles of you jumping over a Duraflame. Trust me, they already hit the “Like” button in passing as they hurriedly scrolled past them in your newsfeed.

firejump

Your mother spent 15 hours last night before you arrived meticulously decorating the family tree, following a particular pattern passed down from generation to generation. She does not want your help.

spartan race tree

I don’t care how many posts you’ve seen on SNE, burpees in the mall are never appropriate during holiday shopping.

mall

I get it. Uncle Bobby could stand to “lose a few,” but it’s the holidays so if he wants have another slice of double-blueberry cheesecake with a super-sized scoop of ice cream let him do with without your input on number of burpees that it would take to burn it off. In fact, avoid these terms completely: Macros, Carbs, Glutens and most especially: PALEO!

i dont even see food

This is never an acceptable Christmas gift:

spartanup-cover

 

Instead, here are a list of some topics to bring up that will ensure your holidays with the family will be more interesting and fun for everybody than your endless humble-bragging:

  • The upcoming Presidential Election.
  • Your “Life Plan” to open a Crossfit box with a loan from Grandpa.
  • The situation in the Middle East.
  • What an asshole your ex is.

Happy Holidays! Aroo!

 

Is Everything Old New Again? Luna Sandals, the Origins of Minimal Running and a Tribute to the Tarahumara

lunas circleI was introduced to the concept of running in huaraches (Spanish for sandals) at the inaugural Fuego y Agua Hunter-Gatherer Survival Run where the first “obstacle” was to fashion footwear we’d then wear over the course of the 50k race. Months ahead of the event I began training in Luna sandals and it was during these long runs that I came to appreciate, and soon love, how organic and primitive it feels to run in sandals.

The concept of minimal running is probably not new to most. Since 2009, when Christopher McDougall published “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” millions of people have learned of the elusive Tarahumara, a tribe of ultrarunners who brave the steep and rocky trails of the remote Copper Canyons of Mexico in sandals they make from tire treads and leather. In the book, McDougall asserts that modern cushioned running shoes are a major cause of running injury. He points out that the Tarahumara Indians are able to run pain-free and injury free for hundreds of miles, well into their 70s, while there’s been an explosion of running-related injuries since the introduction of modern running shoes in the 1970s.taRAHUMARA

Before then, runners used shoes that had no padding, no pronation control, no orthotics, and no high-tech materials. Born to Run is also about the first ever ultramarathon held in the Copper Canyon and the fascinating characters who were attracted to that race. One of those Manuel_Ted_web_banner_grande“characters” is Barefoot Ted, who traveled to Urique in 2006 in order to compete in the CCUM. While there, he learned the art of sandal-making from a Tarahumara named Manuel Luna. Ted subsequently returned to Seattle and, with the help of Scott and Bookis Smuin, started Luna Sandals in 2010. Since then, they’ve been hand-making a growing variety of sandals appropriate for almost any activity.

This year, Luna has paid homage to their roots and introduced the Origin
sandal, a remarkable synthesis of tradition and technology. The Origin uses an upcycled tire tread as the outsole in a manner reminiscent of the Tarahumara. The midsole is layer of Vibram rubber which is topped with a footbed of sticky “Monkey Grip Technology” (MGT) rubber. Upon opening the box, I first noticed the tantalizing aroma of fine leather. The Origin’s straps are made from a high-quality, supple leather which,bft_origen_luna_5a41dc6d-c9bf-4de9-ba71-db3d9cebc847 according to the website “is sourced in the USA and is the same leather used by Sperry Top-Sider, maker of fine boat shoes.” Although a tad heavier than some other Luna models, this weight is offset by what I can only imagine will be the tremendous longevity imparted by the tire tread sole. Remember, there’s no need to replace sandals every 500 miles like regular running shoes, they will last until you wear the soles down to nothing. On the road they provided a comfortable platform and the wide straps kept my feet comfortably snug after some initial adjustments. The Vibram upper nicely mitigates the stiffness of the tire tread and will, over time, mold a bit to your feet.

On the trails, my “go to” Luna has been the Leadville, which has an 11mm outer sole of Vibram rubber. If you’re looking for greater “ground feel,” there are many thinner options, but this thickness prevents my feet from turning to hamburger on long, rocky runs. At 13mm, the Origins are slightly thicker, and the stability and stiffness of tire tread allows for a rock-dampening feeling that will, I think, surpass even the Leadville at origins_feetultra-distances. Although the leather is simple to tighten, for races, I’ll likely opt for the ease of adjustment of the Performance laces, which are also available on the Origin. Overall, these sandals are a wonderful tribute to traditional huaraches, and even if you’re not planning on running in them, the Origins would be great for hiking, trekking, or just post-race chillin’. The fact that they can effortlessly transition from the wilderness to kicking back at the bar with only the addition of a pair of jeans makes them ideal for today’s modern primitive!

