Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Jul

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!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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!

    Primal K@ wrote on July 29th, 2010
  2. 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. :)

    jennifer wrote on July 29th, 2010
  3. It will be instresting to see, I want to get a beach body haha…

    Ashley wrote on July 29th, 2010
  4. 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!

    Laura wrote on July 29th, 2010
  5. 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 incredibly fit 50 year old and helping others get there too.

    Can I ask what Primal Leap is and if you ever run conferences outside the US? The UK needs primal is much as the states – I’d love to be an ambassador for your work and connected with it in some way.

    Thanks for the daily inspiration. Mark

    mark owen-ward wrote on July 30th, 2010
  6. 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.

    Ryan wrote on July 30th, 2010
  7. 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!!

    Jen wrote on July 30th, 2010
  8. 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 lifting the load. :)

    musajen wrote on July 30th, 2010
  9. 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.

    Jota wrote on July 30th, 2010
  10. 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.

    Mike wrote on July 30th, 2010
  11. 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 committing my whole life to it.

    I admit that I have quite an obsessive personality and physical activity is a key part of my lifestyle. Fortunately I have a great fiance to keep me in check.
    I feel strongly about balancing our lives and fitness which motivated me to write this article:

    I hope that others can relate to the message….there is more to life after all isn’t there?

    Luke M-Davies wrote on July 30th, 2010
  12. Hi Mark

    Aaron on your staff to a crack at the long letter I had sent to Karen De Coster & flipped some very useful links on MDA.

    Now I understand “chronic cardio”. Thanks Aaron!

    And from your other posts on low level endurance, it seems that we have come back (almost?) full circle to LSD that David Bedford (`70’s England) popularized? Emphasis on the S part.

    In my letter, I defined my preferred endurance training as a running pace where you are breathing lightly and you feel strong. Almost like you could do it forever.

    That is getting pretty close to your endurance activity posts.

    I just wish I had done that (a lot more often) when I was young…

    Finally in my letter I hypothesized that there was a mutually self-reinforcing relationship between speed strength and endurance strength (improvements in one lead to improvements in the other and vice versa). Then I came across this at the bottom of your post:

    This seems to give some weight to my hypothesis!

    PS In your interview w/ Karen, you really zinged the Ultimate crowd (I am one, played just below the National level)! Ultimate at this level is total “chronic cardio”, even higher (not for as long tho)! You might want to say a light game of Ultimate pick-up or catch or something. Hahahahahahahahaha – this is so funny.

    Iluvatar wrote on July 30th, 2010
  13. thanks mark, im not a slave to the gym anymore…

    jeff wrote on July 31st, 2010
  14. Mark,
    Maintaining a fitness-life balance is very important. You could spend all day and night exercising and eating perfectly but to what end and at what cost? I’d much rather eat healthy most of the time, perform short intense workouts and spend time with my family.

    Dave wrote on July 31st, 2010
  15. I was going to cheekily point out that 80+10+5 is only 95% but then I read on and saw that the last 5% is for people who want to be elite. I guess I’ll save my cheekiness for later.

    I recently got the PB cookbook btw. I am now officially going primal. I’ll let you know how it works out. I’ve already tried the pot roast, and it was >amazing<

    Keep up the good work!

    Jeff wrote on July 31st, 2010
  16. You know Mark,you do have the ability to make me sit back and say, “Yeah. That’s right.” I have to thank you for continuing to remind me that life can be and should be as simple as possible.
    Really appreciate your posts.

    Bryan wrote on August 1st, 2010
  17. Cant wait for PBF. I’ve been eating primal for four months now and it’s only in this last month of July that I’ve been able to properly follow primal fitness as advocated on this site and I can already see huge differences in my body!

    So waiting for PBF to tweak my current workouts and get new ideas.

    Thanks alot Mark!

    Aloka wrote on August 1st, 2010
  18. Since making the switch to a more primal life 17 months ago, I’m already in the best shape of my life from a fitness perspective. I’ve never surfed better because I weigh 150 now instead of 200. (Imagine paddling around with a 45 pound plate from the gym on your back…. AND throw in a 5 too!) I avoid CHRONIC cardio, but not all cardio, I take my bike on the 5 mile round trip to the gym 3 days a week. There’s a hill on that trip that I used to stand up pedal and huff and puff and almost max out my heart rate to get up. Now, I remain seated and just cruise up that same hill. I doubt my heartrate gets over 75% max the entire bike ride. I made a conscious decision to just ENJOY the ride instead of trying to set a new land speed cycling record every time. And the ironic thing is I know I’m FASTER at it anyway… just as an unintended consequence.

    BUT…. with all that being said. I’m unhappy with my “almost there” appearance and 10% bodyfat body. I didn’t set out on this quest to ALMOST get as lean as I want. I want 6 or 7% bodyfat. For pure VANITY. I want that six pack damnit!

    And there is NO EASY way to get that. There’s no “effortless” to it. Mark, if you were able to get as lean as you are effortlessly… JUST by switching to more primal lifestyle, kudos. But undertsand it does NOT work that way for most people. JUST switching to primal foods/exercise/lifestyle I did effortlessly drop the first 40 or so pounds and get down around 15% bodyfat. So I went from fat to normal very easily. But from 15 to 10% has been BRUTALLY difficult. NOT fun. Not only do you have to go primal, you have to count every damn calorie, carb and protein gram. (Ironically you don’t really have to count the fat grams, that’s just “the difference”).

    My natural apetite even eating all primal foods, doesn’t want to let me go below about 15% bodyfat. EVERY ounce of fat loss below that has been through deprivation and HUNGER. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to bed hungry because I’ve already hit 2,000 calories for the day and I’m trying to log at least a 500 calorie defecit each day.

    I don’t want perfection. But I am NOT SATISFIED with your typical American, average white guy, DOUGHY “skinny-fat” body. Even if 15% is very healthy, it looks like shit. I’m going all the way until I see the six-pack. I agree with what you’re saying, but if you have lofty goals, expect HARD WORK and a lofty price.

    fixed gear wrote on August 1st, 2010
  19. Very helpful site. Thanks, I absolutely enjoy reading your post.

    Treatment for Hemorrhoid wrote on November 27th, 2010
  20. There are many inaccurate statements about running as follows:
    1) Requires large amounts of carbs: Only if you eat and train that way. You can train you body to burn fat very quickly. I run 20M-30M every Sunday before breakfast (Carbs less than 10% of my daily intake)
    2)Decreases Efficient Fat Metabolism: I’m just under 10% Body Fat
    3)Inflammation: Maybe you don’t know how to run.
    4)Boring: Maybe you are….well to each his own. I also do sprints – more boring than 30M at 12,000 Feet.

    Truth is, do what you enjoy. You like hanging out at the pool, I enjoy running or mountain biking 20M-30M in the mountains.

    Bill wrote on August 28th, 2011

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