The dubious value of laboratory fitness

Posted on July 8, 2019

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(Last Updated On: July 8, 2019)

This is the most impressive performance I know of:

The combination of physical and mental? Basically by one individual, not a team of people? Man, if you know something better, something stretching the limits of what a human can do in a more comprehensive manner, let me know.

That’s not a rope. It’s a crack in the rock. There is no rope!

Not to mention that Youtube video has, like, no negative comments #TheImpossibleIsPossible.

Something else he’s done.

What’s striking during the film is how much Alex talks about knowing he’s ready to free solo by feel. 

He doesn’t have some high tech gear hooked to his body giving him a green light. He lives in a van (DOWN BY THE RIVER!!!).

If he can do THAT, those of us into the nitty gritty of exercise science have to pause for a minute.

What’s the value of thousands of words from research papers to tell us how much to lift, wearable devices to tell us precisely how many steps we get, blood measurements to confirm our muscles did burn, a protractor to distinguish between 20 or 21 degrees, mattresses telling us whether we slept well?

Alex purposely did that climb physically not at his best. Four minute mark describing why:

A laboratory could never give you such an insight.

That Joe Rogan interview is enlightening. If you know anything about Rogan, he loves all the newest toys in health and fitness. The interview is over and over again:

Rogan “Do you do this?”

Alex “No.”

Rogan “Have you tried this?”

Alex “Never heard of it.”

Rogan “Are you into…?”

Alex “What’s that?”

In fact, one can easily find theoretical flaws in some of Alex’s approach.

I can see the fitness nutrition “experts” facial recoil to this: five minute mark; after a tough day of climbing; him cooking mac and cheese:

And he’s a vegetarian.

And in that video he criticizes protein snobs. The macronutrient fitness professors imply if you don’t eat a precise amount of, you disintegrate.

-> That video is a little old. These days, he is sponsored by Beyond Meat. (He was not sponsored by them when he did his famous free solo.) A product my family really likes. Check it out if you’re trying to eat less beef (beef’s not great for greenhouse emissions) but still want a good burger, and some protein.

Reminds me of Usain Bolt becoming the fastest person of all-time after eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets…every day…for 10 days…before his record. Totaling ONE THOUSAND NUGGETS, which only gets you the most outrageous sprinting performance in the history of man. (You know, ’cause he was celebrating and not even swinging his arms for a third of the race.)

“Flaws” are easy to find through the lens of laboratory fitness. What you, me and laboratory fitness cannot do is easily improve on Alex Honnold’s, or Usain Bolt’s, or countless other examples’, performance. Which means we need to do some soul searching as to laboratory fitness’ barometer for flawed. Not, “does it need some tweaking?” but “Are we even in the ballpark?”

Brain performance is a hot topic. It’s a relevant one in regard to what Alex did. Rogan presses the topic in the interview.

I’m now again seeing articles detailing the best ways to drink caffeine to boost performance. Which I sat through lectures on in college. The only difference now is since there is more research, the articles are longer.

“You might get a few extra % of performance if you drink this much at this time!!!”

That’s what the laboratory tells us.

I could see one of the lab dwellers pushing someone like Alex this way. His response, I’d imagine, would have to be along the lines of “Whatever.”

Alex doesn’t even drink coffee! There’s literally a scene in the film where he doesn’t know how to use a coffee maker.

In a wonderfully ironic moment of the film, Alex has his brain MRI scanned. What did they find?

He doesn’t experience fear like normal people.

If we need an MRI to tell us that, if we think getting people to pay attention to something like their caffeine regimen is going to materially impact their fitness, if we think Usain Bolt would have been faster by eating “better,” we’re the ones who need our brain scanned.

Related articles with more examples: 

Note I’m talking the fitness training; not the event training. Exactly how much to stretch or lift or weighing your poop? Overrated. Knowing exactly every hand and foot position when you solo a rock like that? Critical.

Tom Brady’s fitness regimen? His avocado ice cream? Gets too much attention. Tom Brady’s football preparation, to where he’s capable of always throwing the ball within 2.5 seconds? Not enough attention.

This post is aimed more at fitness professionals than everyday people. For everyday people, with so much out there these days, it can be hard to know what’s worth paying attention to. It can feel like a sea of confusion. You might be interested in this for help.

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