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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 29, 2010

The Cost of “Perfection”

By Mark Sisson
87 Comments

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!

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74 Comments on "The Cost of “Perfection”"

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nathan
6 years 4 months ago

This should be a very interesting read. I read the Primal Blueprint and was really surprised by the focus on slow, easy cardio.

As a competitive strength athlete I can attest that pushing it all the time really beats the body up and can leave you asking why?

Unless you really care about winning I highly recommend a stress free, balanced approach to fitness. It should be fun!

Farley
Farley
6 years 4 months ago

Very cool post!

With work and family being my priority these days, an easy approach to health and lifestyle is why Primal is the way to go for me.

Food choices are a no brainer. Excercise is quick, concise, and effective.

I get my fix in the car listening to podcasts. A Primal Podcast would be an awesome thing Mark!

Cheers,
Farley

Mike Wootini
6 years 4 months ago

I look forward to adding/adjusting my current workout to include PBF to my simplefit/shovelglove workouts.

Resurgent
Resurgent
6 years 4 months ago

Eagerly looking forward to Primal Blueprint Fitness..

Andrea
6 years 4 months ago

I’ve been thinking for a while about how the Pareto’s Principle — 80-20 rule — soooo applies to adopting a healthier lifestyle.

There’s a 20% that’ll bring 80% of the results. The other 80% are the details.

Kelda
6 years 4 months ago
Bravo! This is exactly the point – who wants that last 5%, I tried for it, probably achieved a bit of it, but it nearly killed me and it certainly didn’t make me happy. Just today I exchanged emails with a buddy of mine who has been shifting to Primal (especially with regard to training) over the last six months and I paste below what he said … “I can almost see my season review writing itself even now. After all the years of training in CC I have enjoyed this year so much more and I have more enthusiasm… Read more »
Jenn
Jenn
6 years 4 months ago
What a great (and timely) post! As I get closer to my fitness goals I’ve been thinking a lot about the next step. Do I want to push harder, longer to reach the next level? I’m starting to realize that the level I’m at now is perfect for me. I work hard, but not too long. I feel energized, fit and healthy, and I don’t have to worry about every weight I use or every calorie I put in my mouth. It’s incredibly freeing to be thinking this way after obsessing (and not getting very far) for so many years.… Read more »
Daniel
Daniel
6 years 4 months ago
Good point about food v exercise. It reminds me of a recent Paul Chek seminar titled something like “sporting performance begins and ends with what you eat”. When you think that maybe you eat 20 meals per week opposed to exercising 3 or 4 times per week – which one makes the biggest difference? what you eat now is being metabolized over the next 48+ hours compared to some exercises where the effect last only during the exercise or for a short time after – although sometimes I can feel the effect of a heavy weights session 2+ days later,… Read more »
Ely
Ely
6 years 4 months ago

I am soooo looking forward to PBF!! I am in pretty good shape, but would like to be stronger and also get rid of my lingering belly. 🙂

Ed Griffin
Ed Griffin
6 years 4 months ago
After reading you almost daily for a year and a half this post really sums up how I feel about fitness now. The problem now is convincing all of my friends and family that their constant obsession with the next marathon or triathlon or bike race and the hours of training that comes with it maybe isn’t the best and healthiest way to live…that it’s ok to play and that just because I am not signed up for the next marathon like I used to be I am still pursuing a healthy lifestyle. This ride the last year or so… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 4 months ago

I’ve stopped trying to convince anyone, just enjoy the results myself and let my example do the talking, as for the urge to compete, just go with the flow, if you want to, do, I’ve still been ‘competing’ but using Primal eating and training to support it, and you know what a) I enjoy it far, far more and b) I feel the need to do less and less to be honest, and to do different things. It’s all about enjoyment not denial.

Rebecca
Rebecca
6 years 4 months ago

I identify with you completely, Ed. I too am surrounded by friends training for the next big race. After all, until recently, I was one of those addicted people too. In fact, no one believes me when I tell them I don’t work out like that anymore. However, I am calmer and less wound up from constant physical pursuits. Not to mention, I have more free time. I would say to your temptation to race – try a new sport as a casual thing. I have found that helpful to distract me from my desire to run long distances.

Ed Griffin
Ed Griffin
6 years 4 months ago

Thanks for the suggestions Rebecca and Kelda. I am trying to find other things to do to satisfiy my urge to compete. I think the competitive side of me still wants to go out and prove to everyone that I still have it and that I can compete with all my friends and family. I wish I could get all of them to come play a fun game of ultimate with me.

