Home Blog Simplicity, Confirmation Bias, and Specific vs. General Programs

Simplicity, Confirmation Bias, and Specific vs. General Programs

Written on October 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm, by Eric Cressey

 Confucius once said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." You could say that I modernized and expanded on this quote in the context of the fitness industry a few weeks ago with my post, 6 Ways to Simplify Your Coaching for Better Results.

While I'd encourage you to read this piece in full (if you haven't already), the premise was very simple (for lack of a better term): our programming and coaching almost never needs to be complex. Both research and anecdotal observations have shown time and time again that people thrive on simplicity in various aspects of their life - including exercise and nutrition.

Why, then, do we as coaches constantly find ourselves needing to avoid the complexity trap? The answer is very simple: confirmation bias.

Confirmation Bias

This term simply means that we're wired to automatically prefer information/solutions that confirm what we believe and prefer/enjoy doing.

Confirmation bias is why almost every Olympic lifter I've met who has shoulder problems thinks they can just tinker with their jerk or snatch technique to make things feel better.

Confirmation bias is why some Crossfit coaches will try to convince baseball players that their training can prepare these athletes for the unique demands of their sport.

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Confirmation bias is why some strength and conditioning coaches who work only with athletes have actually forgotten how to help a general fitness client lose 20 pounds of body fat.

Confirmation bias is why we still have some nutritionists advocating for the Food Guide Pyramid.

Our goals - whether it's for our own programs or those we coach - is to avoid confirmation bias as much as possible. Being open-minded to new ideas and approaches enables us to constantly improve our programming.

Specific vs. General

To me, avoiding confirmation bias is a (surprise) simple process. Assume that your absolute best proficiency constitutes a general approach. For me, this is training baseball players. For a powerlifter, it's powerlifting. For a Crossfit coach, it's coaching Crossfitters. It's considered general (even though the training may be highly specific) because it's the overwhelming majority of folks with whom you work, and because you're most familiar with it.

With each new client you see, ask yourself whether this person fits into your general paradigm, or whether it's actually a very specific case. For instance, at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, we train Atlanta Falcon Matt Bosher, who is currently leading the NFL in average yardage on kickoffs and punts. His program is dramatically different from what we might prescribe for our baseball players; we can't fit the athlete (specific) to the program (general).

CSP-florida-021

If Major League Baseball players are training at facilities other than CSP, though, they are the specific case. They have specific injury mechanisms that might be unfamiliar to those coaches. Just any general program won't adequately address things.

"General" fitness training - improving body composition, functional capacity, and quality of life - is (as the name implies) something that general programs can usually accommodate quite easily, particularly in beginner clients. This is why general programs can work great for untrained young athletes, too; young players may derive great injury prevention and performance enhancements with general training early on.

However, when clients become advanced, they may need something more specific. Perhaps a casual fitness enthusiasts builds appreciable strength and shows and interest in competing in powerlifting or Olympic lifting. Or, maybe an athlete shows great potential in one sport and decides to hone in on that path. Our training has to get more specific to accommodate the evolution of these athletes' abilities and goals. This is even why we set up a female powerlifting team at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts; we had some strong women who wanted to take things to the next level.

What's the take-home message? Don't take specific solutions to general problems - or vice versa.

Have a great Sunday! 

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