“Average” seems to be a dirty word in the fitness world.
People would rather use words like “epic,” “heroic,” and “elite” to encourage you to “reach your full potential.”
And that’s nice.
How can I argue with that? Of course no one wants to be a minimal version of themselves. Personally, I want to be as strong and flexible as possible.
Who doesn’t want to be better than average?
Unfortunately this kind of thinking, while well-intentioned, often backfires and demotivates rather than uplifts.
If we take it too far, it becomes an all-or-nothing game, where you may feel that if you can’t devote the time and energy necessary to perform at an “elite” level, then you shouldn’t bother at all.
Well, there are a lot of levels between a couch potato and a world champion athlete.
You don’t have to be one or the other.
Somewhere in between, there’s a sweet spot with your name on it.
You’re Probably Average. And That’s Okay.
GMB is all about optimal training for average people with average responsibilities.
It’s easy to deride “average,” but it doesn’t really mean what you may think it means. Average does not mean bad. By definition, about 70% of us are average. It’s a mathematical certainty, so don’t take it too hard.
Admitting you’re average means being real and honest about what fitness means to you and how you are managing to make it a part of your life that is sustainable and worthwhile.
There is much too much talk of training to your full potential, or being elite, or turning yourself into a comic book hero, or whatever tactic used to make you feel bad about not doing more.
And that’s really what it comes down to, other people telling you that you need to be better.
Well, better than what? That’s your decision to make, not someone else’s. Just as we’ve said in the past about the different types of motivation, when you are motivated and driven by what’s important to you rather than by others’ external judgements, you are going to be more consistent and happier with your program.
What average really means is that you are not too bad at a lot of things, pretty damn good at some stuff and pretty crappy in a few.
You pick what those are for you. Maybe you want to emphasize what you’re great at, or maybe spend some time on the things you’re crappy at. That’s how you raise your average.
You’ll likely not be the best, but you’ll be better.
Finding Your Sweet Spot as You Approach the Point of Diminishing Returns
Diminishing returns is also a very real phenomenon. An hour a day gets you a certain result, and two hours a day can certainly improve upon that, but by how much?
This is especially apparent when we start talking about three or more hours of daily training.
The increased effort and time of that third and fourth hour brings less return on investment than was incurred in those first two hours.
Yes, for elite level athletes, these small changes in percentage can mean the difference between placing and being off the medal stand. But frankly – and without judgement – most of you reading this are not Olympic level athletes. Your health, fitness, and well being will not be greatly affected if it took you only three months to learn a skill, or gain those few pounds of muscle, versus four or five, or even six months.
There is a “sweet spot” of training time and energy that will give you fantastic results that doing less won’t give, and doing more won’t radically improve.
How much time can you realistically devote?
Not just today or for a few weeks, but over months, and years? The long run is what counts. It’s actually pretty easy to be gung ho for a few weeks. Just check out the gyms after New Year’s. Where are the people in March?
It’s much more difficult to be consistent.
Consistency means more than trying to train like an Olympic athlete for a few weeks, and then quitting. That’s a waste of time and a true waste of potential.
Realistic expectations don’t mean you are settling for less, it’s about doing the best you can with what you’ve got.
But you really do want to do it all – literally, all of it. Right now.
Here’s the deal: I’m not here to convince you to be less than you aspire to be.
That wouldn’t help anybody.
Let’s say you truly decide that you want to spend all of your free time working towards the ideal of physical perfection in your mind’s eye. If that’s your choice, then we want to help get you there.
But unless you are in a situation where devoting several hours a day to training doesn’t interfere with your other work, social, and family responsibilities, you’ll have to decide on some things that will take a hit.
This is very real.
You can’t trek up that steep summit without leaving some baggage behind. Prioritizing your time and energy on what’s most important to you is the first step.
Here are some other considerations for managing a high physical workload:
Cycle Your Training Focus
Just spending hours upon hours of time working doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll improve.
If you really want to excel, you’ll need to have a sharp focus on specific aspects of training. GMB’s basic principle of cycling your training emphases ensures that you’ll take advantage of this focus to push strengths and skills up to the next level as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Ryan’s one arm handstand training is an example.
He removed all other training that was not directly involved in his one arm handstand work, both for honing in on his focus, and also to save his energy and recovery to support this single skill.
Pick the Appropriate Time to Start
It’s a rare individual that can devote his or her whole day to training without having to worry about other responsibilities.
This is why training camps for professional athletes are essential. The athletes enter into an environment where everything is taken care of – from every morsel of food, to daily naps and curfews. Take away all the things included in the daily grind of normal everyday life, and your free time and energy levels goes through the roof.
Once you’ve chosen to up your training time and intensity, you’ll do best to do so during a period when you can reduce your other responsibilities.
