Mister Saturday Night, Uh, Special

Stop me if you recognize this character.  He’s made a commitment to eat well, exercise three times a week, and move his waist size down a few floors by fall.  His preferred method of cardio is running–it makes him happy to be outside, he generally does his cardio in the morning which  sets him up for a solid breakfast and builds momentum, and it’s an easy 20-30 minutes.  Then he reads a (deliberately provocative and overcorrective) article about how awful jogging is for, well, everything he holds dear.  Fuck.  Back to the drawing board.  Everything was working great–that is until he was told that a crucial cog in the entire machinery was giving him man boobs.  So now he’s got to figure out how to work in sprinting.  He hates sprinting.  This will take some work.  And so it’s Saturday night again–he’ll start the new program on Sunday morning.

Or this lady.  She’s cleaned up her diet.  Almost exclusively whole foods (although not necessarily Whole Foods), moderate portions to match her activity level, doesn’t really do dairy because it tends to make her feel bloated and phlegmy.  She’s Paleo but she doesn’t really think about it.  She has four or five meals she rotates between, hardly has to think about shopping because it’s so rote, and she is kicking ass. Then one of her friends sends her a link to an article on Mark’s Daily Apple about how awesome pastured dairy can be.  And Mark himself, well, he looks better than any fiftysomething dude she knows.  So maybe he knows something she doesn’t know.  Dairy it is.   But with what?  What kind?  And she’s supposed to worry about eating the same things over and over again because she’ll develop a food allergy now?  Shit.  Down the rabbit hole.  And it’s Saturday night again–she’ll get started on Sunday morning.

What about this guy?  He’s gotten his caloric intake more or less congruent with his exercise routine.  He trains economically, eats more (more protein, more carbs) on the days he lifts, and he eats less on the days he doesn’t.  Sometimes on the days he doesn’t lift, he has a giant salad for lunch and dinner and skips the meat–just doesn’t feel like chicken or beef.  Everything is going great: his lifts are going up, his body composition is the best it’s ever been, and he’s not spending a ton on groceries.  And then he overhears his jerky jerk of a trainer tell someone else that protein is a huge deal for recovery.  Shit shit shit!  Maybe he would have squatted ten lbs more than his twenty lb pr if he’d introduced some mothertrucking bison tips to his big salad.  Off to the Slanker site for the tips and all of the sudden holy crap an article in his feed pops up to mention that squatting singles and doubles (his preferred method!) will absolutely not build appreciable lean body mass.  What?  Now the grocery bill’s about to double in size along with his time at the gym and wham bam thank you ma’am two giant motivators (less money, less time spent) have poofed into thin air.  This will NOT be easy like Sunday morning.

I think you see where we’re going here.  The moneymaking article would lede with something like “Why We Fear Success (And How To Make Sure That Stops Happening)!”  But I think it’s simpler and subtler than all that: we don’t quite realize what success feels like.  I’m talking true, sustainable, repeatable success, and that is BORING!  It is one foot in front of the next, and some of us are wearing expensive weightlifting shoes and some of us are wearing Chucks, and no one walks exactly the same but what it is is that we all keep walking.

Some thoughts along these lines:
1. Probably one percent of the population needs to look hard at the last 10% of Shit That Works.  Show me someone who would like to argue that every trainee needs to lift in a manner that optimizes both sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy and I will show you someone who needs to put some weight on his squat and leave the rest of us alone.

2. There is nothing in the world that is more exciting than a new start.  It is Christmas morning for adults.  If you are changing programs more than…I don’t know…three or four times a year, you aren’t giving Santa enough time in his workshop.  This is a tender trap when it comes to diet–I will eat healthy/drop carbs/eat carbs/bathe in bacon grease tomorrow.  There we would do well to remember Nico’s question: but what costume shall the poor girl wear, to all tomorrow’s parties?  That story didn’t end so well; neither will yours if you spend too much time fretting, changing, tinkering, shimmy-shaking.  Give your chance a chance and let it breathe.

3. We don’t pay nearly enough attention to what we like, and to what is easy for us to do.  Your preferred, semi-professionally vetted plan–suboptimal in Internet Training GooRoo’s eyes–will work far better than the more complicated UberRoutine that you don’t have a puncher’s chance of understanding, much less following.  This does not obviate the need to choose the right tools for the right job: back squats will make you stronger than waiting for Godot, but just the same, you will be better at doing that which you like to do, and that will make you better.

4. Success looks different on everyone.  Some progress quickly, some slowly; some prioritize aesthetic improvements, some the weight on the bar or the time on the clock, but success always leaves a trail.  Here’s how to look at that: the guy who finally lost the last ten pounds didn’t lose the last ten pounds because he decided to start pushing the Prowler; he lost the last ten pounds because he tried something that his logs and extrinsic data suggested might work.  There’s a difference there.  Though the Prowler is close, there are no magic objects, only method.  Find what works for you, which almost always won’t be the eighty-seventh thing Joe Weider Jr. has tried even if you are climbing the same kind of a mountain.

Oh, the summary.  Stay in the middle of the lane.  Your lane.  Change lanes but only when you need to.  The rough stuff in the breakdown lane isn’t usually worth exploring.  Nico can really be depressing.


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