In an age where endless discussions about “what shoe should I use?” litter Facebook groups devoted to obstacle racing, I think there is some merit in the concept of simplicity. Although the jury is still out (and probably nike-high-heelswill be for many years to come) about the injury-reducing potential for minimalist running, there is still not a single study to support the claim that cushioning or any of the other gimmicks shoe companies advertise will prevent running injuries. However, the scientific evidence does strongly suggest that humans evolved to run long distances, most likely to engage in “persistence hunting.” For millennia, before the invention of projectile weapons, our ancestors literally ran their prey to death on the African veldt.

At Harvard University’s Skeletal Biology Lab, Daniel Lieberman has demonstrated that most barefoot runners tend to land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. This does not generate the large impact force that travels through the ankle, knee, and hip joints as occurs when you heel strike. Fig1aConsequently, these runners do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these impact forces and can run easily on the hardest surfaces without discomfort.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you switch out your super-lugged, speed-laced, neon-hued shoes for sandals at your next obstacle race. It’s important to choose the “right tool for the job,” but I can’t imagine a good reason why you shouldn’t start incorporating some sandaled runs into your training and can think of many reasons why you should.  Running in sandals engenders the “back to basics” approach of training for functional movement on which OCR is based. Running in sandals will help you improve your form as well as strengthen the muscles of your feet and calves. And, aside from all the attention you’ll attract, you join a growing group of minimalistic runners across the world. Lastly, of course – it’s fun!

If you’re used to running in traditional, heavily-cushioned “foot coffins” with lots of “drop,” remember to start slowly, mixing sandaled runs slowly into your training regimen. Stretch your calves and Achilles tendons after each run, and expect some initial soreness as they adapt. Finally, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that causes pain!

Corre Libre Amigos!

tylertom

If you’re interested in the book that started the minimal running revolution check-out:
Born To Run.
Want the science behind minimal running? Dr. Lieberman’s website: http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/
A nice tutorial on good running form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H26liWMDH8U
Ready to try a pair for yourself? Go to http://lunasandals.com/
For more on Fuego y Agua’s international lineup of ultramarathons and Survival Runs check out: http://fuegoyagua.org/#home

funnylunamuralShenanigans with friends in Urique, Mexico at this year’s Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon (formerly CCUM), a race that was ultimately cancelled at the last minute due to drug cartel violence in the city. Although denied racing in huaraches that day, the author has since enjoyed the experience of “flip-floping” numerous runners in “foot coffins” while running in Lunas.

Photo Credits: Luis Escobar, Mikko Ijäs, Tim Burke, Tyler Tomasello

Vertical “Gainz” – OCR in the climbing gym

I’ve seen you, wearing your Spartan Race or TM Finisher tee, white socks loosely sagging out of your ill-fitting rental shoes as you thrutch and claw your way up some jug-haul, attempting pull-up after pull-up, believing in your mind that you’re one step away from becoming the next American Ninja Warrior…

(Bolded terms are defined below)

home-large-gumby

Although this is a (slight) exaggeration, many obstacle course racers have been flocking to climbing gyms in an attempt to improve their grip-strength, widen their repertoire of movement skills, and raise their “bad-ass” quotient*. And yes, a few are thinking it’ll prepare them for American Ninja Warrior**.  Aside from the latter it’s true that climbing skills are an excellent addition to an obstacle course racer’s toolbox. The kinesthetic awareness, core strength, and improved grip that result from climbing will improve your ability on just about any obstacle – not just the obvious one such as Spartan’s Z-wall, but also the Tyrolean traverse, wall and rope climbs, “Herc” Hoist, Spartan Rig, monkey bars, and even a bucket or jerry-can carry.

Since I’ve been teaching climbing technique for the past few years I figured that I would put together a précis on how to maximize your gains while not coming across like a total amateur in the gym. In climbing we call beginners “gumbys,” it’s a phase everyone goes through, but hopefully this advice will speed up your transition to becoming an experienced “rope gun.”