A few years ago B.K. (before kids), I was able to train for four hours a day, several days a week, for a few weeks when my work schedule was more abbreviated. I definitely made a lot of progress in a short time, but short of quitting my job, there’s no way I can do that now.
You may be able to maintain your higher training load as you gradually increase your other responsibilities, but it’ll be best to at least start the training with decreased commitments.
Otherwise, you may soon burn out.
Make Sure You’re Ready for the Increased Workload
In Ryan’s OAHS article he describes his intense regimen of training twice a day for up to 6 days per week. Several people asked why GMB programs only recommend 3 to 4 days of training per week.
Quite simply, it’s because we know this is the best amount of time that most people would benefit from. It’s realistic and reasonable, and also provides significant results.
You could do more if you like, as Ryan did to meet his goals; however, if you want to emulate him, then you’ll also have to consider the many years of daily dedicated training he’s accumulated. The fundamental strength and skills he’s acquired allowed him to push into higher levels of training time and energy.
He built a strong base and his body was up to the task.
If you don’t have this background, your joints and tendons might start complaining to you just a couple weeks into your program.
Look Beyond Daily Performance and Plan for Changes Over Time
There’s a natural ebb and flow with training performance, and that ebb and flow is even more pronounced when it comes to intense and exhaustive training.
If your plan involves several hours a day of daily training, you’ll have to be prepared for these ups and downs and look beyond a “bad” day.
It’s not necessarily how you feel going into your training session, but how you perform that day that determines how hard you should push (See our recent article on autoregulation). Knowing this allows you to train on these long days safely and productively. If you don’t know how to regulate your training, this daily hard work will wear you down and you’ll end up worse, not better.
If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen! (Trust Me, You Won’t Miss Much)
So I just shared our best tips for keeping up with high volume training, but remember that you don’t have to do any of this.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to put your career and/or your family ahead of your physical development. No matter what any motivational image with a pithy slogan says, it doesn’t make you a lesser person – I promise you that.
And please know that “physical development” is not the same as “health.” Great health and a good level of strength do not require several hours a day of training.
In our article on how much conditioning you really need, we referred to a study showing that 15 minutes of exercise per day led to a 14% decreased risk of dying, and 45 minutes upped that to 22%. 45 minutes a day of mindful exercise is a very reasonable amount of time to improve your health and fitness.
So don’t feel guilty if all you can squeeze in to your day is an hour of training. The “sweet spot” of time allotted for your fitness regimen is a lot closer to that than it is to several hours a day.
Get rid of feeling ashamed if your priorities are different from someone on Facebook who posts about his 4-hour daily regimen. You are not your workout. It implies no moral superiority if you spend more time training than the guy next door.
It’s a personal choice, and your decision doesn’t matter either way – it’s your choice.
Some people choose to be the best at a particular physical activity, while others choose to be the best at accounting (and we are thankful that our accountant doesn’t workout six hours a day).
This is actually quite freeing.
You aren’t beholden to long hours of daily training and you have an understanding of realistic goals.
This doesn’t mean a lessening of goals, but an honest look at what it will take to reach those goals. You can still achieve great health and fitness, but without several hours a day, you’ll need a better plan and know that it’s going to take this better planning to make it happen.
Ultimately it’s not about restricting your potential, it’s just about making you smarter about what needs to be done, and what can be done with the amount of time you do have.
Choose WiselyRyan’s interview with Steve Atlas includes a prime example of choosing to do more.
You may find yourself a bit removed from where Steve is coming from, especially because he really is working at a physical level far above the majority of people out there. But Steve’s intense passion and determination tells us quite a bit about what it takes to take your development to the next level, and looking beyond the surface of his exceptional physical ability, we can see the fundamentals of personal change.
He transformed less-than-ideal circumstances into positive motivations, when he could have gone down a completely different road.
And that is a universal truth for all of us. Having a mindset for seeking growth and not allowing yourself to be stuck in a rut is the key to continued success, no matter what your current level of physical fitness and capacity.
Steve’s devotion to practice and training also reminds us that a certain level of excellence can require a degree of commitment that we might not be ready for just yet.
And that’s okay.
We are all coming at this from different backgrounds, levels, and expectations. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others or basing your self worth on being able to do one thing or another.
Don’t Get Caught Up In Expectations
Do you feel that you aren’t doing enough? Why?
Is it really that you aren’t doing enough, or is it that you are trying to live up to someone else’s expectations? There’s a sweet spot between the amount of work and the amount of results.
And it’s closer to reasonable than you think.
The important thing is to choose your personal passion and put as much effort as is reasonably possible for your situation.
Persist and keep moving on as best as you can. That’s where you’ll find your happiness. And that’s not average by any definition.
Instead of trying to do an insane amount of work, focus on doing the right things that make the biggest difference.
Keep Yourself Motivated with Continual Progress
Elements gives you the tools to practice playful variations on fundamental movements that move you closer to your goals without wearing you down.