Jurassic Park is both one of my favorite movies and books. Naturally, if I have an excuse to tie it to a fitness concept, I will. While we could go pretty deep in discussing the themes and messages of the film, the idea I’d like to discuss today is this:
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
I’ve done a lot of stupid shit i.e. things I was able to do, but probably shouldn’t have.
A few years ago, I was completely obsessed with becoming an amateur MMA fighter, with the delusional hope of going pro one day. Why? Truth be told, I think I needed something to focus on, to feel like I had direction, when in reality I had no idea what the hell I was doing. That along with some body image issues that I had harbored since I was a teenager certainly didn’t help, or add any clarity. I was really insecure about the size ratio of my lower to upper body; I felt my thighs were way too gigantic and my upper body was narrow and disproportionately small. Add to that, Muay thai fighters usually have skinnier legs(or legs that my dysmorphia perceived as skinnier) which makes it easier to whip around their legs like baseball bats. This perpetuated my dislike for my thighs(I hate the way they look AND they’re preventing me from kicking faster!? Gah! Fuck you genetics!)
As an aside, once I started squatting and deadlifting and realizing what large legs are good for, my legs became something I became proud of. They made me feel strong, as opposed to misshapen.
At any rate, I never considered these motives which I could only see in retrospect. I just picked a direction and decided to charge at it with all I had. In my eyes, this meant I had to the sacrifice EVERYTHING else. Balance was for suckers. I viewed balance as the enemy, and that if I was going to succeed I needed to work harder than anyone else, be stricter and more disciplined than anyone else. Most importantly, I felt I couldn’t afford to slip up with my training or my nutrition, ever. Genetics and age be damned, hard work trumps all.
During this time, I was immensely hard on myself. I put myself in complete isolation from the outside world. The outside world yielded temptations that would hold me back: going to bed later, eating “unclean” meals, drinking, missing training sessions– basically anything fun. All of these things were the forbidden fruit that I knew I would succumb to if confronted by them.
My solution was to avoid them, regardless of the cost. The cost was my happiness and friendships. Truly, I missed out on a lot. And I while I can’t say I fully regret this time as I definitely learned a lot, I regret all the time that I could have been growing closer to old friends as opposed to more distant. Furthermore, I didn’t give new friends or relationships a chance. It was a very lonely time for me.
I was cognizant of these sacrifices, but I told myself that that’s the nature of excellence; you must make sacrifices. And I still believe that, but what I didn’t realize was that those sacrifices weren’t worth it for me.
Little by little this became clear as I came to terms with how unhappy I was making myself. I was tired of bringing Ziploc bags of almonds to the bar, consequently feeling like an outsider among my friends. I was tired of feeling envious of people who could just have a cheeseburger and beer without the emotional hangups I had. I was tired of constantly getting injured and realized that I didn’t want to be grow old and be a wreck, riddled with pains, and have no champion belt to show for it.
Over time, I started making cuts to my uber strict training and nutrition regimen, forcing myself to let go. And each time I cut something out I felt anxious.
What if I lose my gains?
What do I do with all that time?
Who will I BE AS A PERSON if I quit? I don’t want to be a quitter! This is all I’ve known for so long.
These fears lingered as a knot in my stomach until I started making better progress(not to mention actually enjoying life more) to which I realized, ”Holy shit I’ve been doing this all wrong!”.
I stopped training twice a day, and eventually cut my training down to 2 days of Jiu Jitsu and 2 days of lifting a week, which is still a ton of training. Both of those activities are intense and require a lot of recovery time. However, compared to my earlier regimen it felt like I was slacking off.
My injuries started to heal and a funny thing happened: my performance went up–I start fighting better and oh yeah, I was much happier as I started to get my life back
This was a pretty big lightbulb for me. The practices that I thought would quicken progress were actually holding me back. The lack of balance was making it hard to walk forward.
It wasn’t easy to make that cut though. I felt a lot of anxiety at first about letting go of my regimen. At the time, my regimen was where I got my sense of identity. Initially I cut back simply to prevent overtraining, so that I could get closer to my goal. However, as I started to change course, it became easier to think of my training and life differently. It threw a wrench in the works and the tunnel vision started to subside.
That was when I really started to think about balance and sustainability and all of the ideas I promote on this blog. This realization that the best way to make progress was to balance training with the rest of life was huge. Then I started thinking about what I actually valued, and what I actually wanted to get out of martial arts and exercise.
I could say much more about this journey of mine, but this is already dangerously close to becoming a journal entry. Back to dinosaurs.
Now, this was my own specific experience, but the principle can be applied to different contexts. There are many things we can do in our attempts towards our fitness goals, doesn’t mean we ought to do them. Just because we can push ourselves harder on a short term or long term basis doesn’t mean we should, or even that we need to.
Just because I could train for MMA every waking moment of my existence doesn’t mean I should have. Just because I could revolve my life, to the point of obsessive compulsion, around building an optimal diet, doesn’t mean I should have. Just because I could make myself miserable for my goals, doesn’t mean I should have. Just because I could engineer some sweet dinosaurs, doesn’t mean I should have.
Experience is a great teacher, but we still have to keep our eyes open because the lessons are easy to miss.
The specific lesson learned from my own story, was predominantly that more isn’t necessarily better. This is a very important lesson for sure. However, this is just one story and one lesson learned.
More broadly than that I think we ought to start analyzing our fitness with in Velociraptors in mind(OK, I know the V-raptors in the movies are more like Deinonychuses, as real life Velociraptors were like 3 feet tall, but whatever). Should I really have Velociraptors at my amusement park?
Weighing the potential risks and the potential benefits can be quite helpful. Everything has costs and benefits. We only have so much room in our suitcase,* and I sure as shit can’t fit a dinosaur in there with all this deadlifting.
*Suitcase rule: Think of your training/life relationship like a suitcase. When you travel you only have so much space in your suitcase, and everything you put in your suitcase affects everything else in your suitcase. Furthermore, I’m not going to bring every pair of shoes I own, just the ones I think I’ll need. It would be folly to bring more shoes and not have room for underwear and socks. Same goes with training and life. Everything we do has an effect on everything else.
Periodically sitting down and asking ourselves, “What am I doing? What are my goals? Why are these goals important to me? Is this working for me, and is this worth it?” can get us pretty far.
If my goal is to squat more weight, my workout should help me squat more weight; I should be getting stronger.
And if I am getting stronger, what are the costs? Am I so beat up from squatting that I can’t go hiking on weekends, or socialize with friends or(insert something important that’s impacted by a training/diet program)? Are my joints hurting? Is there a way to reach the same goal without sacrificing as much? Is my squat goal conflicting with other, maybe more important, priorities and values?
This is the macro view. The micro view entails looking at individual workouts and asking the, “I can, but should I?” question fairly often.
Yes, I could juggle kettlebells and rabid weasels on a bosu, but should I?
I could go a lot heavier today, but should I?
I could do a few more reps, but should I?
Had I sat down in front of a mirror and been brutally honest about my priorities and values sooner, I probably would’ve started down the path to balance sooner, and my rotator cuff would probably feel a bit more solid.
To summarize, on a daily basis we can ask things like, “I know that I can squat 50 more pounds today, but should I?” And on a grander scale actually reevaluating our goals, priorities and actions and seeing if they line up.
We all make mistakes, and will continue to do so. However, by asking ourselves the right questions we can get the benefits of mistakes(learning) whilst making less of them.
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