Be your own lab rat
Last week I caught up with Joslyn Thompson Rule for City Road TV. Joslyn is a good friend (and BJ’s wife!). She’s a Nike Master Trainer, CrossFit coach and all round fitness bad-ass and I am yet to meet a woman (or man for that matter) who isn’t totally in awe of her. When I asked her what message she would like to deliver to our audience, she said “be your own lab rat”. And I thought it was such an important and timely message that I’d write a whole post about it. Watch the video below to hear Joslyn explain the concept in her own words.
Too often we focus our attention on what other people are doing, what other people are recommending, what other people believe and say is true. With the rise of social media has come an avalanche of information (I’ve talked before about how that can be debilitating in itself). When it comes to our own fitness and health, it is easy to become absorbed in this external source of data when trying to decide how we should behave: how should I train? Should I do CrossFit or yoga? How should I eat? Paleo or IIFYM or low carb etc.?
It’s all about you
All this noise drowns out the one source of information that really counts: yourself; your own body and your own mind. As Joslyn so eloquently puts it, the result of every study ever conducted is “the average of a group of people who aren’t you”. This result may be to a large degree completely irrelevant for your particular case. Humans are incredibly heterogeneous. Some people thrive on high fat diets, some thrive on carbohydrate. Some can digest meat easily, others find they must stick to vegetables. Some people respond incredibly well to strength training, some respond much more rapidly to aerobic stimulus. Some people can lose fat and become lean with ease, others build muscle out of nowhere. Take the average of all these people and you may well produce something that resembles no actual person.
So just because Jane Doe managed to get super buff doing pilates (or CrossFit for that matter, in case you think I’m biased), that doesn’t mean you will. And just because Jane found eating carbs made her fat, that doesn’t mean they will make you fat. There is only one way to find out: become your own lab rat. Test the hypothesis and see if it works for you. The only sample size that is salient for you is n = 1.
Now, that doesn’t mean you suddenly abrogate relevant science, information and guidance. It is highly unlikely that your particular case entails that you can eat 5,000 calories a day and get shredded. And if you want to get strong and fit, you’re probably going to have to do some form of structured training. But whatever lifestyle or training changes you decide to make, track your progress and make an empirical observation as to how effective the change has been.
Becoming a lab rat
How can you go about conducting effective tests on yourself? In practical terms, how can you become your own lab rat?
(1) Make sure you only test one variable at a time. Don’t change your diet, your sleeping pattern and your training programme all in one go because if you then observe a change you won’t know which of the variables was responsible for the effect or if it was down to some combination.
(2) Make sure the change you are implementing is a reasonable adjustment to your current lifestyle. You are unlikely to be able to sustain your test if you try to go from drinking 2 litres of coke a day to 5 day fasts.
(3) Measure / record something to assess whether your test has been a success. Now, this doesn’t need to be a numeric metric (although if it can be, that is ideal). Your data point could just be how you feel. But whatever the case, make sure you are tracking and recording that variable at regular intervals. Don’t just get to the end of the test and say to yourself, “hey, I feel good. The test worked”. That’s a bit weak.
(4) Choose a specific time period to test over. Make sure this period is reasonably long but not so long that you can’t sustain the habit you are implementing. 4-8 weeks is a good range.
(5) Understand why you are conducting the test and what would constitute a success. A test might be to see if you can improve your squat or sleep better or to improve certain health markers. Don’t just conduct a test to ‘see if it works’. Know what you mean by ’it works’ otherwise you will get lost and most likely lose motivation too.
With these points in mind you can start conducting tests on yourself straight away. Good luck from Joslyn and I! My current test is in intermittent fasting. Wish me luck. I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated.
Remember, as Joslyn says, your fitness journey is YOUR journey; no-one else’s. Once you understand that your health and your fitness is entirely in your own hands and that nobody else can write the rules for you, you will recognise that continual improvement is well within your reach.
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