The Tao of Bro-Science

When the gym is your lab: Bro-Science

If you go to any gym, you’ll find a great deal of unusually specific information about strength training. Strangely, you’ll find very little in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology, or scientific literature appended to it.

This information is Bro-Science. The problem with Bro-Science is that it differs from gym to gym based on a combination of the shared experience present and the amount of time people spend on the Internet and what lifting forums they frequent.

I used to make fun of Bro-Science. Truth be told, some Bro-Science could kill you and certainly injure you. But some of it has proved remarkably prescient. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, occlusion training, increased protein for cutting fat, training to failure, and the rep-ranges for muscle growth all seem to have been discovered, not by bespectacled men in lab-coats but by oiled bros in sleeveless shirts!

Tradition is Antifragile

Nicholas Taleb describes systems in terms of three traits: fragility, robustness, and antifragility. Fragile systems break when they encounter chaos. Robust systems survive. Antifragile systems grow and adapt. He describes this process in connection with tradition here:

Consider the role of heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations— what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology. But let me change Popper’s idea ever so slightly (actually quite a bit): my take is that this evolution is not a competition between ideas, but between humans and systems based on such ideas. An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived! Accordingly, wisdom you learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.

 

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Kindle Locations 3841-3847). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In other words, bro-science works because the people who practice bro-science and hold to the ideas are still in the gym. Sometimes this is because their genetics and luck helped them survive and thrive under dangerous training methodologies. Sometimes it’s precisely because the methods keep training interesting, help them get stronger, and keep them injury free.