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 4 months ago

I know a guy at work who works out before a date to look good in his Ed Hardy T-shirt. The last time I checked, no girl went home with a guy because he had the most vascular pair of guns!

Mr. Joshua
Mr. Joshua
6 years 4 months ago

I guess you’ve never seen an episode of “Jersey Shore”! (Just kidding, I haven’t either.)

Jen
Jen
6 years 4 months ago

_Immediately_ before the date? All that does is make him sweaty! (Works for some gals… not me…)

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 4 months ago

Jen, 23.1555567 minutes before the date.

Jenny
Jenny
6 years 4 months ago

Ah yes. Adequate time to de-sweat. (Sweat is part of the fun for certain Grokkian activities of course, but not usually the beginning…)

frank
frank
6 years 4 months ago

Hahaha thats halarious!

Corey
Corey
6 years 4 months ago
Mark, I can hardly wait until you reveal the PBF. So far I have lost 25lbs in 3 months and just now (about a month ago) started following your 7 day workout routine using the 15 minute workout for HIIT & bodyweight exercises for lifting heavy things. I am in the best shape of my life and I am just getting started! I love the fact that I can achieve a better looking, better feeling me by doing so little. With a wife and kids, time is very valuable to me and this lifestyle fits the bill. Thanks!
Pamela
Pamela
6 years 4 months ago

Do I have to resign to get the workouts since I already get the newsletters?

Lori
Lori
6 years 4 months ago
Mark, I’ve been working out a gym for almost 3 years, doing the same old workouts, and lost 65 pounds. But I’ve been trying to lose the last 25 for nearly 2 years! Hence, I found your site and switched to Primal eating about 3 weeks ago. And I’m really glad I did — I haven’t felt this good in years! Here’s my question — I also recently started CrossFit (well, I have to modify or do substitutions for nearly everything but the running due to lack of proper equipment and just lack of strength). Will your Workouts of the… Read more »
Julie
Julie
6 years 4 months ago

I’m so excited for PB fitness! I’ve been slowly converting friends and family by sending them links to your site and preparing foods for them from the PB cookbook. Hoping this is the final nudge that some of them need!

Mr. Joshua
Mr. Joshua
6 years 4 months ago

Thanks Mark for all the wonderful information you provide. I can’t wait to begin Primal Blueprint Fitness!

Aaron
Aaron
6 years 4 months ago

Can’t wait to see your take on it. I’m curious to see how equipment intensive it’s going to be. Hopefully requiting (ie taking advantage of) some heavy barbell movements.

Again I’m super excited. (you should consult Robb wolf for ideas/implementation)

Pam
Pam
6 years 4 months ago

I really enjoy reading MDA, so much that, I keep going to the page hoping that Mark got up super early one morning and posted it earlier (I work from 6 a.m to 2:30 p.m and get caught up in my work too quickly). I am so excited for the PBF to become a tangible item!!!!

Mr. Anderson
6 years 4 months ago
I’m just finishing up my first round of P90X and after 13 weeks of going hard an hour at a time, 6 days a week… I’m just burnt the heck out! I think its a great “boot camp” type of program, and I’ve lost over 30 pounds on it (while also eating Primal)… but it has seriously OWNED me for the past 80+ days, it eats into my time with my family, its prevented vacations, and has it been worth it? For the short term, yes. Long term though, I need something that I can do quickly, enjoy, and involve… Read more »
Gabe
Gabe
6 years 4 months ago
Interesting post, Mark. As with many other areas that require discipline, I now have trouble exercising only in moderation, and I’m wondering if any other MDA readers find this to be true for themselves as well. After almost 3 years of eating Primally and exercising regularly but not not extremely, I found myself hitting a wall in body composition and started CrossFit. Once I had a 300 lb deadlift, all I could think about was 400, and when that was achieved, 500. I’m really enjoying the journey, but I sometimes wonder where it’s all headed. Of course, not having a… Read more »
Stephanie Vincent
6 years 4 months ago
Thanks Mark. I am a crossfitter, but far from the elite athlete. I have had amazing results from crossfitting 3x week. As most of you out there no crossfit workout are short! I think the most importnant part of fitness is FUN and ENJOYMENT! if your not having fun what’s the point? I have discovered after 30 years that i LOVE lifting heavy things and LOVE INTENSITY. So crossfit is the perfect fit for the FUN factor (for me) I workout because I LOVE MY BODY (not to lose weight of change it) I accept whatever body I get from… Read more »
Michelle Matangi
6 years 4 months ago

Hey Mark, awesome post and I think PBF is just what I need! Thanks, Michelle 🙂

Darrin
6 years 4 months ago
Stellar post, Mark. I’ve been posting a lot on my fitness philosophy at my blog the past couple weeks and am happy to see we are both on the same page in many ways. When it comes to fitness – as opposed to athleticism, which I view as fitness for fitness’s sake – I believe there are four reasons why we should strive to make it a priority: to increase sexual attraction, increase status, increase energy while reducing illness and injury, and increase lifespan. Unfortunately, these things don’t scale linearly with the time, effort, and money put into them. When… Read more »
David
David
6 years 4 months ago

Can’t wait. Hurry up and release it, Mark!