First, don’t whine ceaselessly about how afraid of heights you are. Everyone is afraid of heights. That fear is the product of millions of years of evolution and it kept your ancestors from waltzing off cliffs. That fear/rush is what makes climbing exciting. Your fear will never go completely away, but as you learn to trust the equipment, your belayer, and your skills you will learn to accept the fear and, eventually, even enjoy it.

On your first visit you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to work boulder problems (the short walls with pads under them) or learn how to belay and climb routes. Realize that the easiest boulder problems start around an advanced-beginner level of route difficulty – so expect to flail and fail if you start there. In a nutshell bouldering will increase upper body and contact strength, while climbing the longer routes will foster the development of endurance in your grip and is more conducive to learning proper technique. If you’re going to hit the climbing gym on a regular basis the best possible scenario would be to do both. However, if you choose to try both just remember to take off your harness and chalk bag before bouldering, they’re not really necessary and look silly.

The next thing to do if you’re planning on being a regular is to buy your own gear. Have shoes properly fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing. Don’t believe the hype and get a pair of $200 shoes that require a crowbar to force your foot into; you don’t need them and won’t for a couple of years at least. Choose a comfortable harness and pick up a chalk bag that, unless you’re 14, isn’t shaped like a stuffed animal.

At this phase in your climbing career the fastest route (see what I did there?) to be a better climber is to climb; the more frequently the better. Climbing involves a very specific set of physical skills so, in general, other types of exercise don’t transfer to improved climbing ability. Also, notice all those strength training apparatuses at the back of the climbing gym—things like campus rungs and finger boards? Stay away from them! Until the tendons in your fingers, elbow and forearms mature, which occurs more slowly than the muscles, they can be a fast track to injury, especially if used incorrectly.

Routes start with your hands on the start hold(s). They finish when you reach the top and “match” both hands on the finish hold or top of the wall surface. Do not smack the taped X on the wall – that screams gumby!

Familiarize yourself with the grading systems (YDS for routes and V-scale for bouldering) and chose your projects appropriately. Try to pick routes where you can make moves only using the holds that are “on” (i.e., taped or colored) for that route. If you can hardly make any moves at that grade choose an easier route.

Although the holds bolted to the walls generally approximate the varieties of real rock you’ll encounter outside (except for the ones shaped like dinosaurs or the Buddha) they are made of plastic – don’t call them rocks or grips; they are holds. Here’s a handy guide to some common types.

climbingholds

Good climbers can make hard movement look easy. Don’t be fooled! This PSA is for you those of you who can “lift big”: don’t follow female climbers around the gym jumping onto everything they climb thinking it might be easy. I find nothing more amusing and irritating than watching guys trail my wife around the gym falling off the first move of her warm-up problems.

Good technique isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t particularly intuitive and can be difficult to learn by just watching. It’s mainly about being efficient and adjusting your center of gravity to avoid “barn-dooring” off the wall. It begins with good footwork (edging, pivoting, smearing, switching feet) and then progresses to more advanced moves like back-steps, drop-knees, heel hooks, and flags. Here are some basic moves:

climbingtech

When you climb remember to use your legs to drive you up the wall, instead of scrambling them up after you. Don’t “over-grip” and squeeze more than necessary with your hands. Look down, choose higher feet, and stand up off of them rather than trying to do a “pull-up.” If you become tired try sinking down into a straight-armed stance, loosely hanging off your joints. This will allow the relatively inefficient large muscles in your upper body to recover before the next move. Sometimes it’s easier to attain this stance with only one foot on a hold and the other pressed up against the wall. Having “three points of contact” frees you to more creatively play with your center of gravity.

“Campusing” is a term that means using only your upper body to provide momentum to move between holds. It’s incredibly inefficient in terms of stamina and is used outdoors only in specific situations. You may see more advanced climbers campusing as part of a strength training workout. However, it’s not a substitute for good technique (ditto for dynos between holds). Learn how to use your feet!

After you’ve gone to the gym a few times take a class to learn proper technique. This will prevent bad habits from becoming ingrained and slowing you down later on. Also, be friendly and ask for help from other climbers who look like they know what they’re doing. They will be happy to spray you down with some beta if you’re stuck on a move.

After a few visits you’ll begin to notice an increased awareness of your core and how it can stabilize your body while climbing. Your grip strength will improve as will your ability to “read” the sequences in a route. All of this will not only increase your efficiency and success on obstacles, but it will also allow you to start climbing more difficult and interesting routes.

