The VHI “Fitness IQ” Test not so smart

I did the VHI “Fitness IQ” test and I must say I was underwhelmed by the effort although I welcomed the initiative.

First of all, the test was only composed of 6 questions, hardly a worthy sample to measure anything by, especially a person’s knowledge about personal fitness. Add to that, they actually got two questions wrong!
Stretching Controversy
The first question was simplistic “You should start every workout with stretching your muscles”. If you answer “True” you get an error and a statement that you shouldn’t stretch before exercise as you won’t get flexible if you’re cold and you could pull a muscle. Now, the only defence I can offer for this advice is that there is no wide scientific consensus on what constitutes the best time or type of stretching. So it’s certainly not a “yes” or “no” question.

This is a weak defence, however, for science does show us a few things conclusively that contradict the above advice directly, so either leave the question out, or provide a more precise answer. Firstly, the only muscle that has been proven to need a warm-up before stretching is the calf muscles, for other muscles this is unnecessary (Noakes 2003). Secondly, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that dynamics stretching has performance enhancing and injury-preventive effects when combined with intensive training or racing. Again, the question doesn't deal with the difference between static and dynamic and and it doesn't specify what type of exercise is talked about. Perhaps this simplicity was deemed necessary in the context of the quiz, but it certainly means the user cannot learn anything useful from completing the test...
The Hydration Myth
To make matters worse, their second question asked “Getting thirsty is your signal to drink water.”, true or false?, the correct answer to this, as is now well understood by serious exercise physiologists, is “yes”. The VHI quiz unfortunately hasn’t picked up on the events of the last decade and still holds to the outdated notion that you should drink a cup in advance (a reasonable piece of advice if you’re thirsty) and one every 20 minutes (every 20 minutes!!!!). This is the same misinformed advice that has caused several cases of fatal hyponatremia in slower marathon runners over the last 20 years.

This outdated paradigm has been replaced by the very clear and simple “obey your thirst and you’ll be fine” (Tucker et al. 2009), so the answer to this question should be True, while the VHI Quiz will tell you that’s incorrect. I find it somewhat troubling that the author Jim Scott seemingly finds less time to do his research in what is presumably his job, than a dilettante office worker like myself whose only science degree reads “IT, Communication and Organisation”, not something the predisposes me to say anything authoritative about physiology (but perhaps across all disciplines, the only real skill you need to master is appreciation of the scientific method).
O Science Where Art Thou?
This trend can be found in multiple places and I feel almost unfair in singling out VHI. Have a look through health and running publications from the last few years and you will see old myths perpetuated again and again by regular contributors with the relevant qualifications to know better.

Certainly Exercise Physiology is a moving field and no one can be immediately aware of every new discovery, but the examples we see are well-established scientific facts that have been widely known for years. That lactate causes muscle soreness, for instance, is a fact you can still find written on some pages, it was first theorised that this was probably not the cause in 1902 and it was proven by a Swedish scientist in 1981 after which multiple studies poked further holes in this dying paradigm. That people working in this field can still perpetuate myths of this nature borders on professional negligence and I am glad there are blogs like the “Science of Sport” to keep us all updated on what science really has to say about exercise physiology.

For those who think this sounds harsh, I apologise for the tone, but science is the business of truth not politeness. To get a very down-to-earth walkthrough of the human body and a book that pokes holes in all these long-standing myths, I suggest purchasing “The Runner’s Body” by Ross Tucker, Jonathan Ducas and Matt Fitzgerald, a book just off the shelves and a real gem that every runner should own (and read).

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