Skip to main content

How to Train Like a Scientist

Before becoming a mom, and a trainer, and a coach, I spent about 10 years working as a research scientist in a variety of labs.  I've worked in both the university and commercial setting as well as both medical and environmental labs and with a number of different teachers, mentors, students, and objectives.  The most wonderful thing about working in a lab as a research scientist is that regardless of nationality, we all speak the same language, ie, the scientific method.

Scientists are both perpetual students as well as teachers.  We are always learning about new methods, new research, and entirely new fields of study.  Likewise, we are constantly teaching the steady stream of students and fellow researchers who are coming through our labs as well as anyone who may reach out from other labs who need advice or guidance on their own research.  Generally speaking, scientific research, especially in the university setting, often promotes an atmosphere of collaboration and education that is not often seen in other arenas.

I have found that many of the practices that contribute to success in the lab are extremely useful in other areas of my life, in particular, training and coaching.  And now, I'm going to share them with you.  I can guarantee that if you utilize these practices yourself, you will find yourself far more successful in whatever you apply them to.

1.  Empty your cup and be ready to learn.
Do you know everything?  No.  Making the transition from classroom to lab leaves many new scientists feeling like a fish out of water.  The good news is that if you are there ready to learn, you are surrounded by people ready to teach.  Take the time to listen and learn.  If you don't know the answer to something, look to the literature or a colleague.  There are always better ways to do things and a lot of that knowledge comes from experience.  And in the lab, you are surrounded by decades more experience than you have.

2.  Keep a detailed lab notebook.
If you don't know where you've been, you'll never know where you are going.  In the lab, a notebook is a gold mine.  You write down all of your experiments in great detail.  What time did you start the experiment?  What was the temperature of the room?  What chemicals and in what volumes did you use?  How long did you let your reaction run?  How did you measure the results?  The generally accepted rule about lab notebooks is that it should be detailed enough that if you disappeared, someone should be able to come in and replicate your work simply by reading what you have written down.  Another benefit of a lab notebook is that you can review what you have done in the past year(s) and determine what successes you have had and whether or not you need to change directions or keep forging ahead.  Time distorts memory and being able to see your thoughts written down at the actual time you were having them is much more informative than trying to remember your methods and motivation. 


3.  Optimization requires consistency with small changes.
Nothing in the lab is random.  A large part of what we do when trying to answer a question is figuring out the best way to measure or observe the answer.  It starts with designing our experiment based on the current research and what we already know.  And then we spend days, weeks, sometimes even months, optimizing the reactions or processes that we are using to obtain our data.  If every time our experiment didn't work we just scrapped it and started with something completely new, we'd never get anywhere.  We have to think and reflect on what small changes we can make that will have a slightly different effect and make our experiment more precise.

4.  There is no black box
The black box is a term used to explain a process which is known to work, but the mechanism of how it works is not understood.  The truth is, that despite it being mysterious to some, there are scientific principles at work that govern the results and you should always strive to understand those principles.  Simply accepting a process without understanding how it works is not good science.  What is not understood cannot be improved, optimized, streamlined, or replicated. 

Cartoon by Sidney Harris


So, in a nutshell, be a perpetual student, keep a detailed training log, avoid random workouts or changes to your program, and if someone can't explain to you exactly why they are doing something, then they don't really know what they are doing and you need to find someone who does.  If you are truly looking to make physical progress, you need to understand not only what you are doing, but why you are doing it, and how to optimize those processes specifically for your body and mind.  Its not easy, but it is relatively simple and if you are willing to commit to the process, there are few limits to what you can accomplish.






Popular posts from this blog

Next Level

So, there are those of us who work out regularly to look and feel better and improve our general health.  There are those of us who just like to lead active lives and enjoy nature and the occasional physical activity.  And then there are those of us who like to challenge themselves to push past our perceived physical limitations and see how far down the rabbit hole we can go.  While this last one is certainly an admirable pursuit, as are the other two, I must say it is the one I most commonly see go sideways.

If you are contemplating taking things to the next level with your training, you must first sit down and realistically assess what you are about to take on.  Next level training is not just about pushing yourself in the gym, but also managing your personal life, your recovery, and your expectations.  It also means knowing when to go low and slow and when to go hard.  The most common mistake a lot of people make is that they think next level means going harder all the time.  But,…

The Highland Games

Last summer, I became intrigued by the idea of learning how to throw heavy things.  As a weightlifting coach with unfortunate limb ratios for competitive weightlifting and a few friends who compete in Highland Games (and blather on incessantly about how awesome it is), I was excited to see if throwing might be a good outlet for my training.  I'm relatively strong, can produce a good amount of power, and have long limbs.  However, I am also relatively small compared to most throwers and therefore do not have a mass advantage.  That leaves me with mostly strength and technique as my assets.  Not yet knowing how to throw and not having a coach other than you-tube was going to make the technique part a bit of a challenge.

I didn't really intend to compete in the Highland Games, just use the throws to keep my training fun and set some backyard PRs, but then a friend of mine in Texas decided to host a Highlander.  A Highlander is a hybrid Highland Games and Strongman competition a…

Training for the Warrior Dash

Over the past couple of years, obstacle course races such as the Warrior Dash have become insanely popular.  Since I first posted about training for the Warrior Dash, I've gotten a lot of inquiries from clients and other trainers about how exactly one should train for the Warrior Dash or similar short distance obstacle course races.  I've heard people tout everything from Crossfit to P90X to not training at all as being the best way to train for one of these races, but I believe there is a middle ground that can serve far more people, especially beginners, without getting too extreme or requiring a lot of equipment.  Obviously, the best training protocol is tailored for the individual, but with a little information, its relatively easy to tweak a program for your own needs and fitness level.

The first time I saw a video of the Warrior Dash on Youtube, I thought to myself, "Those people are crazy."

I also thought, "I want to do that".  
I watched a few mo…