Eventually you may want to test your skills outdoors on real rock. Being on the sharp-end of the rope or topping out a boulder problem outside are incredibly rewarding. Learning to lead outside takes a lot of additional instruction, but once you can flash 5.9s in the gym consider taking a lead climbing class. If you want to boulder outside all you need is a guidebook and a crashpad and some spotters. Another great way to get a taste of the outdoors is to hire a guide at an outdoor climbing area. With a guide you can spend the day outside climbing safely and getting instruction at whatever level you require.

Most important, remember to have fun! Climbing is an amazing sport with a rich and colorful history. It spans across a wide range of endeavors as diverse as mountaineering, big wall, and multi-pitch trad to gymnastic sport routes and burly “high ball” boulder problems. A wealth of books and websites are available to help you learn more about the sport. For example, Dead Point Magazine is a free e-zine with a great video library that’ll get your palms sweating and itching to send on real rock!

Climb on!

* Obstacle racers are pretty obvious in the gym because they do burpees between routes.

** The successful contestants on American Ninja Warrior with climbing backgrounds are generally 5.13-5.14 climbers (i.e. professional level). If ANW is your goal and you’re banking on climbing skill to get you there then you only have 8-10 years or more of hard training before you begin to approach their level of ability.

Glossary

Gumby: beginner climber.

Jug-Haul: route with lots of large, easy to use holds.

Thrutch: popping to the next hold as you begin to “barn-door” – evidence of poor technique.

Spray: talking about a climb, can also be excessive boasting about one’s ability.

Beta: insider information about a route (from watching a “Betamax” – anybody remember those?).

Dyno: using momentum to jump to a hold that’s too far to reach.

Flash: doing a route cleanly, no falls, from bottom to top the first time you’re on it.

Crash-pad: portable cushioning for outdoor bouldering.

Send: to complete a route or problem successfully.

About the author:

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David Kalal has been stick-clipping bolts and giving bad spots around the world since 1999. For the past few years he’s taught Fight Gravity – a technique class for beginner climbers at The Gravity Vault gyms in New Jersey. He got hooked on OCR in 2010 when he realized that due to his tremendous grip strength he could excel at OCR if only he could learn how to run really fast…and how hard could that be?

Check out the author’s videos if you’re bored at vimeo.com/user5172771. Note that none of them have been recorded in the gym. Please take this to heart and resist the urge to post videos of yourself sending projects on plastic!

Many thanks to Mya at goodticklebrain.com for allowing me to use her wonderful illustrations!

 

OCR Pseudoscience

Do elevation masks work?

OCR athletes are, unsurprisingly, just like any other group of athletes; which is to say that they, along with gamblers and students, are an especially superstitious bunch of people. The superstitions of some professional athletes are legendary. While leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game. Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg would always prepare for Wimbledon by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt. And baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs attributed much of his success to a daily routine which included eating chicken before each game, always taking batting practice at 5:17, and drawing the Hebrew word “Chai” in the dirt before coming up to bat.

What makes these groups prone to such superstitions? Think of situations in which an important outcome (winning a race, passing a test, picking the winning horse) is contingent on multiple variables, a great many of which are beyond an individual’s control no matter the amount of preparation. After someone has a particularly good (or bad) performance they will often try to figure out why. They may come to believe that some unique or salient variable that occurred prior to or during the event had an affect on their performance. This is how superstitions arise: it’s the classic conflation of correlation with causation.

Similar to their professional counterparts, amateur athletes looking for an extra edge in competition are also likely to fall into the trap of magical thinking. For many, these beliefs may manifest in relatively benign behaviors, such as a having a lucky charm, wearing “special” race clothing, or replicating the same warm-up religiously. However, there is another and more pernicious type of magical thinking called scientific illiteracy: an unfamiliarity with or misunderstanding of the methods and results of scientific research.

One result of scientific illiteracy is athletes using products that may have potential benefits, but that lack any substantive research to back them up. For example, shoe companies will tout their products as promoting “comfort” or “stability” but rarely outright say their product improves performance or reduces injury. Why not? Because there is no sound research to support such claims. When Vibram’s 5-Finger shoes came on the market, the company made a number of claims about strengthening and improving the range of motion in the feet and ankles as well as aligning the spine and improving posture. Without the research to back them up, such assertions cost Vibram almost four million dollars in a class action law suit brought by dissatisfied customers.

