There is this high level concept in good coaching which basically can be summarized “lesser of two evils.” That is, there are times where a certain unproductive or counterproductive type of exercise appeals to someone. It doesn’t inherently or directly help. But it keeps the person plugged in. It "scratches an itch." And that itch-scratching keeps them plugged in. Staying plugged in probably bodes better than inactivity.
Think chronic long distance endurance training. Especially when stacked against strengthening and mobility, it’s at least wasteful as far as time and energy invested per unit of benefit gleaned. Does it shorten your life? Maybe. But if the person really enjoys it, it keeps him or her plugged in. And there’s an implicit and indirect benefit from that even when it’s inherently deleterious.
So that’s cool that you want to scratch your itch. But acknowledge what’s going on; and stop indicating that people who don’t adopt your inefficient and possibly-harmful style are failing. People don't need to become runners if they don't want. People don't need to become cyclists if they don't want. People don't even need to get fitter if they don't want. And if they do want, they don't need to adopt YOUR style.
Give me an elite endurance athlete; and I can run them through a very basic workout which will destroy them in less than 7 minutes. They scratch an itch. That’s all. And perhaps it’s beneficial for them in that it keeps them plugged in. This says nothing of inherent value. It says nothing of strength. It says nothing of power. It says nothing of mobility. It says nothing of balance.
Yesterday a strategy coaching client showed up for his monthly coaching appointment. We review stress management, sleep patterns, career trajectory, workplace dynamics, and... yes, on occasion, we will do physical assessments and nutrition patterning. At our last two appointments we agreed that he would benefit from the camaraderie and frequency of training at a local group circuit training gym. Months ago, I had warned him that, if he didn’t at least train heavy structural lifts on his own once per week, circuit training CAN make you LESS FIT. He gave an "I understand" nod.
Fast forward back to today, and we’re reviewing; and everything seems peachy. And he wondered if we could revisit technique on a fundamental lift (which they never perform at max effort at this circuit training place). HE. LOST. STRENGTH. And not a little. Try 110lbs.
Now, does this render my recommendation on going there moot? I argue no. I knew it would happen. We traded optimal fitness for attainable execution. The place is serving its purpose. It scratches an itch. It gets him to move 5 days a week at least. He was floundering purely on his own. At least in the group circuits he's consistent, likely improving cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance.
There is a danger here. People often don’t even know they're scratching an itch. They certainly don't know they will lose some physical capabilities while they become more consistent with others. Therefore, they don’t realize they're in a lesser of two evils. They just think it’s good; and the opposite was bad.
Even worse is that other people won’t even scratch their own itch. They’re busy trying to assume the suboptimal program of someone else, some pontificator of scratchiness. Again, think chronic endurance training. These guys and gals are continuously preaching at the layperson that repetitive motion IS fitness.
This is ubiquitous, by the way. Almost everyone I’ve ever done initial consult with leads the conversation with activities they dislike. “I know I’m supposed to do 45 minutes of cardio,” they’ll say. “I know you’re going to tell me to ________ ,” they’ll say. Nope. No. I am absolutely not going to tell you anything you’ve heard preached before. I’m just going to listen. And WE are going to DISCOVER (no telling) the balance between inherently optimal and scratching YOUR itch.
There is a secondary or tertiary benefit to scratching an itch, as it creates a landscape of mini goal-setting, motivation, engagement, and so forth. The only thing potentially wrong with it is if you don’t know and you don’t acknowledge it. So, find your itch. Scratch it. AND realize what you're actually doing.
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