Eddy
Eddy
6 years 4 months ago
Good post. But I find it hard to completely agree in my case. I just want to get bigger! Im so skinny. You say 80% of your body composition is what you eat. I have low body fat but obviously can’t eat my way to muscles. I’ve been doing two intense lifting sessions per week for several months. Im totally about not getting obsessed with perfection so dont do more than this, but despite lifting heavier weight see no improvement in muscle gain. I eat right and exercise but can’t reach my goal. I know many would envy me being… Read more »
Suvetar
Suvetar
6 years 4 months ago

Try adding raw milk to your diet if you haven’t yet.

I go through 2 gallons of raw goat’s milk every week for about 6 weeks now. My 4 small dental cavities filled in and my weight is stable. Weight started coming off fast eating primal and raw goat milk stopped the weight loss. I feel stronger, tougher and my overall skeletal looks broader. Noticable at my shoulders and collar bone.

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 4 months ago

Mark, what’s your opinion on taking up some strongman training? Not competitively, but training that way for more functional strength.

Barry Weidner
6 years 4 months ago

Can’t wait for PBF!

Iluvatar
6 years 4 months ago
Hi Mark – a first time poster here (although I must admit that I have read in detail several of your post topics) Couple of quick things: I read with interest your interview w/ Karen De Coster on LRC.com end of last week and then posted a short response to her directly, it can be found here: http://karendecoster.com/primal-dissent-my-dialogue-with-mark-sisson.html I then developed a much longer response since my takeaway from that interview was a denial of endurance strength conditioning. After reading your note here, and the sublink on “moving freq’ly at slow pace”, now I am confused. I e-mailed my longer… Read more »
Will
Will
6 years 4 months ago

Thank you Mark. Haven’t enjoyed any post as much since primal perparation for the post-nuclear age one a few months back.

Primal Toad
6 years 4 months ago

This is pretty exciting! I can not wait to see what PBF is all about. It will be a life changer I am sure!

Suvetar
Suvetar
6 years 4 months ago
You can try all you want to be 100% perfect but if you weren’t born to primal parents you will probably never be 100%. Every person I come across has some degree of cranial deformities from an underdeveloped maxillary bone. It makes breathing difficult, worsens eyesights, gives eye pains, crowded teeth and therefor dental and jaw pain. These things can’t be corrected with a primal diet. I have healed everything from rheumatoid arthritis, brittle nails, degenerative lower back disc disease but nothing I do affects my facial bone. I have now found a web site http://www.facialdevelopment.com which can correct dental… Read more »
Peggy
Peggy
6 years 4 months ago

So, will the PBF be available for Wii?

hahaha, just kidding 😉

can’t wait!

Neil
Neil
6 years 4 months ago
Mark, Another great post stressing the importance of reducing stress. (I assume that) We are all greatful that you put in that last 5% for us when you do your research and scrutinize your PB claims! Hopefully the powerful community of healthy people you are helping to create far outweighs any daily stress you may incur as a result. To answer the question, I would likely stop pushing myself harder the moment I feel that it is disrupting my relationships with other people. That is one of the main reasons (along with lifting heavy objects and sprinting) I do CrossFit.… Read more »
Maria
Maria
6 years 4 months ago
I check my emails everyday hoping to see your PBF! I did P90X too and it had such a bad impact on my time, family, mood and all the things that are important to me. Obviously it was my choice to do it but as a new mum I desperately wanted to do something for me and to make me look and feel better. With your help my health and fitness journey has become attainable and fun. Mark you must be an amazing person and it must give you so much personal satisfaction watching so many people achieve a better… Read more »
Laurie D.
6 years 4 months ago
Can’t wait to get this! I need the kickstart and this is perfect timing. I’m looking forward to the Primal Leap, too! I thought about this insane chronic cardio world today as I walked along the bike path by the beach and saw people jogging and biking past me with agonized looks on their faces and decked out in the latest bike/running fashions along with ankle, knee, calf, elbow braces. Sad. I, in the meantime, walked 2 miles up the bike path in my VFFs and loose shorts and t-shirt, crossed over the dune path to the ocean and returned… Read more »
Anthony U
Anthony U
6 years 4 months ago

