Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I want it all!

Posted by PicasaPut your training into perspective. Here is another excerpt from "Winning Ways: How to succeed in the gym and out"

Self-Canceling combinations.

"I want to get huge, shredded, strong- I want it all." It's a familiar refrain, and it would seem that with a little creativity and a lot of effort, it's possible to pull it off. As you know, however, appearances can be deceiving. As much as you might like to believe you can have everything, you can't. In fact, the best way to get nowhere is to try to get everywhere at once.

It's easy to see why you can be led down the path to the everywhere-nowhere syndrome: every day images of everything from pro bodybuilding victories to Olympic gold medals are around to tantalize you. One moment you may be captivated by someone winning the World's Strongest Man competition, and the next you may be thinking triathlons. Left, right, up, down: add them all up and you land just where you started. That's the problem with trying to combine too many things or, more important, things that work in opposition to each other. It's those self-canceling combinations that can really block your progress.

Let's oversimplify things just to illustrate a point. To get bigger, you need to consume more calories than you burn; to get leaner, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn; Thus, when you simultaneously want to get bigger and leaner, you should eat more calories than you burn and you should eat fewer calories than you need. That's the classics self-canceling combination- whatever you do  in one direction is offset by what you do in the opposite direction, so you end up where you started. It certainly is possible to simultaneously increase muscle mass and decrease fat, but the point remains that some goals are easier to combine than others, and some goals are largely mutually exclusive. It's the mutually exclusive goals that you need to learn to manage, not just for your physical progress, but also for your peace of mind. 

At the heart of these conflicting goals is the unwillingness to make choices- after all, if the game show host only lets you choose one of three possible doors, your decision automatically requires you to give up the other two. In real life, with nobody enforcing rules like that, you want to try to open all three doors- at once no less. Part of the problem here is just knowing, or not knowing, what you want most. You can argue that one of the best ways to figure out the answer to that question is to give things a try, to see how they work for you.

The first thing to realize is that no choice, no matter what you think, is going to be perfect, and as long as whatever you choose isn't lethal, you can probably correct your course if you want to. Most people stumble in the first part of the process because its too easy to get fooled when we consider things like potential goals. Research psychologists talk about "focusing illusion" when people make judgments. You make focus on something that's actually inconsequential, or you may exaggerate how much something will change your life. For example, you may think that if you can add five inches of muscle to your upper arm, your whole life will change for the better, but what you may find is that having a bigger upper arm means just that: your upper arm is several inches bigger than it used to be. You didn't get smarter, better-looking, more merciful, or anything else that's good in the process-your arm just got bigger. Sometimes that's exactly what happens, and you can imagine the cold showers awaiting all the commercially ambitious Olympic gold medalists who didn't end up on the Wheaties box or with a Coke contract.

The point is not to denigrate any goal you may have but to make it easier to pick your goals by realizing that nothing is perfect- and that the concept works in both directions: whatever you give up isn't likely to be the be-all and end-all any more than whatever you choose is. Once you realize that, you can lighten up on yourself a little and use the breathing room to pick one goal or maybe a couple that go together. You may decide to train for size and strength at once, but combinations such as simultaneously trying to gain weight and run a faster marathon don't mix.

In a word that has a lot of compelling choices, sometimes it's hard to pick one while giving up another. The way out, you think, is to mix a little of this with a little of that- a reasonable approach, as long as you avoid self-canceling combinations.
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