“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy
This is an intelligent and super-motivated 50-ish male client who has been with me for a couple of years now. A client who has, within that short period of time, put on appreciable muscle mass and significantly cut his overall body fat percentage. Sounds like a win-win, right? Now the guy was in fairly good shape to begin with, so I don’t want to blow any hyperbole, “immaculate transition” smoke here. Let’s just say though, that in a large part because of his motivation and drive (both in nailing his workouts and dialing-in his diet), and coupled with some intelligent programming (pat on the back, here), he has produced a fantastic body comp and some excellent resultant health parameters. He’s also got some legit genetics on his side (think Frank Zane-like build), so his efforts are rewarded favorably. By his own words, he’s thrilled with his look, feel and performance.
So what, you may ask, is the problem?
Well, the “problem” is that “driven” can be a double-edged sword. There’s a fine line between “100%, all in” and “unhealthy (or unrealistic) obsession”. And to further complicate matters, that line skews and blurs depending on who we’re talking about and the context in which that person finds himself. For instance, a “tremendously driven athlete” (desirable attribute) would be considered a weekend warrior with an unhealthy exercise/performance obsession. This is a particularly tumultuous Rubicon to navigate for ex-athletes like myself; actions and mindsets former athletes were once lauded for now get them couch time with a shrink, or worse — producing manifestations of physical health problems and an erosion of social networks and personal relationships. Context matters, folks — in grammar, and in training.
So back to the story of my client. As you might expect from a type A, “driven for success and perfection” personality, he wants more. More muscle mass. More work capacity. More strength and speed. And of course, more definition (i.e., less body fat). He asked me if this was possible; tweaking the machine for some additional performance. And I told him that, in my estimation, it certainly was — if he were willing to invest the exponentially greater amount of time and effort to produce those results. Is the positive bump in performance worth the 5 (and possibly more) extra hours of hard work per week, along with the significant additional discomfort (“pounding” more calories, for example), for a slight increase in the “look and perform” departments?
For some of my clients, that is an acceptable compromise. And for competitive athletes, that — and a whole hell of alot more — better be an acceptable compromise. Or, quite simply, you won’t be “competitive” for very long.
We know (or you ought to) that there is a profound difference in training for a specific event (example: track & field), training for team sport (example: American football), and training for general good health and fitness. You absolutely have to know your end goal, and train accordingly. Quite simply, you can’t answer to two masters; in other words, you can’t be uber competitive and be healthy. Now, I’m not saying a competitive athlete can’t fully recover from the grind of those competitive days (I’m proof that they certainly can), but rather, that health has to take a backseat during the competitive run. There is a spectrum to work with here of course, but that yellow band between the all-is-well green zone and red-lining your health is pretty damn narrow. Again, I speak from experience here. I rather enjoy the thrill and n=1 body-hack of tight-roping that green/yellow line (the “C” zone, below).
Side note: even the very definition of “health” changes in the competitive sphere. An athlete’s being “healthy” only means that he/she is fully able to perform at a high level, and in no way considers the internal markers of health (C-reactive protein, for example). An extreme example of this is football players and concussions; something the sport is only now beginning to grapple with.
But it’s also important to really, really understand — and come to grips with — that all-important dimension of time. Namely, you need to understand that you don’t need nearly the amount of time you think you do in order to be an extremely healthy and reasonably fit individual. The flip-side though, is that you need a hell of alot more time than you can imagine to be an extreme performer. And it takes a special type of mindset to accept the exponential amount of time and suffering required to produce a slight positive nudge in performance. Again, what is considered desirable in the athlete, is a notable pathology when exhibited in the “real world”.
So here’s the deal: I can’t choose the end goal for my client — I can only advise him/her of the cost-to-benefit realities of the situation; what might be gained vs what most definitely will be lost. Then, once the decision is made, I craft the training accordingly. I have personally trained in, and successfully trained clients in, every portion of the health vs performance curve.
And know this: the only “wrong” decision here is an uninformed decision. Choose intelligently, saddle-up, and be at peace.
A couple of related posts you’d be interested in:
Here’s a nice “sprints, bars and flips” workout for you to consider. Work capacity 101 (and a hell of a lot of fun):
12 tire flips + 100 yard sprint + 16 parallel bar “dip-hops” + 30 yard sprint + 5 muscle-ups + 24-rung monkey bar run + 5 muscle-ups + 30 yard sprint + 10-foot vertical wall clear + 30 yard sprint; 2 rounds – 17:22
And contrast this to the “pulls progression” workout I performed the following day:
Hang cleans: 95/5, 135/5, 165/3, 185/3; Hang clean + front squat: 185/3; squat clean: 185/3, 215/3, 225/1, 235/1, 1; snatch DL: 235/5, 275/5, 315/5
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –