A Fitness Instructor’s Checklist for Interpreting Research

By Len Kravitz, PhD
Jun 17, 2016

With research studies so easy to find on the Internet, fitness professionals are regularly bombarded by clients asking for interpretations.

Unfortunately, reading and interpreting scientific articles can get frustrating when terminology is unfamiliar and writing styles are wordy or awkward. Scientific journals try to communicate research findings as clearly as possible, but journals often use a highly stylized voice that makes it difficult for the applied professional to grasp the meaning of published studies.

Fitness professionals with a good grasp of common research methods and terminology have a better chance of helping clients to make sense of scientific writing. Here is a 10-point checklist for interpreting research and gauging its credibility and scope:

  1. Is the study published in a peer-review journal?
  2. Who is the study population (e.g., men, women, age, fitness level, etc.)?
  3. How big is the sample size? Note: Many experimental studies are very timely, so researchers often complete a statistical power analysis to verify the authenticity of the study.
  4. Did the researchers control variables in the study methods?
  5. Was there a control group?
  6. What type of research is this:
    historical, descriptive, correlational
    or experimental?
  7. Are the researchers overstating
    the result? Research results often support a hypothesis, but they rarely prove the hypothesis.
  8. Did an outside group with a vested interest in the research fund the study? Or did any of the researchers’ have an affiliation that could suggest a conflict of interest? If so, it doesn’t necessarily mean
    the research is biased, but it would be prudent to read more studies on the topic.
  9. Do the researchers seem to have an agenda? Some researchers are biased due to personal preferences, and you may observe this in the writing.
  10. Do the researchers acknowledge the study’s limitations (found in the discussion section)?

To read more about key terminology and study methods to help you interpret research findings for your clients, please see “Understanding and Translating Research” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


References

Smith, J.A. 2015. Ten questions to ask about scientific studies. Accessed Oct. 25, 2015. http://reatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_questions_to_ask_about_scientific_studies.

Len Kravitz, PhD

Len Kravitz, PhD

"Len Kravitz, PhD, is a program coordinator and professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico where he received the Presidential Award of Distinction and Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. In addition to being a 2016 inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, Len has received the prestigious Specialty Presenter of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award from CanFitPro."

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