Fast Talk podcast, ep. 85: Learning to trust the science with Dr. Jim Peterman

While many of us read about training science, a lot of us don’t know how to interpret it, or how to determine if it's useful or junk. On today's episode, we discuss how to read and interpret sports science with Dr. Jim Peterman and other guests.

Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

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Here on Fast Talk, we’ve been known to periodically quote a study or two. While in the past, athletes mostly figured out their training by trial and error or what felt right, nowadays, in this era of marginal gains, no coach or serious athlete can get away without some understanding of physiology. Winning at the highest level requires digging through the science to find those little nuggets that translate to real gains.

The problem is, while many of us read the science, a lot of us don’t know how to interpret it, or when it’s good research that draws useful conclusions or bad research that will lead you astray. That’s made particularly complicated by the fact that there are many well-conducted studies that, because of the nature of their methods, outcome goals, or the size of their study group, may lead you to draw conclusions you shouldn’t.

So today we’re going to dive into the physiology research itself and give you some tips on how to both read and interpret the science. We’ll discuss:

• First, the basic structure of a research study.
• Next, some basic concepts you need to understand in order to read research.
• We’ll then dive deeper into the methods—the section people love to skip over—and why they are so important.
• Next, we’ll talk about some preferences among researchers, such as their tendency to test in the lab and not on the road, and why they love VO2max tests, despite the fact that they don’t actually correlate well with performance.
• We’ll discuss a study’s endpoints—what they are measuring and why that is so important.
• Next, we’ll learn about the concept of the false null hypothesis and things that can influence it, such as study length and the number of participants.
• Finally, we’ll talk about how the data revolution in cycling is allowing for some truly unique studies.

Our primary guests today are Dr. Jim Peterman, a professor of exercise physiology at Ball State University who got his Ph.D. while balancing a professional cycling career, and Nate Wilson, a former elite U23 racer and head coach at Catalyst Coaching.

Along with our primary guests, we talked with cyclocross legend and longtime coach Katie Compton, and also Dr. Ciaran O’Grady, a physiologist with Team Dimension Data. As high-level coaches, both need to keep up on the research. They each shared thoughts on what they look for to know they can trust a study.

Finally, we touched base with Grant Holicky, a top coach at Forever Endurance, and one of his athletes, Maxx Chance, who had a unique take on the research.

Now, are you ready to be blinded by science? Let’s make you fast!

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