Break the Big Rocks First: The small stones TO AVOID
Breaking the Big Rocks First
This is the last in a series of articles aimed at helping you prioritize your actions toward specific goals. The details will be clean, simple, and to the point, without going too deep into why. Because sometimes we just need to get on with it.
Today's focus is a bit different than previous posts. Instead of telling you the biggest rocks to attack, we'll look at the biggest distractions to avoid.
Buckle up, and try to keep an open mind.
Let's not overcomplicate things:
Spend all of your time actively working on taking care of the highest-priority items so you can get the biggest bang for your buck.
Simple. When I fully grasped this concept and started implementing it in all areas of my life, things changed.
What follows are examples of the mealy fruit so high up in the tree that it would take a village to get it down. This is not the low-hanging fruit, but it can be tempting because you see it happen all the time.
The Siren's Songs: Avoid These Traps
These are the distractions that seem important because already-ripped people talk about them and shoot instagram videos doing them. But take solace and trust me that these things never MADE the difference, they simply highlight the difference. These are the wrong things to focus on.
These suck way too much of your time and energy for very little ROI:
1a) Doing a million movements instead of focusing on the big core lifts
A typical "leg day":
Bulgarian split squats
There's a reason the best strength programs include only a handful of lifts: they focus on getting the most bang for your buck (hmm... sort of the theme of this article, too. Interesting). Squatting and deadlifting will take care of more than anything else in the lower body and total body as a coherent unit. Everything else becomes unnecessary or redundant. And more is not better. At a certain point, you will tip from doing the right amount to doing too much. Adding accessory lifts will likely cross that line, especially for a new or inexperienced lifter.
What's more, the most important lifts require skill practice. By only squatting or doing overhead presses once every few weeks, each session is like a whole new learning experience. We want to get good so we can then get efficient and move heavier weight. Muscle confusion is P90X's brilliant money-making marketing scheme, not a real biological process.
1b) Spending time on isolation exercises
This needed its own subset. As I talk about in this video, there are very few instances where isolation exercises matter. Your workouts, pretty much regardless of your goal, NEED to revolve around big, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, rows, and presses (bench and overhead), unless you have a very serious medical reason for the contrary. Trying to build a banging body on the bicep curl, tricep pushdown, seated leg extension, calf raise, and adduction/abduction machines is like cooking rice one grain at a time. It's just going to end up driving you crazy with how slow and inefficient it is. It's also not how your body wants to move... kind of like how rice likes to be with other rices. Alright, rice wasn't the best example, but I think you understand what I mean.
2) “Hacking” your eating with intermittent fasting, a specific weight-loss diet, etc.
See the forest for the trees. The fact is that the only eating habits that work toward long-term health involve eating well on a consistent basis. If you can't do this yet, don't kid yourself about trying anything more complicated.
Intermittent fasting and other fad diets have cult followings, so it's easy to believe in them. But healthy eating always comes down to the same do-or-die principle: You have to have the discipline and palate to eat healthy foods, or you will lose interest, hope, and momentum no matter what plan you follow. This isn't a case of walking before you run, it's a case of first learning how to simply stand up. For most people, jumping straight from burgers and fries to the Keto Diet or Atkins or whatever the hell else is relevant nowadays will be too hard to sustain. Learn how to incorporate more vegetables, good fats and better proteins, and less bad fats and empty carbs into your diet first. Nail the basics, and then if you're interested, try a fad diet.
3) Calorie obsessing
This is tracking your calories gone wrong. For almost everyone, especially someone looking for huge change, small steps make a big impact. So if you've determined that your 3200 calorie/day diet is keeping you fat, do your homework and get a general goal. Maybe that goal is 2400 calories. The importance is not making this perfect, but consistently staying below what you were consuming. If for some unholy reason you're able to track in real-time that you're at 2380 calories and you have a couple bites of salad left at dinner, don't be maniacal and not finish just to beat a number. Like so many other points in this article, the actual exactitude is not important. What's important is the habits and new lifestyle that you're creating. Only once you've been crushing all the other big rocks for your goal as listed above would it make sense to start taking a closer look at your exact calories.
4) Anything that seems to require you to think a lot (in planning, implementation, or anywhere in between). This is likely either a) a time suck, or b) more advanced programming than will actually benefit you at this time
Boy, this one is a doozy for most people to comprehend. But, by this point, you should be able to predict what I'm going to say: Until you've taken care of the biggest items, don't overcomplicate your life. This is the general reasoning behind not over-selecting exercises, not falling into the diet-fad trap, and not obsessing over calories. More is not always better. Further, more (than the above rocks) is not necessary when just starting down a new path. Address the fundamentals. Keep it simple, if for nothing else than your own sanity. And mine. Because if I see another athlete doing bicep curls and pec flyes to failure I'm going to check myself in.
If you were disappointed about any one thing not being included in the Big Rocks section above, it's this. Cardio is like Napoleon Dynamite- it's an objectively bad movie, but has a massive cult following. Yet, in spite of this, it's still funny to laugh at. And let me just clarify: by "Cardio", I mean the steady-state exercise that most people think of when they so loosely throw around that word. We're talking 45 minutes on the treadmill, elliptical, bike, sidewalk, whatever. There is nothing inherently evil about this, but it doesn't deserve a place on any of our lists. Why? Well, to be honest, there are too many reasons that would take too long to describe. But I'll give you a quick Cliff's Note about why it is ill-fitting to the above goals:
Getting back in shape: It takes more time than you're going to be willing to give. Eating better is a superior way to lose weight. And strength training is a far superior way to develop muscle and look better, not to mention to be much more competent in real life.
Getting stronger: Well, if you need me to tell you this one, then you are at the core of cardio's brainwashed empire. You've drunk the kool-aid. Long-distance, drawn-out, steady-state exercise has no place in a routine to get stronger. Period. Getting stronger requires short burts of maximal or near-maximal effort. Cardio is the exact opposite. This should be clear as day.
Losing weight: This is where people will yell at me most. Because both you and I know, personally, people who credit losing weight to training for a marathon or running every day. But I never said training for a marathon won't help you lose weight. Of course it will. I'm just saying it's not an ideal way to do it. Here's why:
1) Do you know how much time you have to spend running to train for a marathon? Well, I don't, because I've never done it. But from people I've talked to, it can get to ten hours a week and more. Is that how you want to spend your time? Doesn't sound too efficient.
2) Novice effect: When you have a lot of room for improvement, the initial improvements come fairly easily no matter what you do (as long as you move enough). This goes for losing weight for a very heavy person just as much as it does for gaining strength for a weakling. Unfortunately, the initial improvements can only be sustained and improved upon again by working smarter.
3) Moving a heavy mass for a long period of time can wreck the joints. Hell, even moving a very light mass can wreck the joints. Trust me when I say that doing squats correctly is much, much easier on your knees and low back than running for even 20 minutes. Longevity is the real name of the game, and countless repetitive movements for most people (heavy or not) doesn't support this.
If cardio were a person, she would be a slimy marketing exec selling cigarettes to your kids. The very idea of cardio has done such a thorough job at brainwashing well-intentioned people into believing there is one best and safe way of exercising, and everything else is hooey, phooey or dangerous. It's nonsense. Cardio is likely the reason weight lifting is a curse word in some circles.
Is it completely useless? No. You can't do anything better to train for an endurance race than to move for a long time. It's vital. Some athletes can also benefit from long-distance training (but this won't benefit nearly as many sports as is typically believes... sports like soccer, basketball, football, and lacrosse will do much better with interval training).
Take stock of how many of the above distractions you regularly engage in. Then ask yourself if you like where you're at. It's never too late to try a new tact.