There Is No Best Way: From Chaos To Clarity

by Charles Staley on August 14, 2014

CRED_identifier_FINALIdealism is a human character attribute that seems very admirable on the surface, but in truth, it’s probably the most significant single source of human misery that I can think of. In fact, there’s and old saying that “Perfect is the enemy of good,” (often attributed to Voltaire) and in today’s blog post, I’d like to share how that applies to fitness.

The problem with idealism is that instinctive desire for perfection (which is especially strong in creative types) leads us away from a clear sense of perspective. And without clear perspective of course, we cannot see the causes or the nature of a problem accurately. Even worse, in some cases, poor perspective causes us to search for solutions to problems that don’t even exist in the first place. In other cases, the attempt to “solve” a problem makes the situation worse than it was before you tried to fix it.

Such is the case for those who tirelessly search for the “perfect” exercise program, diet, or health regime.

Before I dig deeper into this subject, I want to point out why this unnecessary quest is a bigger problem than the wasted time and frustration it leads to: if you’re looking for the “perfect” way, it means that you don’t fully believe in the value of what you’re doing now. And, needless to say, if you don’t believe in your current program, you won’t fully commit to it, which in turn means you won’t fully benefit from it.

So in this discussion, my goal is to lead you away from the search for perfection, and instead toward the search for a perfect (or at least accurate) perspective.

Before addressing the concept of perspective however, let’s take a very quick look at why there is no such thing as perfection in an exercise or physical training approach:

1) Individuals are different in many ways — age, gender, experience level, anthropometry, fiber-type, hormone levels, nutritional status, goals, and so on. This single observation, by itself, invalidates the concept of perfection when it comes to exercise.

2) All of the individuals just discussed will in fact be very different people in the future — while it’s true that some of their characteristics may not change (anthropometry, goals, etc.), many others (age, experience level, hormone levels, nutritional status, etc.) do. This being the case, even if we could find the perfect program for you today, at some point in the future, it will no longer be so.

3) Finally, as many of my coach friends love to point out, if there were such a thing as a perfect program, surely it would have been discovered many years ago and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The very fact that I’m writing this (and that you’re reading it) is strong evidence for the non-existence of the perfect exercise program.

If you’re buying in to my argument thus far, I’d like to change the direction of this conversation to the topic of perspective. In particular, since I believe I’ve done a credible job of shooting down a question that I believe to be a dead end, I think the responsible next step is to find valid replacements for it.

There are at least two questions that I think we all should be asking

First, “Is there a better approach than the one I’m currently doing?”

This question digs into the idea that you shouldn’t ask whether or not something “works,” but rather, whether or not something works optimally. After all, saying that something “works” is like saying that someone is “nice” — everyone is nice, right (at least under normal circumstances)? So we really should insist upon a more rigorous standard than “works.”

The second, and possibly more difficult question we should all ask is: “What should I be doing until I figure out what that better approach might be?”

Answering this question with any level of authority isn’t often easy, but as a launching-off point, please consider the following three suggestions:

Practical Tips Toward “Better” Methods:

1) Assuming you’re getting “good” results right now, make incremental, gradual changes toward what you think might be a better way, not huge ones. This serves two purposes: first, you won’t risk losing the progress you’re currently making. And second, if you start making better progress due to the change you’ve recently made, you’ll be able to know what changes to attribute these new gains to.

2) “Mine” your training journal to re-connect to the types of training that lead to great results for you in the past. For example, I recently happened upon a video of myself deadlifting 400×10, something that I’m not capable of at the moment. The video was from January 2013, so I can look at my journal during the 4 months that preceded that to see how I was training then versus now.

3) Evaluate popular training programs not by the volume of positive responses they appear to be getting, but rather, by how they seem to work on people who are similar to you. Often, a method that works fantastically for one person has neutral or even negative results for another.

As a final observation, when it comes to exercise mode, consistent effort often matters more than the exact type of exercise you happen to be doing. So if you tend to feel perpetually confused, simply find a physical activity that you like (or think you might like), do it consistently, and then, at the same time, keep your mind open, explore new possibilities, and remain conservative about making new changes. Personal growth absolutely depends on being comfortable (or at least tolerant) or uncertainty. So make peace with that uncertainty because when you do, you’ll be able to commit to your current program with more confidence and consistency. An when you can do that, you’re on your way to better results.

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greg

Hi Charles,
Nice article, as always . The tips regarding how to make your methods better are very true and something that I try to follow but sometimes the lure of the new …is …just….too..strong…
Personally i just had great results from following a Dan John mass made simple lite program for 8 weeks but i wanted a change. I toyed with figuring out a program for my gyms outdoor strongman kit but instead i opted for a program something called EDT? You might have heard of it 🙂 Just started it this week (alternating between days of 10RM and 6RM). It’s a good job I never was one for sitting down between sets.

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Gary Gruesbeck

Charles,
Great articles! I am applying these concepts to my own training and they are really helping. Please keep them coming!

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Charles Staley

Thanks Gary!

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