In the digital age, with endless information available at our fingertips at all times, how do we make sure we’re following the right path to improvement in our training program? The truth is, that immediate information isn’t always a good thing. It’s led to what I’ll call “copycat training,” where an athlete sees something cool on social media or after a google search, and decides to copy whatever that model is doing. Here’s a few thoughts on copycat training:
1. Each person’s body, goals, and training capabilities are different. Copying what you see someone else do is doing what is right for someone else, not necessarily what is right for you. From an even higher perspective, there’s no guarantee that what they’re doing is even right for them.
2. Many young athletes look to copy their favorite professionals. But, kids are not just little adults. You can’t just pick all the same lifts and try to max out like you see your favorite professionals do. Professionals generally have a much higher degree of neuromuscular control and stability, which plays a role in their ability to effectively do advanced training programs. Most developing athletes are not ready for much of what they see their favorite stars doing.
3. Social media is unregulated, meaning anyone can post anything. If some random workout junky calls themselves an “expert” and posts a bunch of exercise instructional videos filled with terrible advice, there is no oversight for that page. And, if the host of that page is a good talker and looks good doing those exercises, chances are that he or she will get followers and seem credible, even if the content is inaccurate.
4. Just because an athlete looks good doing a move, doesn’t mean that’s the move that made them good. I see this one all the time - someone who is very athletic does a drill, and looks good doing that drill, so viewers think that the drill is what made him or her good. Truth be told, a good athlete can probably make most plyometric drills look impressive and fast, but they didn’t do that drill alone to get good. Imagine an elite soccer player doing a 3-cone agility drill - they might look fast, but that drill isn’t what made them fast, and if a younger athlete just does that drill, they probably aren’t going to get the results they want.
Ultimately, copycat training presents the same issue that anecdotal evidence does - limited sample sizes from uncontrolled studies often create misleading conclusions. Take, for instance, the example of the 90-year old smoker. You might know someone, who at age 90 continues to smoke, and has no history of lung disease or other health issues. From that small sample size, you might draw the conclusion that smoking doesn’t create health issues. What you might not see if you’re looking at that one example is the larger abundance of truly empirical evidence that shows us that smoking does, in fact, have associated health risks. Looking at the way one person or a few people train acts much the same way - it isolates one anecdotal story in lieu of actual research or data, and misses the big picture.
If you want a truly good training program, you need one that takes into account your own biomechanical integrity, training experience, goals, injury history, etc. Social media and google are terrible places to get a training program from, as they can do none of those things. In fact, even if you are going to a personal trainer or participating in a team program, if your training regimen doesn’t include those items or more to individualize to your needs, then your program is coming up short.