Do you ever major in the minors? Spending too much energy on small details while neglecting the “big rocks” may not only waste your time and energy – it can prevent you from reaching your goals effectively. I also must admit that I’ve done this more times than I’d care to remember. I suppose it’s partly because I’m someone who wants to go all in once I commit to a new goal. I’ve often read every detail, absorbed way too much information, and basically got in my own way.
I did exactly that last year, when I decided to sign up for my powerlifting meet. By nature, I’m not a dabbler: once I decide I’m in, I’m all in, baby. I took mental notes at my powerlifting-focused gym, where veteran, record-winning lifters worked out. I read every damn article I could find on the intarwebz. I hired Jordan Syatt, a top notch powerlifting coach.
He gave me my program, and I followed it. I improved my strength and technique. But still, I spent an inordinate amount of time on things like researching the pros and cons of grip widths, knee sleeves, water cutting strategies for meets, and training schemes. I was, of course, excited about my sexy new sport. But when I asked Jordan if I needed squat shoes for my upcoming meet, he just said this:
“Stop worrying about that stuff and just get strong.”
He was right. That sucked a little, because I love any form of new footwear. There is a time to consider squat shoes, if we need them. If you dedicate yourself to a new sport or really any health pursuit for long enough, you may reach a point where delving in deeper and refining your approach will benefit you. But like I did, you may be spinning your wheels fixated on minor nuances of your training or nutrition that will make almost no difference in your outcomes if you haven’t first built a firm foundation.
I can recall some instances where friends and clients have got caught in a similar trap with training and nutrition:
- Buying a $5000 bicycle and aerodynamic wheels that set back their retirement savings yet haven’t dedicated themselves to a consistent, well planned training program for gaining speed. I’d like to thank these guys, however, because I like to make a game out of passing dudes on fancy bikes with aerobars while riding my old steel Bianchi with big, non-aero accessories hanging from it. Am I immature? Probably.
- Obsessing over losing a few percentage points of body fat to become faster in endurance sports yet haven’t spent any time building muscle to help power their bodies.
- Worrying about complicated periodization schemes when you learned how to deadlift last month.
- Investing heavily in a new superfood juice, vitamin supplement, or special powder harvested with the same technique used by ancient Mayans yet haven’t nailed down the basics of eating mostly whole foods in your day.
- Toying with advanced nutrition strategies like intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and rapid fat loss protocols when you haven’t yet figured out how to consistently eat in a way to create a calorie deficit.
- Researching the ins and outs of nutrient timing but you’re currently not on top of your calories, macronutrient targets, or eating nourishing foods on a regular basis.
These are just a few examples of times when we over complicate things and fixate on the trees instead of the forest. Sometimes it’s because we are excited and want to belong to the tribe. Plus, squat shoes look kind of bad-ass. We read headlines that tout the benefits of a new supplement or training strategy.
But most of the time, getting faster, stronger, and leaner is a lot simpler than we think. What we typically need more of at first is patience, time, consistency, planning, as well as willingness to dig in and do some hard work.
So here’s to keeping things simple. Peek at these lists of the major players before you plunge into the fine details.
If you’re a strength athlete:
- Have you followed a well-constructed training plan for a solid block of time? I’m not talking weeks – I’m talking months of consistent hard work with a plan to see the fruits of your labor.
If you’re an endurance athlete:
- Do you include a progressive strength and power training scheme in your yearly sport planning?
- Are you eating nutrient dense foods for overall performance and health?
- Do you appropriately fuel your workouts and understand the roles of protein, carbs, and fats in health and your sport?
- Do you include workouts for endurance, tempo, and power?
- Have you spent time building your base, and do you know how and when to plan these workouts in the scope of a training year? If not, the aerobars will not help you enough. Hire a performance coach or get mentoring from more experienced athletes in your sport.
If you’re losing fat:
- Have you tracked your calories if you notice that you can’t lose weight?
- Do you weigh your food to see exactly what you’re taking in?
- How well honed is your understanding of appropriate portions for your body’s needs, and what kinds of foods will keep you full, fueled, and in a calorie deficit?
- Do you know how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet?
- Are you getting adequate protein into your days?
If you want to begin lead a generally healthier life:
- Are you exercising regularly most days of the week?
- Do you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains? If so, high five. If not, start working on these habits instead of worrying about minor supplementation or optimal workout designs.
There is a place for using high-level tactics in your training and nutrition. If you’ve put in the time in your sport and want to squeeze out even more improvement, small tweaks to your training, nutrition, and gear can absolutely help you. If you’re already very lean and want to achieve advanced aesthetic goals, you probably need to investigate some advanced strategies for accomplishing your goals.
Just make sure you haven’t skipped over the steps that make the biggest difference for improving your efforts. Work hard, be smart, and keep things as simple as possible.