The Pursuit of Perfection can be The Enemy of Progress
The pursuit of perfection is an admirable quest. But perfection, certainly in terms of health, fitness and performance, is a subjective term.
Perfection for a strongman is vastly divergent from that of a triathlete. True perfection is also likely to be unobtainable, however, running towards a finish line that continually shifts is not a futile task if it keeps you in the race and moving forwards.
But the pursuit of perfection is only useful when coupled with actual work. Too many times, including in my own life, have I allowed the pursuit of perfection to be the enemy of progress.
The vast majority of people are not athletes despite what their gym, clothing brand or trainer would have them believe. Athletes are professionals who dedicate their life to the pursuit of performance in a certain field. Their training, resting and eating regime is strict, relentless and focused on a specific goal where even marginal gains can make the difference between Gold and 4th.
I train every day, sometimes twice a day. My work, be it cave diving, freediving, climbing, skydiving or stunts are all very physical and require a certain level of fitness. I have to train for work. I am still not a professional athlete.
So, what does this mean for us / me in training terms? In the past I have spent endless hours reading magazine articles, blogs, even scientific papers on the latest research as to which training programme will work best for me. Is it 5 sets of 5 reps, or 4 of 8 or 3 of 20? I was always trying to discover the optimal, the perfect, training range. However, so much time was spent in research that it impacted how much time I actually spent training.
It’s what psychologists term ‘analysis paralysis’ – too much time thinking not enough doing. The problem was further compounded by the fact that the confusion over which programme to follow created a lack of faith in the training I was conducting, and therefore a decrease in the motivation and focus when it came to turning up and banging it out, because I jumped from one programme to another from week to week, depending on which article I’d read on Sunday night, I lacked one of the fundamentals of training for progress – consistency.
And now for the epiphany – the specific programme was never that important. It didn’t really matter whether I did bench press rather than dumbbell press, not when compared to doing nothing. An imperfect programme consistently pursued with is far superior to the perfect programme you never do, or at least never do properly.
There is a great deal of merit in turning up and working hard. Even if that work is not optimal. Yes I may have made more progress with 5×5 than 4×8, but I’d still have made progress with either as long as I stuck to the programme, trained reliably and put the effort in each session.
For someone trying to shave 0.01 second off their 100m time, the small difference in programme is as important because their effort in each session, their number of sessions per week, their diet, rest and hydration are already on point. For the rest of us… don’t stress about whether you should be taking 5 or 6 grams of BCAA when you’re eating Mars Bars for breakfast. And don’t stress about 4×8 vs 5×5 if you’re only making 2 or your 4 session per week. Get the big stuff right before you fixate on the minutiae.
We live in a world where we are inundated with information (and I appreciate the irony of including this line in a blog). Where we can find endless resources of details and opinions on German Volume Training, Bodyweight Only, Arnold’s Golden 12 or Keto vs Vegan vs Carnivore. And I am not saying that there is not a perfect programme for your goals and your body or a perfect way of eating that will work best for you. My point is stressing about 3×10 vs 4×8 is counter-productive if it interferes with you doing the work with commitment and consistency.
The better course of action is to pick one and do it. You will make progress and over the months and years you will find which program works best for you. But I’d be willing to bet it’s not the one that is most impactful for your body, but the one you enjoy the most. This is the one you’ll invest 100% into each time you show up, and you’ll always show up.
If you want to pursue perfection then alter the definition – Perfection is turning up when you’re meant to and working like you’re supposed to. The rest will follow.