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Training Intelligently (How To Not Be a Midwit)
Stop Overthinking & Learn How To Apply Common Sense To Your Goals
I’m just going to go out and say it: Most people approach training, programming, and even dieting in an extremely dumb, black & white approach.
By now, if you’ve actually taken the time to read through the archives of this Substack, you should be light years ahead of your peers in terms of training and nutrition knowledge, but I still see the same questions and the same issues arise.
The reality is most people neglect doing the most important thing you can for longevity and continued success in your health and fitness lifestyle: Being a Free-Thinking Human Being.
Since common sense is not always so common, I’m going to lay out a mental model and thought process to go through when it comes to applying training and dieting to your goals and everyday lifestyle.
The first “paradigm shift” you need to make when approaching any training modality/methodology is that it is simply a tool to get a job done. Your goal and results are the end game, we just want to find whatever process gets us there in an efficient and sustainable manner.
Fitness is largely just a game of following biological and physiological principles and parameters to get us the results we want. The training, exercises, diets, etc. we do are largely just guidelines to meet these parameters. Because of this, there can be many, many methods that get us the results, we just have to find the method that meshes well with us, our lifestyles, our preferences, and our goals.
This is where things like “optimal” become nothing more than a buzzword. If something is “optimal” based on the science, theory, or whatever but we can’t stand it and can’t stick with it for more than a few weeks then we have to ask “is this really optimal”? The answer here is usually a resounding “No!”.
The second “paradigm shift” to make is actually putting logic and some critical thinking into what we do instead of blindly following advice. Yes, it’s great to learn from guys like me who have been there, done that, and have years on years of experience. That said, I do not know you and I do not know what your life and circumstances are like, so the only one that can make a complete judgment of what you should do is YOU.
In short, you will never learn exactly what works for you if you are always outsourcing your thinking to others and don’t make decisions on your own without needing to ask for advice about the most minute details.
The third thing is you cannot be afraid to fail and be wrong. I would not be here giving you advice if I was afraid to fail and tried to be perfect all the time. Perfect doesn’t exist, great does, perfect doesn’t. Too many people will hold themselves back and hinder progress because they will have what is called analysis paralysis—they will overthink themself into procrastinating and “spinning their wheels”.
You don’t need “perfect” you need “good enough” that works. Take action on that plan and as you learn more about yourself and what’s working or not, then make adjustments. It all comes down to the fact that if you don’t work your “thinking for yourself muscle” then it won’t grow and you’ll be stuck never truly knowing how or why things work or not.
Developing Nuance With Your Programming
Since we’ve passed my rant of thinking for ourselves, let’s start expanding on more specific times when we need to really think through what we’re doing to make the best progress we can + do things like preventing injuries.
In a post going out next week, I’m breaking down “Load Management” which is essentially how we can maximize recovery and avoid injury by just being smart where and when we do certain exercises. Within this, we have really good examples of where throwing in some common sense and logic will really help us in the gym.
So, for example, if you’re doing a program like Push Pull Legs or really any program, let’s say you have 2 leg days a week. On one of those legs days you do barbell squat, then on the other leg day you are thinking what main compound to do for legs.
Well, if you’ve already done a free weight movement that loads the spine, and maybe on your Pull day you did some non-chest supported back movements, then your spine has already been pretty loaded that week.
So in this instance it might make sense to do something that doesn’t load your spine so you are saving your back from excess fatigue—this will improve your training longevity and recovery.
That’s just one example of how we can actually sit there and look at training from a common sense lens and apply nuance that’s going to better serve our bodies.
We can do the same thing for diet. Let’s say you want to have more flexibility on some days of the week. Well, we can do things like carb cycling where we eat few carbs/calories on days like Push/Pull, or Upper Body if you find these days easier, then on leg days we can eat more carbs/calories to both satisfy the urge to eat more + provide more calories on a demanding day of training.
Both of these examples come from understanding the underlying principles—you can choose better exercises and get the same results; you can manipulate calories because you know that your WEEKLY caloric intake matters more than DAILY caloric intake.
There are infinitely more examples we can make, but I’m just highlighting these 2 to show the nuance that can go into making decisions. This is why understanding the underlying principles is so important because we can manipulate the variables as long as the underlying principles are met.
It’s as easy as just looking at your entire programming/diet, seeing where you have some points of friction or just want to improve, and then thinking through where you could tangibly make it better/make more sense. I know this seems simple enough in concept, but most the questions I get could be answered with a few minutes of just thinking through your plan logically.
Asking The Right Questions
As I said above, most of the time your answers are going to be by analyzing your situation and knowing which things don’t make sense or could make better sense. The key is asking the right questions so that we are made aware of what exactly those things are:
What is something negative about your program or diet that you can afford to change and it still be effective for your lifestyle? (could be time, how we feel, or
What kind of program makes the most sense for your schedule (family time, work, other)?
What exercises (if any) need to be swapped out to mitigate an injury?
Do you just need to swap out certain exercises to be more efficient in the gym?
What diet makes sense for you in terms of performance in the gym, mental acuity, and normal human functions?
The Overarching question here that could summarize all of the above is “What makes the most sense for YOU?”
No need to overcomplicate it.
Sometimes following a plan to a T isn’t going to work for you. You need to adjust accordingly and stop thinking in absolutes.
Let me provide one last example:
Let’s say you love a program but there are just a few exercises that you don’t really like doing or maybe they just don’t work for you. → Most if not all exercises have an alternative.
You don’t need to do that one specific exercise if you just terribly hate it. The same goes for if you don’t feel it. If an exercise isn’t working for you, there’s no need to waste your time & energy doing it. Switch it out and do something else - we don’t need to blindly follow a program down to a T because our favorite fitness minds said “This is my program, this works for me, anybody can do it.”
You don’t like barbell squat? Hack squat. Don’t like hack squat? Swap it with goblets. You can keep doing this forever.
Don’t like tons of fats, prefer carbs? Balance out your carbs and fats.
Start using the gray area → no more absolutes.
Putting It All Together
We just need to remember these three things:
1. It’s Just a Tool
Forget “optimal”. Forget the words “the best” when followed by program, diet, or other training technique.
In the simplest terms, we just need to follow basic principles and stop majoring in the minor when it comes to the gym.
At the end of the day, the program is just a tool. Diet is just a tool. All of the things that get you to your goal are just a tool.
2. Logic and Critical Thinking
Ask yourself more questions when you’re receiving advice. “Does this apply to my life situation?” “Will this actually be the most beneficial thing for me?”
So many people are just blindly following the advice of a guru online because that same advice worked for them. So why hasn’t it worked for you after all these weeks, months, years?
3. You Can Be Wrong and It’s Ok
You aren’t going to know if you never fail. So it’s okay if in the past you’ve been married to a way of training/dieting and have been wrong.
Keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.
Until Next Time,
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.