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Don't Split Hairs and Understand Before You Criticize

March 21, 2018




Interesting Thought: Don't Split Hairs

Earlier this week, a close friend was in town on business and came by to visit. He's got a good gig working in the media for the Detroit Pistons, and he travels with the team. We only had about 16 hours together, but health and fitness came up, because of course it did. He said it's a challenge for him to stay in shape on the road, and that he's been lifting weights more frequently because one of the team's strength and conditioning coaches told him that lifting weights "burns more fat than cardio," since, in the coach's words, "you get an 'after-burn' effect in which your muscles continue to burn fat after the workout."


I have no idea if any of this is true. I'm not qualified to know, or even have an opinion really. But what I do have a fairly strong take on is the fact that it doesn't really matter.


You see, my friend is not an elite athlete. He works out to be healthy and feel good about himself. That's why 99 percent of people work out (yup, that even includes you "sponsored" age-group triathlete. Unless your primary income comes from sport or you are competing on a national or world playing field, your sport is a hobby. Might be an integral part of your lifestyle, but it's still a hobby.) And for that 99 percent of people, including yours truly, the best training is the type that makes you work hard and that you'll stick to. That's all there is to it. Just move, and move regularly.


Metabolic health is largely a function of calories in versus calories out. Musculoskeletal strength can be gained by running just as well as it can be gained by powerlifting or doing CrossFit. Cardiovascular function is enhanced by just about any physical activity that elevates your heart-rate and makes you sweat.


It really is that simple. There's an entire industry of folks trying to make health and fitness more complex, but there's really no need to.


I consider myself a pretty good athlete. 3:03 marathoner. Bench press about 220 pounds. I'm six-feet tall and anywhere from 165-175 pounds. I used to take myself as an athlete way too seriously. I was the "sponsored" age-group triathlete. Anyways, over the last few years I realized that, even for someone like me—definitely in the top 5 percent of fitness—the ONLY thing that matters is working out regularly and enjoying more days than loathing them. That's it! Running. CrossFit. Lifting weights. Circuit training. Hiking. High-intensity interval training. I've done it all and and let me tell you, it doesn't matter! Regardless of the sport, when I go too hard too soon (reckless) I get injured. When I don't enjoy it and working out becomes a chore it degrades rather than enhances my mental health. But when I'm having fun and working hard (but not recklessly), my health—both physical and mental—are wonderful.


And therein lies the lesson of this rant. For so many things in which there are multiple approaches—for example: fitness, nutrition, and learning style—once you've ticked off a few basics, nothing else matters. Consider diet. The best predictor of success is adherence. Not amount of carbohydrates. Not amount of fat. Not amount of eating after 8 PM. Just whether or not you sticked to your plan.


The point is that you shouldn't split hairs unless you truly have a reason to. And remember that most people in most things don't have a reason to. Sure, splitting hairs can be intellectually interesting and give you a false sense of control or mastery over an ambiguous process. But it can also be super tiring and get in the way of what matters most: nailing a few basics and enjoying and sticking to (the two go hand in hand) the plan.


If you like CrossFit, do CrossFit. If you like running, run. If you like powerlifting, power-lift. But, unless you make your living from sports, don't do one over the other because it "burns more fat" or "better balances the kinetic chain." Do it because it makes you work hard, feel good about yourself, and you enjoy it. For most people in most pursuits, those are the only things that really matter.




Coaching Corner: Understand Before You Criticize


“It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, if they believe it is right, then it is right. The story in their head is all that matters."

My good friend, Andy Stover, relayed this message to me when I was finding my footing in the world of coaching. The X's and O's weren't a problem for me. They were second nature. My difficulty lied in understanding the person standing across from me; what their motivations were and how they handled success and failure. Andy's point wasn't to denigrate the "truth," but instead to get to a basic human need: the need to make sense of the world. To have a consistent narrative about whom we are and what we believe. The pull is so strong that what is right and wrong doesn't really matter. The narrative does. Is it cohesive? Does it make sense to the person who created it?

Take losing a local race, for example. For most of us, it's not a big deal.We might even be used to it. For others, it might elicit slight disappointment, or motivation to do better next time. But for some, it could elicit a complete meltdown. Losing a race could be a traumatic event. To an outside observer, this may seem like an extreme reaction. But what if this individual's whole identity relies on running. In their story, it's not that they lost a single race, it's that they, as a person, are a failure.

Whether it's coaching or working with individuals in the workplace, I've learned that if I want to make inroads in changing behavior (which is all coaching really is), the first step is NOT judgment; it's not to condemn their behavior as outlandish. Rather, the first step is to understand why they see what occurred as a big deal. In other words, I have to do my best to understand their inner narrative. Only then can we have the conversation on shifting to a healthier or more productive approach to whatever it is that we are doing.



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