Another possible outcome of scientific illiteracy is athletes being misled by companies whose products dress themselves in scientific jargon, but whose purported mechanisms or properties defy the laws of science. These products will probably never have any sound research to support their efficacy since they are essentially “magical.” Although their supposed mechanism of action is often explained using technical-sounding terms that may sound plausible, they are fundamentally inaccurate characterizations of bodily processes. For example, this is an excerpt from a company’s website that sells “performance enhancing” bracelets:

Research has shown that each of the millions of molecules in a cell vibrate at their own vibratory character to regulate the body. When these vibrations become abnormal or out of sync, the result can be illness, fatigue or other problems. X converts natural vibrations into intrinsic energies and embeds various proprietary formulas of these intrinsic energies into the hologram on the X wristband using trade secret technology. X’s energies interact with the body’s vibrational system to move your body to its optimum vibrational level and achieve desired results. X’s wristband technology is the strongest known to man. The bracelet works non-invasively by stimulating specific acupuncture meridians.

All of that, as renowned skeptic James Randy would say, is “woo” – a tem that refers to ideas considered irrational or that appeal to mysterious forces or powers. A similar company, Power Balance, filed for bankruptcy in federal court in 2011 after they lost a 57 million dollar lawsuit brought by angry consumers. Their bracelets had skyrocketed to popularity a few years prior after being spotted on the wrists of various celebrities and professional athletes. The silicone jewelry, which cost about $30, featured a thin hologram that “enhanced the body’s natural energy” and improved balance in a manner that was supposed to mimic Eastern philosophies. Sound familiar? Sadly, similar products are still available to purchase on the internet.

Despite a few large lawsuits many similar companies have flown under the radar and avoided prosecution while continuing to sell products that claim to improve performance or promote faster recovery without any legitimate proof. They typically attach what Steven Novella of the New England Skeptics Society calls the “Quack Miranda Warning” at the bottom of their page:

These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness. If you have a pre-existing condition, please check with your healthcare provider before using.

Seen that associated with anything you shelled out cash for lately?

Here is an incomplete list of some products I’ve seen promoted to the OCR community lately. In the style of “Mythbusters” I’ve divided them into two areas: “Plausible” but require more research and “Busted” because there is no science to support their claims. I’m likely to step on some toes here (hopefully none of you are currently in toe shoes), after all, who is reading this article? Athletes! And as athletes, what are we? Superstitious!

Plausible?

Ice baths

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sinking into a bathtub full of ice after a hard workout, right? Does it help? Does it hurt? Does it do anything at all? The research is very inconclusive about this timeworn athletic staple.

Kinesio-tape

Ever since it made a big splash at the last Olympics this colorful tape has been showing up plastered to seemingly every body part imaginable. Unfortunately, there has not been conclusive scientific or medical evidence to confirm the effectiveness of the tape. A review of evidence from 10 research papers, published in the journal Sports Medicine in 2012, found no clinically significant evidence to support the tape’s use to manage or prevent sports injuries.

Compression clothing

Compression clothing is based on the theory of graduated vascular compression to prevent peripheral blood pooling and increase venous return. It has been used therapeutically to alleviate circulatory problems for years; however, despite their popularity and widespread use among both amateur and professional athletes, there is simply no conclusive evidence for the efficacy of compression garments for either recovery or performance. More research is needed.

Busted!

Magnetics

So-called “magnetic therapy” has been touted to cure everything from cancer to arthritis to ulcers. Magnets sewn into athletic clothing or embedded in bracelets claim to improve strength, speed and stamina and lead to less fatigue and injury. Those are big claims, but unfortunately the bottom line is that a) the iron in your blood is not ferromagnetic and doesn’t react to a magnetic field; b) many of these products produce no significant magnetic field at or beneath the skin’s surface, and c) research has consistently failed to show any clinical effects of magnetic therapy.

Elevation Masks

Hint, they don’t simulate “elevation.” The defining characteristic of altitude is a lower barometric pressure, which keeps decreasing the higher up you go. As a result, the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is reduced, resulting in less oxygen entering the lungs with each breath. To compensate, you breathe harder in an attempt to take in more oxygen. Elevation Masks just make it more difficult to breathe, but this does not result in any of the body’s other physiological adaptations to altitude, notably an increase in red blood cells. Want to save money and get the same effect? Breathe through a straw.

