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Most people who work out frequently cite some “common knowledge”  whenever they are asked about the number of sets, reps, or minutes spent exercising that “gets the best results.” However, these maxims are probably more likely to be firmly entrenched in folk knowledge than actual science. Take as two relevant examples, a pair of articles recentlty published in the new york times —  both of which address women specifically, but could be easily generalized to men.

The first deals with the very common belief that if you want to “get toned” rather than “getting big” you should lift lighter weights with higher rep counts. Many of the fitness sources I have consulted in the past (including my current regimen — p90x) cite this as fact. Turns out this claim is not substantiated by science. In fact, lifting heavier weights in fewer reps is a bigger boon to losing weight and “getting toned.” This strategy also works for “getting big”  but requires the addition step of heavier calorie consumption.

The second article addresses a murkier topic with much more variability with regard to “rules of thumb.” It deals with the amount of exercise needed for women to  maintain a healthy body weight. I’m actually very surprised by this one. All that a normal body weight woman needs is one hour of moderate activity or half an hour of brisk activity to avoid gaining more than five pounds over any three year period. Heavier women appear to need more (though it is not clear how much they need).

As I have said before, I am a fan of empirical work that supports one method over another. Sure it’s not always cut and dry and it rarely gives us a certain answer. But I much prefer some scientific evidence to “a guy at my gym said” or “my grandpa used to say.” Anecdotal evidence is appealing because everyone wants to have the magic remedy (especially if no one else has it), but losing weight is no different than any other difficult goal. The surest path to success is the one paved with hard work and lined with sweat.


I am assuming most people who use the internet are familiar with google. And if you are familiar with google you are familiar with its auto-complete function — that sometimes annoying, often helpful feature that tries to complete your search term for you. David McCandless at Information is Beautiful posted this funny and sad graphic in his four infographic morsels no.5 comparing the most popular auto-complete search terms “how do I get my girlfriend to…” and “how do I get my boyfriend to…” The size of the font and arrow indicates the popularity of the search term.

As you can see, Mr. McCandless used the program web seer to create this graphic. I decided to try my hand at it as well:

Confusion on the interweb? Here’s another using one of my favorite auto-complete examples. This time I compared basically the same phrase but only changed the last word (I could do this all day):

Sex, drugs, and...eggs?The possibilities are seemingly endless. If you have any fun suggestions please pass them along.

Presh Talwalkar at Mind You Decisions presents an interesting graph of google search trends by year of the term “IRS.” It’s pretty incredible how reliable and pronounced the February, March, and April spikes are.

Speaking of taxes, need to do those soon…