or How I Learned to CTFD, Pick Something, Then Do it Until I'm Done

My clients worry a lot. They worry that they are making the right food choices, performing movements properly, avoiding the bad diet situations, and keeping the company that is going to keep them active. But with all there is to worry about in the world, I feel like most of my job is to help my clients C.T.F.D. and just keep moving forward. And while there’s not a lot from 19th Century Italian micro-economists that can help my client’s sleep at night, the Pareto Principle sure does.

The world of health and fitness is a vast sea of options. Options that all work (until they don’t). When most people are faced with this sea of options, they look to systems, experts, or cults to arbitrarily limit those options so they can get on with the business of training and results. I’m not saying that this is bad; in fact it’s totally necessary. For my clients, I’m the guy who tells them what to do so they can  focus on the business of doing it. It’s pretty good, but totally unsustainable. I want my clients to navigate the sea themselves. Eventually, I want them to even program themselves. That scares a lot of people, but for most fitness goals, programming is the easy part thanks to Dan John and the Pareto Principle. As Dan has pointed out, 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts. So if you nail that 20%, you’ll have a lot of time to relax and experiment.

Nail the 20

The way I navigate the sea of options is with Dan John’s Five Human Movements (+1). Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Loaded Carry, (then “everything else”). If you do those five things in every training session, you’re probably fine. That’s a relief for most people. It narrows the focus to just a handful of movements they need to master. For example, you’ll go pretty far if you just get good at bench press, pull ups, deadlifts, back squats, and farmer carries.  If you combine the movements into complexes, it’s even more focused. The guy who’s dedicated his training to getting really good at the O-Lifts and 400m sprints is probably a beast I don’t want to cross. Nail the basics and you’re 80% there.

Show Up 80

At this point everyone should know my motto is “80% of life is showing up.” The Woody Allen quote is really a funny way of saying that 80% of progress is consistency. If you show up for 80% of your workouts, you’ll make progress. If your concordance rate is less than 80%, then it simply doesn’t matter what you’re doing; you’re not doing it enough to matter. Until you get to 80%, forget everything else in the sea of options and dedicate yourself to showing up and doing the five movements.

Meet Some Standard

As Mike Boyle points out, all great coaches have strength standards. I have a few based on the goals of my clients, but the point is to just have some standard that you meet before you wander off and try the hot new thing. I personally don’t think a man should be doing much else until he can pull twice his bodyweight off the floor a few times or a woman can do a pull up. Is that strong? Kinda. But it also doesn’t matter that much what the standard is. It’s just there to provide focus and be achievable. The best way to insure both of those qualities is to make the standard realistic to your life. I met my strength standards with kettlebells last year when I could do just about every double kettlebell exercise for 10 reps with 2x24kg. Why that standard? I didn’t need to do more reps and I didn’t feel like buying bigger kettlebells. Now my goal is to Clean and Jerk 225lbs. Why? Because that’s how many bumper plates my gym has. The point is just to pick and achieve a standard before you start exploring new exercises. Before you know it, you just might accidentally get strong.

Have Some Fun

So let’s say you’ve picked some exercises. You’ve even shown up and done them 80% of the time. Chances are you’re going to hit your strength standards pretty soon. What next? Play around a little! How little? About 20%. When I go to a fancy strength coaches’ conference and learn about all the fancy new ways to get stronger or better conditioned, I pick one of them and do it a few times a month. I usually train 20 times in a month, so doing a new thing once a week is 20%. Easy math, right? Most things done once a week for a month will show some impact. If I like the impact, I might do it more, but only after I meet the standards I’m working on. I have some great loaded carry variations and functional conditioning I want to integrate on my programming, but until I get that 225lbs over my head, once a week is enough.


The path is laid out before you; you just have to stay on it. So take a deep breath, punch the clock and get in your reps. You’re moving forward. Worried your conditioning is going to suffer by dropping twice a week sprinting to focus on your Cleans? Yeah, it will. But you’re not strong enough yet for that to matter. Plus, if you get stronger, improving your conditioning will become way easier. Worried you may lose your six pack on a bulking program? Yeah, you will. But you will have learned the skills and habits to get it back even more easily than you achieved it the first time. Calm down. Stay focused. And just keep moving forward.