Richard Gibbens and the terrible triad

The operator of the world’s most earnest parody site for endurance athletes is playing armchair physiologist again, and as usual he manifests in grand fashion the three least desirable intellectual and personality traits any would-be scientist could possess: dishonesty, stubbornness, and confusion. However, Richard Gibbens is at least consistent in his approach to stupidity, as his latest attempt to prove himself a revolutionary shows.
Most recently, Gibbens has been attempting once again to demonstrate that adaptations to training are overwhemingly muscular and not aerobic in nature. Follow the above link to Cool Running and you’ll see a variety of his more experienced and smarter peers alternate between mocking him and undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to set him straight. Watch is wriggle, see it jiggle, it’s the Gibbens brand gelatinous shuck-‘n’-jive.
Below is the bare-bones version of how Gibbens shows in his dogged and patterned way that he’s not connected to reality. If you want specific details on exactly where and how he zooms off the rails, read through the whole thread, paying special attention to the input of Andy Hass (a biochemist and 2:29 marathoner), Nobby, rengle and JimR.

1. Establish a number of false assumptions and definitions. The important ones here are:

  • Compartmentalize “muscular factors” and “aerobic factors,” as if exercise performance does not depend on the integration between oxygen uptake and delivery to working muscles and oxygen utilization by those muscles (more on this below);
  • Classify 16 weeks as an adequate duration for assessing and monitoring endurance development;
  • Similarly, classify a training frequency of four sessions a week and a training volume of 15 to 36 miles a week as adequate marathon preparation by any standard;
  • Frivolously extrapolate the results from a “finish-only” training program to competitive athletes, who take years of training at much higher volumes to reach their potential regardless of talent.

2. Attack a strawman version of “conventional wisdom.” You won’t find any reputable or even disreputable exercise physiologists who actually believe what Richard says they do, in this case that they say “terms such as VO2 Max, lactate threshold, and running economy [can] fully or mostly explain the changes” training produces. But strawman-building is the sine qua non of any snapperheaded crank.
3. Address an issue while wrongly claiming the scientific community at large has ignored it. This is a natural step after 2), and Gibbens takes it, pretending that no exercise physiologist has proposed that muscles play a role in moving the body from place to place and the efficiency and speed with this task is accomplished.
4. Selectively present data, seamlessly blending willful distortions and basic misunderstandings and balancing the two with aplomb. Gibbens gives a bunch of data on how the runners’ muscles changed between the beginning and the end of the study. We’re supposed to be surprised that when a gaggle of couch potatoes started exercising, the muscles they used changed in an adaptive way, i.e., they got stronger, better at what they were asked to do. This, of course, in no way addresses Gibbens’ contention that aerobic factors are not important; we don’t learn anything about changes in cardiac stroke volume, for example, and more importantly we don’t know what would have happened had these people done some moderately serious training over an extended period. We don’t know what the intensity of the sessions was as a fraction of maximum heart rate or O2 uptake. We don’t…well, you’re getting the picture.
Also, an average marathon time of 4 hours, 54 minutes — over 11 minutes a mile and over 130% slower than the world record — shows that these were people who could barely move in a straight line. Well-conditioned athletes these subjects weren’t, and no one should have expected them to be at such an early stage of trianing. Remember, the tagline on Gibbens’ site is ” Maximize Your Running Performance,” not “Finish A Marathon Without Dropping Dead.”
5. Discuss the “findings” as if they are both new and pertinent when they are neither, mixing in more bold lies where appropriate. Gibbens’ claims that “the physiological changes that occurred in these subjects that enabled them to run a marathon took place in the muscles, not in the cardiovascular system” and “[a]ll of the changes occurred in the muscles — strength, power, contraction speed, and oxidative enzyme activity were improved in one or both fiber types” are both unsupported by his “analysis” and demonstrably false even if one uses only the data Gibbens himself presents.
6. Make noise on the Internet and, when the collective hammer of the opposition starts raining powerful blows on your lumpy head, pretend you only meant to contribute to exercise physiology. This is the fun part, at least for people like me.
As I said, you can review the carnage on your own if you like. But I’ll add that the most egregious burst of inanity Gibbens farts out this time is surely his insistence on divorcing muscular factors from aeobic ones. He’s like a man who thinks the performance of a car’s engine has nothing has to do with the type of fuel delievered, the fuel line, and the size of the fuel tank and everything to do with the spark plugs and pistons alone. For example, citrate synthase — the activity of which was a whopping 37% greater even after the modest and brief training the subjects in the study Gibbens “amalyzed” underook — is an enzyme which, like other tricarboxylic-acid-cycle enzymes, is indeed located in or along muscle mitochondria, but it would be completely useless without oxygen being delivered to those muscles. What exactly does Gibbens think drives up CS activity in the first place? An increase in capillary cyanide or arsenic content? Might it be oxygen pumpd there by the heart?
If you’re really interested in talking to the crank himself, go here, to his message forum. I won’t sink to yammering at him on his own poop-streaked turf, but I understand that Gibbens has been known to erase and edit others’ posts and ban people who contradict him. What a surprise that isn’t.

  1. #1 by JimR on August 17, 2007 - 6:06 pm

    He’s trying to find a backdoor into the aerobic training world without compromising is stance. His approach to this will likely be something like this… He alone has figured out that ‘muscle factors’ and ‘aerobic training’ are intimately entwined, that it’s these muscle factors that explain why aerobic training works, and that this revelation on his part will provide an explanation for something that has puzzled coaches and exercise physiologists for decades.

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