The Dichotomy of Fitness

Have you ever been on a really good fitness “streak”? You know, where you hit the gym 5 or 6 days per week for several weeks- maybe skipped a few planned “rest” days, did additional mobility during your downtime, prepped food accordingly (measured and tracked) on Sunday’s. Went the extra mile in every direction to kickstart your healthy lifestyle?

But what happens when a few things at work or with the family bog us down or distract us from the great “streak” that we had. This can be where we fall into the other side of a fitness “streak”. Where, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get to the gym consistently, your body is getting achy and flabby from a lack of care, and more and more you are making nutrition decisions by the motto of “fuck it!”

These two situations represent what we could call a fitness dichotomy. A dichotomy by definition is: a division or contrast between two things that are opposed or entirely different. While reading The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, I have been left analyzing the dichotomies that exist in my life, a lot of which deal with fitness and nutrition.

See the thing about The Dichotomy of Leadership is that they explain how we do not want to fall too far into either side of the dichotomy. For instance, taking too much ownership and responsibility and “micromanaging” an employee or soldier; while also not being so hands-off that said employee or soldier would take advantage of this and slack off. The “sweet” spot always seems to be right in the middle.

This is a great lesson to apply to fitness. Most of the goals that we have in the gym are not going to take weeks, months and sometimes even years. They require dedication and long-term commitment. Therefore, it is important to take a sustainable approach.

If you find yourself quite nervous about attending your nephew’s birthday party because you do not want to have a piece of cake and completely ruin this diet and fitness ‘streak’, you’re missing the point. You may be getting pulled too far into one direction; one slice of cake in the grand scheme of things is not going to ruin the ‘streak’, and in fact, you can learn that it is okay to be human every now and again and have some balance in your life!

At the same time, if you find yourself every weekend indulging in cake, brownies, pizza, drinks, etc. because of an event such as a wedding, football game, birthday party, justifying each decision; it is time to reevaluate the meaning of “treat yourself”.

The best place to be is right in the middle: enjoying a birthday party or wedding once every four weeks, having your cake and then getting right back to preparing food or eating clean the next day. There are times that we may fall a bit too much to one side, but it is important to find the balance to have sustained long-term success.

An example of this in the gym is the concept of “going heavy”. Do you find yourself consistently opting to push yourself with a heavier weight? Always attempting to RX the workout even though you should probably opt for a scaling option? Or shooting for a PR every time you pull out a barbell. This can be holding you and your performance back in many ways, consistently slowing down your times on workouts and your progress.

Or, are you the guy who’s always going too light during the workout? When you’re thinking of what weights to do, you always opt for the weight of ‘least resistance even though you know you can handle something more challenging. Being this guy will hold you back just as much. You won’t push yourself quite as hard as you need to in order to advance your progress, you won’t stimulate your body in the way the programmer has designed, and most importantly, your body won’t develop the strength it needs as we get older.

The best place to be in the dichotomy of ‘going heavy’ is right in the middle. You need to be able to push yourself to PR on a day when you feel good and the programming calls for heavy weights. Or challenge yourself to RX a workout that you are on the cusp of being able to do! You also need to be smart enough to go light at times and to receive the benefits that it has to offer. For example, working on your technique and form may require some lighter weights, especially if you are trying to retrain your “movement path” to overcome injury. Going lighter than you want to on a WOD will allow you to train faster than you are used to, and allow you to build better conditioning! Much can be gained from incorporating lighter weights into your workouts throughout the week.

The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin describes the advantages that those who understand, the balance that is necessary for leadership roles, possess. Those who find that same balance between these dichotomies and the many others that exist within the fitness realm, will ultimately have the most long-term success: train for a lifetime, have the most strength, the least amount of pain, and look the best!

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