Eliminating your Options
by Steven M. Ledbetter
4 minute read
Go into a store that sells cameras. There are actually thousands to choose from. Some of them are really expensive with lots of features and interchangeable, manual focus lenses; some of them are cheap, autofocus point-n-shoots. Most of them are black or silver, most have a little screen to see what you’re gonna take a picture of, and most of them are made by a handful of big name brands. 100% of them will take pictures. If you’re shopping for a camera, there’s no “right” answer. It comes down to what you think is going to work for you. You decide based on which features are the ones you value, what price point is good for you, or maybe which one has the best warranty. Maybe you’ve read reviews online, maybe you ask the sales guy for help, or maybe you have a friend who loves Sonys. You navigate the sea of options as best you can, make your decision, then leave with a camera. And no matter what camera you buy, I can 100% guarantee that it will take pictures.
Choosing exercise programs are no different than picking a camera. Every exercise program works (until it doesn’t). If you change the way, volume, and load that you move, you can expect some change over time; simple as that. Some work better for some people than others. Some work longer for some people than others. But every exercise program works (until it doesn’t).
Neither one of these statements, that 100% of cameras take pictures and 100% of exercise programs work (until they don’t), seem that controversial to me. Then I go to the internet. According to PowerReviews, there are more reviews of cameras than anything else in the world. According to Amazon, people spend more time contemplating the purchase of a camera than any other purchase. And from what I’ve seen, people spend more time debating the merits of fitness programs than anything else. And I understand why. Navigating a sea of options as wide and as deep as cameras or physical fitness is hard. Too hard. So we seek help.
When I was first starting out in the wonderful world of fitness, I was baffled at the sea of options available to me as a trainer. Kettlebells, barbells, push ups, running, sprinting, swimming, pull ups, fasting, paleo, the zone, Atkins, sled pulls, the list is exhaustive enough to cause paralysis. The options available to me were crippling me as a coach because I lacked the experience to see what was useful and to whom. A lot of people (me included) get over this problem by picking teams. The RKC, CrossFit, Westside, Z-Health, “evidence-based programming”; the list is as long as there are systems or schools of thought. Having a group of people arbitrarily eliminate your options certainly does make life easier as a coach. And most of the people in these groups found their way there because the focus they gained from having less options led them to pretty great results.
Most of my contemporaries will point to exercise science as the answer. And since I’m the atheist skeptic with the BA in the History and Philosophy of Science, you might expect I would, too. I love science, but I know its limits. Yes, exercise science (although very new) is getting better at testing the specific predictions about specific programs (“are 3 reps better than 4?”), but that is not as important as choosing a program that works best for you (“will I have more fun at yoga or doing Zumba?”). I am not going to read journals of double-blind, peer-reviewed studies to decide what camera to buy because that is not a scientific question. And finding the exercise program you will do the most consistently for the longest time with most progression is a matter of personal awareness and discovery, not peer review.
The fact is, you need to eliminate options. Dan John has 5 Human Movements (+1). CrossFit has 10 Modalities. Mike Boyle has two different kinds of single-leg training movements. The RKC has the Six Movements. But the possible combinations of movements, volumes, loads, rest periods, and durations that the human body is capable of is for practical purposes infinite. Eliminating options is necessary just to move forward. The grace of the decision comes in how you decide what options to eliminate. As Mark Twight points out, “there is a fine line between salvation and drinking poison in the jungle.” The best coaches tweak their systems based on new evidence and are constantly trying to find ways to help their clients. Dan has his 5 movements, but I’ve watched him design a program for someone that consisted solely of evening walks with a heart rate monitor. And you know what? It worked for that client.
As someone just looking to get fit, the onus is on you to find the right thing for yourself, but you needn’t worry about screwing up. It will work if you do it safely and with integrity and if you don’t do it you can just do something else. I help people swing kettlebells. I help people who do Zumba. I help swimmers, strippers, and O-lifters. Everything works (until it doesn’t) and every camera will take pictures. Just pick something and do it. If it’s not working, go back to the store and pick something new.