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Book Review: Play As If Your Life Depends On It by Frank Forencich


Posted on August 17th, 2011 by Jeff Thiboutot M.S.

I just finished reading Play As If Your Life Depends On It by Frank Forencich, again. I first read this book 3 or 4 years ago. I decided to read it again because I have been contemplating my personal training career and the personal training/fitness industry in general.

Here is the skinny; EVERYONE WHO INSTRUCTS OTHERS ABOUT MOVEMENT/EXERCISE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK! Additionally, everyone who struggles to maintain their “exercise” routine should read it as well.

This book resonated with me, big time. There were many times, while reading it, that I was saying to myself “Hell ya, Absolutely, That’s awesome, This is some good shit”. Clearly I liked the book and am glad that I decided to read it again. However, I do have a couple of criticisms that I need to address.

The first thing that bothered me was the lack of complete citations to the supporting information.  For any of you who have read any of my previous book reviews you know that this one of those things that really bother me. I feel that non-fiction books should use well accepted citation formats when supporting their position statements. To be clear, Frank often discussed some peer-reviewed evidence along with some of the details of the papers that supported his position statements. Great! But, the information was usually incomplete. I just don’t get why this happens? It seems that just a bit more work and the entire citation could be listed somewhere. I won’t go into the reasons why this is important, but from an evidence-based perspective, it is! I realize most people don’t care, but I think that is a poor excuse.

A funny thing is Frank actually discussed some aspects relating to this subject. For instance, in the chapter “Keeping a balanced perspective”, the classical and romantic world views put forth by Pirsig in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Frank states “The classicist, for his part, lays claim to scientific certainty, backing it up with reams of data, footnotes and references” (p.289). It seems I am taking a classical view on this matter. You bet. To be clear, a lack of proper citations does not mean that a statement is untrue. It just means that it is impossible or just harder to find out if there is actually quality data to support it.

The second issue I have is with the some of the information regarding functional training, balance training and the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle. I agree with the SAID principle and Frank clearly points out the importance of it, stating “It [SAID] is one of the most important principles of physical training; unfortunately, it is also one of the most commonly overlooked” (p.116). Here are a few more quotes to give a better understanding of what I will referring to shortly. Frank states;

“The most fascinating thing about these physical adaptations are how incredibly specific they can be” (p.120).

“There was probably some overlap, but in general, the adaptations wee specific to the imposed demands” (p.120).

“You train for a sport by playing that sport; you prepare for a task by doing that task and closely-related variations” (p.123).

I agree with all of the aforementioned quotes. Good so far. Where he losses me is when he suggest that doing functional exercises will make a person better at athletic endeavors and reduce the likelihood of injury. I don’t think there is good evidence for this. For example, a very recent paper states the following regarding specificity of training;

“There is no evidence that skill development is aided by the performance of resistance exercises that bear some superficial resemblance to skills performed on the sports field. Skill enhancement is highly specific, with little correlation between the performances of different skills, even when they appear very similar. For example, Drowatzky and Zuccato showed that the correlations between performances on different (superficially very similar) balance tasks were extremely low and non-significant. They concluded that there is no such thing as a general phenomenon called balance. Instead, there are many different balancing skills, and because an individual is good at one type of balancing task it does not follow that he or she will be good at a different balancing task” (Fisher et al, p.153).

Also, Frank discusses how to improve proprioception/balance, stating;

“One of the best ways to do this [challenges to the proprioceptive system] is to intentionally put ourselves into precarious positions using toys such as physioballs, wobble boards and balance beams” (p.175).

He then states;

“The wobble board is therapeutically valuable because it forces the patient to use his sensory and motor nervous system in a highly functional manner” (p.226).

Is standing on a wobble board really functional? It is likely fun, at least for some people and that’s cool, but functional? Typically something considered functional exercises/movements are things that allow us to do the things we want to do better. In fact, Frank states;

“Functional performance is the ability to execute graceful and effective movement” (p.5).

As stated earlier, to get better at something you need to follow the SAID principle. Therefore for something to be functional it has to be exactly or very close to the desired movement. Because of the previous requirements I feel that standing on a wobble board, a BOSU (Frank does not mention this apparatus), or doing an exercise on a physioball are really not functional because you are asking the body to adapt to an apparatus that will not likely occur in real movements. When does someone stand on a ball? When does someone do squats on a half-ball (BOSU)? To drive home this point, the paper alluded to earlier had this to say about stable/unstable surfaces;

“As stated in the preceding section, balance is a non-transferable skill, and as suggested by Willard ‘performing resistance exercise on unstable equipment will make an individual more proficient at performing resistance exercises on unstable equipment but may not enhance the performance of sport skills’. There is no evidence that supports any form of balance transference between performing exercises on unstable surfaces to any other movement pattern or skill, whether sporting or otherwise” (Fisher et al, p.154).

My point is that these toys may be fun but they are really not functional or necessary to improve the health of the musculoskeletal system or the ability to move better.

It is debatable if I am nit picking or not, but, for my sanity, and an honest review, I needed to voice my thoughts about the few things that bother me about the information presented. That being said, this book, in no-uncertain terms, is excellent! Go read it. To get this book and learn more about Frank’s other books and thoughts, check out www.exuberantanimal.com and learn how to be a better animal.

References

Fisher, J et al (2011). Evidence-based resistance training recommendations. Med Sport; 15(3): 147-162.

 

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