Monday, February 3, 2014

How You Can Be an Expert, Too

(Note: This is part a column originally published in Fargo-Moorhead Stride magazine.)

My first idea for this column was to somehow find a fresh take on New Year’s resolutions—probably a hopeless task. Then I learned that this issue of Stride would feature experts in different categories who can help people achieve their New Year’s goals. This got me thinking about expertise and how it affects people’s perspectives on fitness. Though fitness experts have a lot to offer the rest of us, it’s worth examining how expertise can also hold us back. It’s worth asking when the expert/non-expert distinction is helpful and when it isn’t.
A sign posted at my gym states that only two percent of people achieve the results they want without a personal trainer. While this statistic leaves several specifics unanswered—like, is this within a certain time period?—it seems to make a pretty strong case for expertise in the form of personal training. Everyone who exercises benefits from other kinds of expertise, too, whether they realize it or not. Physiologists have improved our understanding of how the human body works, and sports medicine physicians help treat and prevent exercise-related injuries. 

On the other hand, thinking critically about experts and expertise from time to time is prudent. If someone is unwilling to start an exercise program without first consulting a trainer, and this prevents her from even going on half-hour walks a few times a week, I’d say that’s a problem. This sort of appeal to expertise is probably linked to procrastination, at least in part.  

To give a less extreme example, someone might be unwilling to try new equipment at the gym because he hasn’t gotten thorough, one-on-one training on the equipment. Again, training has value—maybe after a few solo attempts, in this situation—but as long as he has enough knowledge to prevent injury, this guy should just go for it.  

Read the rest of the article here, on pages 9-10.  


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