The Cost of “Perfection”

What does it take to achieve fitness perfection (if there is such a thing)? Or posed in a more personal way, what would you have to do to reach your ultimate genetic potential? Consider that for a moment. What comes to mind? Enormous time commitment. Steely resolve. Pain. Suffering. Sacrifice. Blood, sweat and tears. Yes, if you want to be a pro athlete, make the Olympic team, keep up with Lance or Phelps, or even just make a 1400 pound powerlifting total (bench, squat, dead), you’ll probably have to give your life over to the pursuit of your goal. You’d give up free time lost to the gym and the track. There would be missed opportunities at spending quality time with friends and family. Not to mention the injuries, the physical wear-and-tear and the toll of applying constant stress to a compromised immune system.

Here’s the thing, though. For most people, all that hard work is largely unnecessary and there is a more effective, balanced, and simpler approach to fitness.

For most folks, the ones who want to bang out consecutive pull-ups, climb several flights of stairs without losing their breath, go on a three-hour hike for fun, run a few miles if they feel like it, keep up in pick-up games of [insert sport here], go skiing/snowboarding/surfing/waterskiing, or just generally be comfortable dealing with the physical demands of everyday life, a little bit of efficient, targeted, concise activity goes a long way. I’d even say that most people have far more to lose than they do to gain by throwing themselves into a hardcore fitness regimen – the type that monopolizes your time, inhabits your thoughts, and forces you to reconstruct your life to accommodate its presence.

My whole outlook on health, fitness, and nutrition is founded upon the notion that it doesn’t have to be difficult to be healthy. I’d even say that obsessing over eating and exercising turns the process into just another stressor we have to deal with, and reducing stress is just as important to our health as staying active and eating right. In my opinion, then, keeping things simple isn’t an option for Primal folks; it’s the only way to do it. It’s the whole game. It has to be easy, simple, and effortless to work. There’s no point in making yourself miserable just to lose weight or pump out a few more reps, when following a few simple fitness rules, eating right, and tinkering with some easy lifestyle hacks will get you most of the way there. To break it down further:

  • 80 percent of your genetic potential for body composition is determined by what you eat. You’ve probably heard me say this in the past. Eat Primal and you’re almost there.
  • Five more percent of your body composition can be further influenced by how much sleep and leisure time you get and how you moderate your stress levels. Lifestyle stuff.
  • 10 more percent of your genetic potential for body composition will come from smart exercise: Lifting Heavy Things, Sprinting, and Moving Frequently at a Slow Pace.

With minimal effort and time commitment, conducting a Primal Blueprint Fitness routine of bodyweight exercises, sprints, and low level movement will take you to the next level of your genetic potential, after achieving tremendous results through Primal eating and lifestyle. Sounds easy, right? It is, and that’s the whole point!

  • The final five percent of your potential body composition/physical performance is achieved with more advanced training and highly specialized athletic goals. We’re getting into hours-long gym session, pain and punishment territory.

Can we really call our conventional ideas of physical perfection perfect if they come with so many downsides for so many people? What good is “elite” if maintaining that level of performance means you’re not available to enjoy the rest of your life? Is that last five percent really necessary? Do you need that eight-pack, or is the six-pack good enough?

The point here is that you can get huge results with minimal effort and that incremental improvements beyond that demand a disproportionate amount of effort and commitment, and a come with host of other downsides.

If elite performance is your ultimate goal in life, then sure, go that extra mile and give it all you’ve got. Some people truly derive happiness and fulfillment (and, if they’re lucky, a living) from the pursuit of extreme physicality, and to those folks, I say godspeed. I was one of them for many years, but that changed when I realized the cost-benefit ratio of my endurance lifestyle was becoming severely imbalanced. Don’t let me stop you, but heed my words of caution all the same.

In just a couple weeks, I’ll be releasing Primal Blueprint Fitness (for free, of course). It will flesh out all the things I’ve hinted at in this post and in the past by presenting a fitness plan that is sustainable, simple, effective, and smart. It’s designed to work for the people who want a good strength-bodyweight ratio, to look good naked, and be fit enough to go for a long hike or run a 10k at a moment’s notice. It will provide steady, measured progression, but also variety in the form of constantly shifting Workouts of the Week (WOWs) to be posted each Monday here at Mark’s Daily Apple. It will make you work hard, but you won’t work long. It will stress intensity over volume and quality over quantity. In short, it’s designed to get the most people the fittest they can be in the shortest amount of time possible. PBF may not make elite athletes out of you, but, along with diet, lifestyle, and stress-mitigation, it will get you 95% of the way there. From that point, you can take things up a notch to reach that elite level, or you can chill out and enjoy a long, active existence.

And so, I ask once more: Is attaining elite physical performance worth the costs incurred along the way? For me, for most of you, and for anyone who just wants to be healthy and stay active for life, the answer is a resounding no.

Don’t give into the same flawed Conventional Wisdom for your fitness plan that you’ve already rejected with regards to Chronic Cardio – that more is necessarily better. In my estimation, there is a better way. One that defines fitness in the broader context of overall health and life quality. One that delivers impressive results with simple, novel hacks. And I’m confident all this can be achieved through PBF. In the coming weeks, you’ll have the chance to try it on for size. Until then, Grok on!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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