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The Fitness News #10: Junk Science Is Killing Us, ’Train Harder’ & Reformer Pilates


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Table of Contents

Junk Science Is Killing Us

The statement "Junk science is killing us" may sound dramatic, but listen carefully.

The World Health Organization declared that we are in the middle of an infodemic, a time when harmful misinformation is spreading like an unstoppable infectious disease. [1] It is therefore pertinent to ask why we are living in this golden era of misinformation, as some have referred to it?

There are a number of reasons for junk science, and I think it would be naive to put the blame solely on one factor. However, I believe that social media has a significant role to play in much of this.

A key component of social media is quick attention-grabbing content, which is often intended to elicit an emotional response within a short period of time. Therefore, why is it that misinformation/junk science tends to do better than true information?

Negativity bias is universal. We are evolutionarily predisposed to remember and respond to negative and perhaps frightening information. From a safety perspective, it makes sense that we are more likely to remember things that could harm us.

This is a common occurrence in the media, isn't it? A negative headline in a newspaper often elicits a more emotional response than a positive one.

Scraps of negative newspaper headlines
According to the National Science Foundation, 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of our thoughts are repetitive

When we engage with emotionally driven content on social media, what happens? In turn, this drives the algorithm, which causes the dissemination of junk science and misinformation.

Junk science/misinformation offers a complete narrative. Science does not always provide clear-cut answers. You'll often see language like 'it depends', 'it may' 'this suggests'.

A complete narrative, especially if it conforms to our preexisting values and beliefs, can be very comforting.

As an example, if you currently disapprove of the current government and someone shares a post saying 'the government is trying to microchip us all with paracetamol' you are likely to react emotionally, rather than assessing the context and truth.

As you engage with this junk science/misinformation, the algorithm will direct you to more and more of it.

People are a product of their environment. Thus, if your environment is saturated with conspiracy theories, misinformation, and junk science, you will slowly become a product of that environment.

In other words, you have a greater likelihood of sharing conspiracy theories, and you are more likely to discuss them. If you live in this small bubble, this echo chamber where everyone talks about conspiracies and junk science, you will probably come to believe it.

Because you are not exposed to the other side of the argument, you will not be aware of any difference unless you proactively find counterclaims and arguments.

The idea of being controlled by an algorithm may seem quite frightening, but that is why it is so important to think critically about any content you consume online. In spite of this, it is important to keep in mind that this is not some government conspiracy, but merely corporations attempting to keep you on their website.

Man wearing tin foil hat in front of blackboard saying fake news
The more you engage with junk science, the more you will be pushed into an echo chamber by the algorithms.

How Can You Spot Junk Science?

It is all well and good to state that there is a problem with junk science/misinformation on the internet, but what is the solution? What is the best way to identify junk science?

Men's health released an article exploring 9 ways you can spot junk science. [2] If you want a full breakdown of each point I'd point you towards 25:00 of the audio podcast above.

  1. Is there evidence for this? Quality of the paper? Peer Reviewed? Any at all?

  2. Is the evidence preliminary?

  3. Is the claim based on anecdote? ('Sciency' language can be exploited to make information sound more credible)

  4. Is it just a friend's opinion? There's actually research that those that we are similar with we tend to trust more regardless of source

  5. Is someone trying to sell you something? (Are the claims being made supporting the decision to purchase a product?)

  6. Is there fear mongering or ideological spin?

  7. Is there scienceploitation? (Using appeal to authority with titles and 'sciency' language)

  8. Does a post or person make you doubt the evidence? (Are they notorious for sharing misinformation/junk science)

  9. Can you fact check it?

Examples of critical thinking shown in text on a tablet
Critical thinking can require a lot of effort far more than just accepting information at face value. This is why we see junk science/ misinformation spread. It's effortless.

The purpose of this checklist is essentially to facilitate critical thinking when it comes to consuming any content. It is all too common for us to take information at face value. We allow bias and emotion to dominate our thinking, preventing logical reasoning from taking place.

The next time you encounter a negative emotionally driven topic online, ask yourself a few of the questions above. You may be surprised to learn that this is indeed 'junk science'

'Train Harder'

Many 'fitfluencers' share online that doing high intensity workouts so as to 'train harder' is 'stupid' and only leads to injury.

The problem is, we are currently facing an inactivity pandemic. According to a recent large scale study (3.3 million participants), overall adherence to the aerobic and muscle strengthening activity guidelines was 17.15% in those 18 and older, and 19.45% in adolescents ages 12-17. [3]

There is no doubt that we need more exercise in any capacity, and we know that enjoyment is one way to encourage people to exercise regularly.

Four people running on a treadmill looking out of a window
Adults should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

A study looked at 20 males and 20 females who don't regularly exercise and put them on moderate intensity continuous training or high intensity interval training 3 times a week for 6 weeks. [4]

They found that those doing high intensity interval training their enjoyment levels went up over the 6 weeks whereas the moderate intensity decreased.

Graph showing enjoyment levels of high intensity exercise vs moderate continuous training
Most people struggle to see progress when conducting a health and fitness journey due to consistency. One way to improve consistency is to improve enjoyment.

Although this is only a small paper, we believe that there are a few reasons why people prefer to "train harder"

- Sense of achievement

- Feel like you've actually done some exercise

- We tend to enjoy a challenge

The purpose of this paper is not to argue that HIIT is superior to lower intensity activities, but simply to show that people tend to enjoy HIIT. When trying to motivate the general population to become more active, this information is helpful.

The key takeaway is to focus on what you enjoy and ignore the latest rant by 'fitfluencers'. Using a negative emotional drive is more effective, as indicated in a comment earlier in the article.

In the case of a 'fitfluencer' stating that 'HIIT can damage your health', that is more likely to get engagement than the fact that 'HIIT may be more enjoyable than moderate activity over a six-week period.'

Reformer Pilates

Thanks to one Harry Styles, reformer pilates has been popping up all over TikTok making it a hot topic. It's important to note that this form of pilates is not new however.

Reformer Pilates Machine
Although the popularity of these machines has increased, the price barrier remains, ranging from £699 to thousands of pounds

Pilates in general is often seen as a mat based activity and is a system of repetitive exercises performed on a yoga mat or similar to promote strength, stability and flexibility. Pilates is often synonymous with core training.

So, where does the pilates reformer come in? Why is this superior to mat based?

According to Ellie Maud of Brighton Pilates

Reformer Pilates is naturally a different experience to mat Pilates, the key difference is in the springs and how much resistance you add. The common misconception is that pilates is just breathing and stretching, and is a bit boring and easy.

In our opinion though reformer or not, pilates can be extremely challenging and is another great way of getting movement in. The beauty of mat based pilates is the minimal barrier to access.

Looking at reformer pilates however, you either need to spend a lot initially to purchase the machine or attend a class which once again can be quite expensive.

The pricing is perhaps why pilates is often associated with a more affluent population.

If pilates or reformer pilates gets you moving then that's fantastic especially if we look at those worrying activity statistics earlier!

Three women doing mat based pilates in the studio
A Pilates practice is an accessible way to meet the WHO's weekly activity guidelines.


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