When the Pursuit of Health Becomes Secondary
Estimated Reading time: 10 minutes
- Once certain health outcomes are met, new challenges must be introduced to prevent stagnation
- Enjoyment in training is derived from the pursuit or something
- Choosing a path of maintenance is only sustainable for some
- The law of diminishing returns dictates that more time must be spent for marginal improvements
- To prevent amotivation from diminishing returns, a pursuit of skill is required
There comes a certain point when an individual has acquired all the physical skills necessary for the purpose of staying ‘healthy,’ that movement becomes a matter of interest, as opposed to a fitness tool. Allow me to explain.
For the majority of the population, physical training is a means of reaching a certain threshold – this threshold being what we biomedically deem as ‘healthy.’ This biomedical view of health is a range of data points that move us closer toward an unwanted threshold. For example, a healthy weight range in terms of BMI might be between 22-26 (BMI itself is not a great individual indicator of health, so is only used for example purposes). An individual who is ‘under’ or ‘over’ this range may begin their physical journey in order to reach the ‘disease-safe’ range.
For most novices, it begins something like this. They are introduced to the fundamentals in resistance training. They do that for a brief period – it works. Then, perhaps they move into the fundamentals of aerobic training. They incorporate that into their workouts. Following the success of the ‘physical movement’ intervention, they are then educated on the necessity of food choices, as well as sleep.
For the sake of this article, let’s say our ideal client has now trained for the better part of 2 years. They are in a very healthy range, their execution of physical, food, and sleep choices are 80% beneficial. You have on your hands a client who is unlikely to ‘fall off the bandwagon’ exempt from catastrophic events in their life.
At this point, what then, becomes the next reason for training? The necessity to ‘train’ for the purpose of ‘being healthy,’ is now removed. So what then, do we focus on? The answer will vary. For a small group of people – they will be happy to maintain their fitness regime as is. But for most, they run into a problem.
Boredom. An important reason for this is thus.
Enjoyment in fitness comes in the pursuit of a goal.
I want to run 2km unbroken.
I want to squat my bodyweight.
I want to touch my toes.
Chasing a goal and maintaining one create two distinctly different psychological states. To chase requires us to strive for better. To maintain requires us to do enough to not regress. One is motivated by improvement. The other, by decline.
So the next necessary question we must ask is – when an individual has reached a ‘healthy threshold’, what can we coaches, do to create another pursuit?
A logical answer could be to strive for greater physical parameters – the most obvious being; increase absolute strength, increase aerobic power, and increased flexibility. However, the disadvantage to this approach is the concept of diminishing returns. The improvements we make are directly proportional to the effort we put in – but only up to a certain threshold. Once this threshold is reached (think moderate to advanced), improvements are disproportionately low compared to the effort invested.
Let’s use the barbell back squat as an example. In order for a complete novice (let’s call him Terrence) who weighs 70kg to squat 100kg may take approximately 12 weeks. Now, in order Terry to squat 140kg – might take another 12 weeks. If the following goal is to squat 180kg, that may take another 18-24 weeks. Do you see how the time spent is now disproportional to the previous time periods?
The problems that arise from this undertaking are numerous, one of which is the need to invest more time for little gain. Unless your client is very time-rich – this is just not a feasible goal. It’s not about whether the client is motivated enough, but rather, if they even have the time to spend on it.
So this begs the question – what can we strive towards that can yield returns without a disproportionate amount of time spent?
The answer as it appears to me – is choosing to pursue physical skill. Skill acquisition largely relies on the formation of motor pathways in the brain. It is easily exhaustible, but also easily recoverable – when executed correctly. We have a body of evidence that suggests practice for 15 minutes a day is adequate to yield good results.
What the skill is, is not nearly as important as what the client perceives to be interesting. It is unnecessary to learn a handstand if there is no intrinsic desire for it. Therefore, it is our role to facilitate a dialogue where an interest is identified – and we aim precisely at that.
A problem we encounter as coaches is that we do not possess the skill ourselves. This is a very normal phenomenon. We can’t possibly know everything. But, we can put ourselves in a position that we know many – and enough to teach what is necessary. Most coaches fall into the delusion that you must be an expert in order to teach something. Striving to be knowledgeable in the area you teach is a great aspiration. But the amount of knowledge should be proportional to the level and aspirations of the learner. Otherwise, it would take you 10 years of weightlifting to even attempt teaching a clean, when you could probably teach the basics of a clean within 6 months of learning yourself.
This is why at the M3 Initiative we have created a diverse range of courses to facilitate your own learning process – so that you may pass this down to your clients. Always remember that teaching is not just about what you know, but also how that message is received. A large component of that is trust in who is teaching them. And that’s you.
Yours in Health and Movement,
The M3 Team