No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy – Helmuth von Moltke

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change – Darwin

Two quotes this week?  Yeah, absolutely — because the two go hand-in-hand.

My recent trip to England afforded me time and reason to contemplate the interplay between information and action.  My interactions during that time (an intense and extended Efficient Exercise, ARXFit and Paleo f(x) business trip) ran the gamut: professional soccer players, exercise physiologists, lay-person enthusiasts,  and those with little practical knowledge of diet or exercise.   And a theme began to emerge from these discussions and interactions.  Or rather, I was in a mindset to actually perceive the trend — that is, the disparity between knowledge and action.  This isn’t an “English thing”, of course, but rather the culmination of some unique circumstances and my (finally) connecting the dots.  Call it “thwarted action even in an abundance of credible information”.  Maybe it’s simply another aspect of the paradox of choice?  I’m not sure, but the bottom line is this: actually “doing the n=1 work” (or rather, not doing the n=1 work) is becoming a real issue — even among people who should know better.  And this also isn’t simply an “S&C thing” either.   Chefs, baristas — name the craft — and the same issue applies.

Another variant of the same theme: why is it that otherwise highly intelligent people often struggle mightily in practical application of the very area of their intellectual and/or craft expertise?  Knowledge vs practical action wouldn’t seem to be such a monumental hurdle, and yet, for some, it’s a seemingly an insurmountable obstacle.

I’m not quite sure what this condition is.  “Paralysis by analysis” doesn’t exactly or fully encapsulate it.  It’s a kind of reluctance to engage the world in its base uncertainty or “murkiness”.   For fear of lost time, maybe?  As if action cannot proceed until all of the facts are in.  I totally get and agree with “learning from the mistakes of others”, but like many policies, too much is…well…too much.  This needs to be balanced with “succeeding by failing — and trying again.”  

Despite my animosity towards Donald Rumsfeld (at least, in his second term Secretary of Defense), he did have a particular and practical wit about him that was refreshing.  His infamous “known unknowns” quote, and the ever-popular “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” I thought were his brightest moments.  You may not have agreed with the war (I certainly didn’t), but if the question has been shifted from the theoretical (should we/shouldn’t we) to the practical (it’s go time), then you have to deal with things as they are, not as you wish they might be.

Training, like life itself, will rarely come wrapped in the pretty paper and bow of the theoretical “as you wish it were”.  There will always be incongruencies.  Lack of time, lack of resources (note the picture above, via TNation), no exact and perfect answers, to name just a few.  You’ve got to get over it, adhere to the Five Ts principles, and do the best work you can do given the circumstance and information available.

Let’s look for a moment at the flipside of this: there’s no denying that there are many Crossfit warriors out there sporting some pretty damn impressive physiques and physical acumen.  Despite, that is, some of the worst programming imaginable.  What’s the difference?  Motivation.  Drive.  Work ethic.  Intensity.  Devotion to craft.  Whatever you want to call the “it’ factor, Crossfit brings it in spades.  That and a strong sense of community and “hive drive” is, in my opinion, *the* illuminating element of the movement.

And we can’t simply chalk-up all the Crossfit pluses to genetics.  Genetics plays a large part, no doubt. But epigenetics is the real game-changer.  I used to play for a defensive coordinator who was fond of saying “if you’re gonna be in the wrong (insert expletive of your choosing) position, at least get there with 100% effort.”   Training, like life, is best performed thusly.   

Another example?  Look, I’m no certainly Jillian Michaels fan.  I think her (at least publicly expressed) exercise programming and diet recommendations are — to put it politely —  atrocious.  But, much like Crossfit, she does bring attitude, drive and intensity to her process.  She’s another example of compounded, high-intensity effort trumping intelligent prescription.  And, she’s got an undeniably smokin’ hot body to show for that effort.  Just another example of genetics trumping intelligence?  Sure, that’s a lot of it.  But we’d be blind not to acknowledge the epigenetic contribution of sheer will, drive and intensity at play here.

Know this: will, drive and intensity, combined with even the shittiest programming, will trump lackluster effort combined with the best programming.  Every.  Single.  Friggin’.  Time.  I’ve seen the same play out in athletics, academics, and in corporate America.  Different venues, same result.

And this is indifferent to genetic hand, which simply raises the “zero-state” bar.  Unless you’re a competitive athlete, fitness is a competition between you and the “better you”, right?  So in that case, genetic hand is (or ought to be) a non-issue.  And if you are a competitive athlete?  Well, you lose the right to bitch about sub-par genetics.  You either train and compete harder and smarter than the competition, or you go home.  It’s that simple.   

Look, I’m not telling you to shove your head in the sand, discount your genetic individuality, and train like an idiot.  Neither am I advising you to sacrifice health for performance — unless, of course, you’re doing so with eyes wide open.  What I am saying is that you’ve got to bring a high level of intensity to the training you are doing, and constantly try to upgrade the programming side of things.  Bust ass by daylight, refine by lamplight.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  To do less is simply to cheat yourself out of your full potential.

And one final thing: there’s not much time left to jump on this great Muscle Collective ebundle (the offer ends midnight on 6/23).  But if you happen to catch this in time, head over to the highlighted link and check it out.  It’s a wealth of fitness and muscle-building information, and enough to keep you busy for a long while.

Just don’t forget to add the work and effort 😉

In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –



  1. Another terrific piece Keith. I see this in my own life for sure. Part of it is the overwhelm of information and decision fatigue. For me that has tied in to a kind of perfectionism, even though I know there isn’t a perfect training program for anything, especially a complex system like the body. I recalled while reading this that the best shape I have been in was in my thirties. My options were very limited and I ended up doing a Mentzer style HIT workout once a week, plus running 3-5 miles a week, a lot of yoga and playing a ton of beach volleyball. I did this for about eight years I think and it worked great! I don’t necessarily want to return to all of those, but my own philosophy in all things has been “Something is better than nothing.” I’ve had too much “nothing” lately for a lot of reasons, but am thinking now that I want to make a choice about exercise and stick to it for awhile.


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