Detoxing & pH-balancing

Anything that purports to “detox” you is almost certainly “woo” since your liver already does a nifty job of this for free thanks to a few million years of evolution. And, just as anything you eat or drink won’t cleanse “toxins” from your body, your diet has no effect on the pH level of your blood. However, certain foods will change the pH of your urine which is why those little test strips that often accompany pH scams change color when you pee on them.

Homeopathy

It’s amazing that this stuff is still around (and is sold in many major stores) since it has been soundly and repeatedly discredited since the 1900s. Homeopathic “medications” are frequently so diluted that little, if any, traces of the original ingredients remain. You are literally buying the classic placebo – a sugar pill.

Epsom salt baths

While Epsom salts in your bath will make you feel “floatier” there are no studies to suggest that an Epsom salt bath will aid in recovery. Additionally, the terms most often associated with these baths, “osmosis” and “detoxification,” are meaningless in this context. If the Epsom salts even manage to get into your body (which is questionable) it isn’t likely to be through your skin, which is a very effective barrier.

Red Flags of Pseudoscientific Advertising

Companies that sell “bad” science” often use clever marketing tactics. They are geared to attract consumers while masking the lack of sound proof of the product’s effectiveness. While any one of the tactics listed below does not necessarily mean that an idea or product is based on pseudoscience, the presence of one or more of these tactics should raise a red flag.

Anachronistic thinking

If an argument is based on the wisdom of the ancients (who knew much less about the world than any modern high school graduate) there is good reason to be suspicious.

“Best kept secret!” and “Revolutionary!”

If you spend much time on the internet you will find products claiming to be well-kept secrets that are now exposed. Similarly, pseudoscientific products often claim that their product is a “scientific breakthrough.” This reflects a common misunderstanding that scientific knowledge advances by single, large discoveries rather than by small, slow changes over a long period of time.

Magic bullet

Products often claim that they can improve or cure everything under the sun. Any product that makes claims of efficacy across several domains (better performance, faster recovery, fewer injuries) should immediately raise red flags.

Testimonials and celebrity endorsements

It is unlikely that a company would publish any negative testimonials on their website. Also testimonials, even when legitimate, are often misleading due to placebo effects. Like testimonials, celebrity endorsements should not be seen as an accurate reflection of a product’s effectiveness. These endorsements are from individuals who are probably no more – and perhaps much less – scientifically knowledgeable than the average person. Additionally, the celebrities are often paid for their endorsements, making them even less credible.

Anecdotal evidence

Accepting anecdotes as evidence is akin to accepting the results of a single study with one subject. People are notoriously poor at separating their own biases from objective evidence. This is further compounded by the placebo effect. The fact that something “worked” for one person does not equate to evidence.

“In an age of information ignorance is a choice”

I have deliberately chosen not to include links to the products I’ve highlighted in this article. Research suggests that if you already believe in something (even if it’s worthless) you are unlikely to change your mind. However, for those of you who are undecided or curious I encourage you to investigate for yourself. You don’t have to be a scientist to learn to recognize credible sources on the web. (Hint: if a company is trying to sell you something: be skeptical.) Wikipedia is actually a pretty good starting point; you can also try an internet search for the product and adding “scam” or “skeptic” after the name to see what comes up.

The Bottom Line

A recent article in the Sweat Science (Runnersworld.com) suggests that athletes should take advantage of the placebo effect if it leads to improved performance. I disagree. While opting to wear your “lucky” shoes in a race may generally be harmless (unless you forget to pack them and are so distraught you forgo competing), Athletes who are not critical of scientific-sounding claims and are persuaded to spend money on ineffective remedies do both themselves and our society a disservice. Scientific illiteracy is bad for society as a whole. In its extreme manifestations, the inability to understand scientific research and to carefully weigh claims about evidence has led to the anti-vaccination movement and the denial of climate change. As athletes we should trust our methods, but I don’t believe that there’s any good reason why we shouldn’t base our training on principles gleaned from sound research.

Really, after all the long hours you spent in the gym and on the trails or the road, after all the blood and sweat and tears you’ve shed, isn’t it a little disingenuous to attribute breaking your PR or completing the “next level” event because of a cheap plastic band you bought online?

David Kalal has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has worked in the field for over 20 years. He has harbored a life-long passion for science, with an emphasis on scientific skepticism. A competitive, multi-sport athlete, David has been an avid rock climber since 1999. In 2010 he completed his first Spartan Race and since has gone on to untra running and endurance events, including the Spartan UltraBeast, multiple GoRuck and S.E.R.E. Challenges, as well as Fuego Y Agua Survival Runs.