Infographs or Misinfographs?

Infograph or misinfograph, how to tell the difference? I was inspired to look at the exercise related infographs out there after making my own. Those I analyse below were the first to come up in a Google Images search (terms: “exercise infograph”). We’ll take into account that some of these may have been targeted to a specific audience or intent rather than for general consumption, and yet they’re still easily accessible and distributable to the consumer as the top Google Images results, so I believe that critical thinking and referencing rules still apply.

Topics I cover: High intensity interval training, anaerobic vs aerobic, monitoring difficulty, referencing, stretching, and bollocks.

 


 

Infograph 1:

Accurate & digestible but no references or source.

(source: http://theleap.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/image.jpg)

While the information is accurate and the content very easily digestible there is no way to tell who created the infograph and no references to back up any of the information.

 


 

Infograph 2:

Verifiable and sourced but inaccurate and misleading

(source: http://www.killerinfographics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ExerciseMyth.jpg)

This infograph is easily digestible, the website and organisation are displayed, and there’s a reference list – but the references all refer to other blogs or non-journal websites! This is essentially no better than a circle-jerk of cherry-picked information that supports existing beliefs. Let’s examine it a little more closely.

While most of the myths on this infograph are correctly identified and addressed, the following carry dubious premises and conclusions:

“Myth #2 – (heart rate) Monitors can falter depending on what kind of exercise you’re doing. Your own body is better at telling you how hard you’re working”

There are essentially two main methods utilised by clinicians for monitoring the difficulty of exertion during exercise, excluding more expensive equipment like VO2max ergometers and Wingate software:

  1. Heart rate monitors, of various types
  2. Perceived exertion scales, with the level of difficulty rated out of 10 or 20 points between ‘very easy’ to ‘maximal exertion’

While heart rate monitors can indeed experience technical malfunction and accuracy is dependent on the type of monitor used, with chest strap monitors considered more accurate than wrist watch or hand grip monitors, they are still a more precise and accurate measurement tool and are generally utilised in preference of RPE scales in the absence of heart rate abnormalities (such as those that might be caused by heart medications such as beta blockers).

RPE scales have their uses and are a quick and easy tool, but to claim that they’re “Better at telling you how hard you’re working” is not only questionable, but simply wrong. Heart rate monitors give objective data which can be used to calculate training intensity based on percentage of maximal heart rate while RPE scales give subjective data which, while useful, is limited in application.

Myth #8 “cardio is not the best way to burn fat”

Quite simply wrong. High intensity interval training (HIIT) was the biggest craze in 2013, and there’s a good reason why – because it works, and it works better at burning calories/energy/fat than any other method. This has been supported by one paper after the next. Some of the original research into HIIT was actually performed at my very own university, not that this makes me an authority, but allow me my moment of pride. This research has shown that HIIT is the most efficient method for losing the most weight in the shortest period of time.

To be fair, this ‘myth buster’ uses the words “best way to burn fat”, so depending on your definition of “best” it could legitimately be argued that long-term sustainability of weight-loss has yet to be demonstrated with high intensity interval training. Further, resistance training has multiple benefits that can’t be gained from aerobic training.

‘Aerobic’ vs ‘Cardiovascular’

That brings me to my final point on this particular myth – ‘aerobic’ does not equal ‘cardiovascular’. This is a common mistake made by both the lay and professional fitness community (but rarely from the health sector).

  • Cardiovascular = the CV system including heart, arteries and veins.
  • Aerobic = exercise that does not induce an anaerobic response, typically referring to the point at which lactic acid is no longer cleared by the liver beyond sustainable levels and begins to accumulate in the blood.

With these points in mind, resistance training and running/jogging/swimming are always ‘cardiovascular’, but may or may not be ‘aerobic’ or ‘anaerobic’ depending on the intensity. Unfortunately, resistance training has become equated with anaerobic, and running/jogging/swimming with aerobic, but this isn’t necessarily always the case.
Case in point being high intensity interval training, which utilises both aerobic and anaerobic training and so may be considered cardiovascular, aerobic and anaerobic, but not ‘resistance’.

Misinfographic myth-busting, busted.

 


 

Infograph 3: 

Easily digestible, sourced and referenced but inaccurate and misleading


(source: http://motivade.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/infographic-the-right-way-to-exercise.png)

Easily digestible, website and organisation are referenced, and yet some of the information is still wrong!

Stretching has been shown to be potentially damaging and even increase risk of injury if performed before exercise. It can have negative effects on performance, power and strength.

All back injuries do not have the same cause. Some are diagnosed and treated as generic ‘chronic lower back pain’, or CLBP , while others may be a result of arthritis, osteoporosis or acute injury. To mass-prescribe a single stretch or exercise to an entire population is simply neglectful and dangerous. While one stretch/exercise might be beneficial for CLBP, the same exercise could be detrimental and even crippling for somebody with osteoporotic back pain. For example, loaded spinal flexion is always contraindicated in osteoporotic patients, while loaded spinal extension is often recommended.

 


 

Infograph 4: 

The Absolute Worst Piece of Bollocks Ever

(source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/44/24/6b/44246b09275c1b2f1e39deaf085e0761.jpg)

And if you subscribe to this quality of misinfograph then I don’t even know what you’re doing on my blog. Perhaps go back to watching Sesame Street and refresh on the basics – it’s fun to exercise!

(It’s always good to finish a blog post by insulting your readership! 😉 )

What’s your take on the above infographs? Have you come across any particularly good or bad, exercise related infographs or misinfographs?

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Say What? Why?

If a fitness professional, medical professional, doctor, lecturer, your mother, friend, or brother make a claim, it needs to be supported by evidence. Of course there are different standards of evidence applied to different situations depending on how we gauge their importance, but when analysing medical science or health based claims (e.g. fitness industry related), then peer-reviewed, scientific research is the best available method for acquiring reality-based evidence. Abstracts are even freely available to the public over at Pubmed, and statistics can be accessed at ABS.

Criteria for Providing Evidence

Providing supporting research for a claim or opinion is one thing, but it should meet several criteria (Here I have listed only a few):

  1. Peer reviewed: so that the research has been scrutinised by other qualified professionals in the field, and found to meet a high standard.
  2. Actually support the claim: Why provide “supporting” evidence that doesn’t support a claim? It either means that the conclusions of the research haven’t been interpreted properly, or that the references were thrown in to lend an air of legitimacy to the claims in the hopes that nobody would check them.
  3. Not be superceded by more recent research: studies conducted in 1930 just don’t cut it if there’s more modern research available which is both valid and reliable.
  4. Be valid: does the design actually test the hypothesis and are the results applicable to the real world situation?
  5. Be reliable: If others were to repeat the experiment, would it give the same or similar results?
  6. Be balanced: It’s easy to cherry-pick data – providing references to scientific research in a bias manner in order to support preconceived points of view. It’s much harder, but more honest and rewarding, to review available research and adjust our opinions accordingly.

Be sceptical, be a critical thinker. Demand evidence, and try to avoid believing things for emotional or intuitive reasons, or simply because the local newspaper reported it as such. When this process fails the result is something along the lines of Crossfit, detox diets, acacia berry madness, homeopathy, “organic” food, and acupuncture.

Don’t take my word for it, go out there and gather some evidence.

What are your thoughts on critical thinking in fitness? Feel free to comment below!

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