I am already receiving a weekly news letter from you. Is the fitness email separate from this? I am reading PB right now and I just received the cookbook. I haven’t started the program yet but I am working towards it. My problem is getting the motivation to get to the gym at the end of the day. I say everyday I am going but by the end of the day I am whipped. Please let me know if it is a separate email. Thanks

Anthony U
Anthony U
6 years 4 months ago

Just read a post up above with the same question. So its been answered. But I would love some advice on how to get going on this.

Mike Cheliak
6 years 4 months ago

Like all of your work Mark, this one should prove to be just as informative, insightful and very useful. I look forward to it!

Jerry
Jerry
6 years 4 months ago

Any form of perfection is a waste of time. Nothings perfect in the first place, so nothing you desire is perfect at the same time.

Primal K@
6 years 4 months ago

I am so incredibly excited for this, ever since Mark hinted at the prospect of a PB Fitness!

I also check my emails everyday hoping to see your PBF!

P90x gave me some good results, but it’s just too time consuming. I want to live! Super stoked!

jennifer
6 years 4 months ago

i love this post. it’s perfect. well, y’know…close enough. it’s exactly what i needed today. i don’t know how you do it, but i thank you for writing these posts JUST FOR ME. 🙂

Ashley
Ashley
6 years 4 months ago

It will be instresting to see, I want to get a beach body haha…

Laura
Laura
6 years 4 months ago

Thank you! Very good post that just reminded me of the basics – I have a tendency to sometimes make things way too difficult for myself causing unnecessary stress and disappointment from time to time. Yes, this is an enjoyable lifestyle and the rest will follow, hurrah!

mark owen-ward
6 years 4 months ago
Hi mark I love this website – it’s my top read and has changed my life. I have the book, just received the cookbook (here in the UK), i’ve bought the t-shirt and most importantly, I’m living and breathing the lifestyle. Looking forward to primal fitness. Would be great to see more of what you do in Europe. I’m also a great fan of erwan le corre (MovNat) who is French but he’s moved to the USA! Argh! I’m not 45 and feel stronger and fitter that at almost any point in my life. I’m looking forward to being an… Read more »
Ryan
6 years 4 months ago

Mark,

You are on fire lately! So many people out there have the best intentions and probably work “harder at it” than most primal folks. I used to be one but now life is easier and simpler in the primal style.

Jen
Jen
6 years 4 months ago

I am really looking forward to this! I’ve been doing training for a few 5K’s this year, but don’t want to end up being ‘chronic cardio’. I try to do sprinting and heavy lifting to mix it up….having a PB fitness will be awesome!! Mark, you rock!!

musajen
musajen
6 years 4 months ago
This post just lifted a weight off my shoulders. Between a self-imposed pressure to start exercising again and being at a loss as to where to start, I’ve been feeling like a deer caught in the headlights. “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….” That quote, the permission to keep it simple, and the PBF will be the perfect nudge to get moving again. Thanks for… Read more »
Jota
Jota
6 years 4 months ago

Mark, I got a laugh out of your 1400 pound powerlifting total. Over a decade ago when I was 19, I could total 1700 and was 6′ and 235 pounds.

Good article, especially given that our priorities and needs (not to mention our recovery capabilities) change as we age. The way we each define “perfection” evolves throughout our lives.

Mike
6 years 4 months ago

Mark, this is the post I’ve been waiting for. Real interested to see what these “WOW” workouts look like, and then put them through their paces.

Been kind of “adrift” workout-wise lately, with a mix of Crossfit, Wendler, and Westside (how’s that for a combo?,) with decent results, but I want to establish more of a go-to routine for a while. WOW may be the answer.

Looking forward to it. Thanks for the always great commentary.

Luke M-Davies
6 years 4 months ago
I love this post Mark – ‘Eat Primal and you’re almost there.’ Years ago when I tore my major pec tendon and was out of action for 6 months, I really learnt the power of nutrition and was able to stay lean by eating a primal diet – I couldn’t believe that I didn’t gain any fat (in fact I lost some) and was doing no running! I live in the city now, and people live such a rushed lifestyle. This has motivated me to develop my Rule Free fitness tools, which enable me to stay lean and fit without… Read more »
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