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  • Writer's pictureChris

More Gainz ≠ Quality of Life

At any given time there are things that compete for our time and energy. Our family, our jobs, the honey-do list, financial limitations. This leads to the realization that while we can do ANYTHING we want we can't do EVERYTHING we want. We have to choose what we focus our time on and we can only focus so much time and energy on one thing without it impacting other things that are important for our happiness, success, and quality of life.

A productive life is a precarious balancing act of life domains. Focus on one thing too much and you will neglect others, which is fine for a time to re-center, but too far in any direction leaves the whole thing a mess.

With any endeavor we seek, in or out of the gym, there is what we can call a novice effect and the law of diminishing returns. With quick and easy progress in the beginning and slower, more difficult mastery until it is no longer feasible, or even possible, to continue to improve. While there is a physiological cap on one's ability with any skill, physical or otherwise, there is also a life season cap on how much progress can be made - it is obviously not very realistic to spend 20 hours a week in the gym while you work full time and have kids to raise. Being honest and realistic with what you have the capacity to accomplish based on the other things you are not only required to do but want to do is going to lead to more success.

In the context of physical improvement, the initial gains of a good program or diet happen quickly with a relatively small amount of time and energy. With genetically gifted individuals making more progress with the same amount of effort and with a higher ceiling of possible potential. As time goes on and you become more limited by your genetic potential it takes more resources, in time and effort, to glean even the smallest amount of progress. This time and effort come at the expense of other parts of your life. Managing your expectations in each season of life is going to improve your happiness and your overall quality of life.

For us folks of average genetics, it makes less sense to sacrifice things that bring us joy in other life domains to pursue the outer ends of what we are physically capable of, be it your powerlifting total or that low body fat. Because for one, what your genetic potential is just won't ever be very impressive and two, your effort is better served elsewhere and what you sacrifice may not be worth it.

This doesn't mean pursuing physical improvement is fruitless. Physical capability is, in my opinion, a requirement for normal human function, or the avoidance of the Sick Aging Phenotype, and due to our current sedentary society, we need to be intentional with this improvement because our survival no longer requires much physical ability. You should always find ways to make your physical self a priority, there just is a limit to what is realistic, and embracing this limit can be liberating. This freedom allows you to explore other facets of life that can bring so much richness and joy to your life.

All this means, at least to me, that you are best served to do things that have the biggest impact on your physical improvement to make the best use of the investment of your finite resources. Barbell strength training is such an effective and efficient way to improve your physical ability that it should absolutely be the focus. Nothing else out there is going to have a global and impactful effect on your health, sense of self, and physical ability like training with a barbell will. The barbell allows a large amount of muscle to be trained at one time in movement patterns that are normal, relies on our ability to balance, and load can be titrated.

All too often the minutiae get the attention and the higher impact activities get overlooked and the results are worse. All while taking more time away from other things that can improve your quality of life.

I remember a time I was invited to go do some backcountry mountain biking with some friends and I turned them down because I was worried I was going to sack my recovery for squats the next day. Well, squats still sucked and I never got invited again. Was the trade-off worth it? Not even close.

I would weigh everything I ate to the gram. Every meal every time. I would avoid social situations to meet my macros - family dinners, dates with my wife. Was my waist a little smaller? Sure. Was I happier? Was my family happier? Probably not.

Focus on more global and impactful interventions first so you don't miss the forest for the trees and if you find a passion, are good at it, and the sacrifice is worth it, then move to the less impactful and commit more resources to it but be warned - it comes with a price.

You can still be physically normal and improve your markers of health without detracting from others things that matter.

However, I think there is so much poor information out there regarding fitness. We are bombarded with information through social media, media, and even well-meaning friends and family - to put it bluntly; the fitness industry is broken. It is hard to know what is going to provide the most leverage and when to apply it. This takes experience and a pretty sensitive bullshit detecter. This is what you are actually paying for in a coach, the experience. You are paying for the time saved in figuring out for yourself what is worth doing and also how to do it to be more effective.

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