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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The 98% Solution

This week, on Frank Forenich's GoAnimal newsletter, he talked about The 98% Solution. Frank raises an important point. Too many people focus on the little things rather than committing themselves to the big things. I regularly read guys on the forums that ask about using creatine, protein powders, L-glutamine, and every other supplement under the sun, but most of them haven't taken the big task of getting their diet in order. They want to fix their poor diet (the big thing) with supplements (the little things).

There is a similar focus in fitness on the pretty muscles, the extremities. Most teenage and college age males want "big guns" and "HYYUGE pecs" because that's what attracts the honeys. But few of them put in the work to have a strong, powerful body with the big lifts: squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press, and pullups. They're stuck with 15 variations of curls and 6 different cable exercises to hit the chest. But as the saying goes, "you can't fire cannons out of a rowboat". Isolation training produces lots of sizzle, but little in the way of steak. The pretty muscles unfortunately tend to be those in the front of the body that can be easily seen in the mirror: abs, pecs, and biceps. However, the muscles in the back, shoulders, and hamstrings are just as important for overall athleticism. Sprinting requires much more input from the hamstrings than from the quadriceps. You can typically tell which guys focus on the mirror and which focus on true athleticism. The "pretty" guy will tend to have a rounded, hunched look, typical of an overemphasis on the chest with little effort to shore up the back, whereas an athlete has shoulders back and stands tall, chest open and up. This overemphasis on the chest and anterior muscles is not only nonathletic, but also results in muscle imbalances that can be injurious.

So what is the 98%? If you focus on high quality nutrition, plenty of sleep, a low stress lifestyle, and exercising the main movers of the body, you'll be one hellaciously fit person. What would I consider to be the 2%? Supplements (other than fish oil is part of "high quality nutrition"), intermittent fasting, isolation exercises, etc. If you aren't eating a diet focused on whole natural foods, getting 8 hours of sleep per night, taking fish oil, drinking plenty of water, keeping alcohol and sugar intake low, and exercising vigorously, all of the 2% in the world isn't going to help you.