What's your return on investment?
Ever get the feeling that a majority of the hard work you put into training yields a shockingly low return on investment? Do you continue to increase your workload, only to see that your results are plummeting faster than the ice sheet in Greenland?
If this sounds all too familiar, you're not alone.
The automation of the "more is always better" mentality has become the American norm. The fitness industry is by no means excluded from our culture's obsession for more at all costs. Without intelligent program design, the MORE mentality can create a slippery slope for many types of trainees.
Physical fatigue and inefficiency does not discriminate. At the end of the day (or 3 hour elliptical session), if you thrash your body long and hard enough, achieving your goals (most likely your primary reason for training in the first place) are going to be the least of your worries.
With this physical, mental and emotional exhaustion lurking, get ready for a prolonged path to nowhere. We are all at risk; from cardio queens to bench press bros, casual CrossFitters to yoga yippies. We must take a step back, and determine what is truly ESSENTIAL.
The Essentialist's Approach To Training
Essentialism is more than aimlessly dropping a few exercises out of your workout logs. It's actually quite the contrary. Essentialism requires a continuum of EVALUATION and ASSESSMENT.
If you choose to train like an essentialist, it is imperative that each portion of your training is put under the microscope on a session by session basis. If you were thinking that choosing the essential from the optional sounds heavily tedious, you would be right.
In order to free your time, and achieve your most audacious goals, diligent focus is crucial.
Implementing Pareto's Principle
Pareto's Principle, also known as the Power Law Distribution, states that roughly 80% of our results are derived from 20% our efforts. Essentialism is about determining what 20% of your efforts are yielding the greatest return. More importantly, essentialism is about identifying the 80% of behaviors that are literally robbing you of your time and energy.
In terms of fitness, what are the variables that are vital for the achievement of your short and long term goals?
One variable may be exercise choice. If you're a competitive powerlifter with a strong focus on bringing up your bench press stats, does programming calf raises for 8 sets of 15 with 90 second rest intervals bring you closer or further away from your defined goals? Sure, you can argue that lower leg strength and stability is imperative to a strong squat and deadlift, but could that 16-20 minutes of training time be better utilized to build a stronger yoke or to stabilize your shoulders? Probably safe to say that there are more efficient uses of precious training time than donkey calf raises.
Not only do we need to determine the behaviors and habits that will catapult us to the next level through intelligent assessment procedures, but we must put each seemingly essential practice through the ringer once again, to determine a cost benefit ratio.
If you choose to train like an essentialist, it is imperative that each portion of your training is put under the microscope on a session by session basis.
Cost Benefit Analysis
A cost benefit analysis (CBA) of your fitness programming is an absolute requisite to ensure successful progression. A systemized way to assess positive and negative attributes of each exercise and parameter, while also weighing alternative options is a crucial piece of the programming puzzle. Let's put the CBA into action with a common example many strength athletes face on the first of the month, when most programs are written.
Quadriceps development is the goal of Day One of your training schedule. More specifically, your vastus lateralis (outer quad muscle) is really lagging behind the other 3 muscle heads of the quads, and need to grow to be aesthetically pleasing. Squats are obviously going to be the cornerstone of Day One, but what assistance exercises, if any, are needed to achieve your goal of building those tree trunks?
Test Your Inner Essentialist
The exercise choices in this example come down to seated machine leg extensions, loaded Bulgarian split squats and front squat. Can any of these exercises do the job? Yes, but that is not the point. The way of the essentialist is to choose the most advantageous option.
While leg extensions may utilize a huge moment arm to thrash those quads under load, they are also notoriously hard on the knees. Bulgarian split squats can also provide a huge anabolic training effect, but they are limited by a motor control and neuromuscular balance cap. Front squats are a great total body movement with direct emphasis on the anterior chain, but take into account that you have already focused on your back squat for a majority of your heavy compound work.
Let it be said, that choosing none of the above is indeed a choice of it's own. It doesn't matter what option you choose; options are not the point. The key is to analyze the options, and change programing according to the findings. I cannot stress this point enough!
Realizing everything you do has a cost, but not necessarily a benefit, is a strong mental starting point for analysis.
Pareto's Principle, also known as the Power Law Distribution, states that roughly 80% of our results are derived from 20% our efforts.
Time to Start Cutting (Habits)
Every move you make in the gym doesn't require a calculator and spreadsheet. If you implement the foundational concepts of a continuous evaluation and assessment of what you are generally executing in the gym, you are already in the top echelon of high achievers within the gym's walls.
Start slowly, and make necessary changes as your daily assessments yields more hard data. Keep your eyes open, your mind questioning, and your body functioning. Never be content, never stay stagnant, and above all else, make sure your actions are in line with your goals.
Time to get your foot off the brake and punch the gas!