Picture a house with absolutely filthy exterior basement windows, the kind that just barely peek out above ground level. The owner can’t see through the things, and they need a thorough washing. He could grab the bucket and a rag and squat or kneel down to commence cleaning. He could make it easy on himself, but for some bizarre reason, he doesn’t.
Instead, he spends the entire day slaving away with a shovel and a pick axe, hacking at the earth to loosen it and shoveling the loose dirt out. A deep hole appears, about eight feet in depth and wide enough to accommodate him and a ladder. In goes the ladder, and he follows with the wash bucket and rag. Dirty, grimy, sweaty, and disheveled, he ascends the ladder to finally reach the basement windows. He manages to clean them, but his alternate self in a parallel universe – that guy who decided to just kneel down to wash the windows – has clean windows, a killer tan from spending hours at the beach doing pushups and sprints, a couple racks of ribs on the barbecue, and a nice glass of Cab paired with a wedge of French brie. He enjoyed his day, while the ladder enthusiast had to work for hours just to arrive at the same point.
At the end of the day, the windows are clean in both instances. But which method made the most sense? Which method featured a whole lot of redundant BS, and which method allowed for plenty of free time?
“Diggin’ a hole to install a ladder to wash the basement windows” is a phrase I love to use to describe the inanity and redundancy of contemporary conceptions of fitness. Sometimes our methodologies are inherently ridiculous, like with the Treadmobile, a mobile treadmill, or the StreetStrider, a mobile elliptical with endorsements from The Biggest Loser (need I say more?). Anyone can recognize the absurdity of taking a stationary fitness machine that is itself an attempt to recreate a real world movement – like the treadmill tries to mimic running – and turning it into a functioning way to get around the environment. As if having a pair of thick, clunky rubber soles between you and the ground weren’t bad enough, now people are actually using treadmills to stay as removed from nature as humanly possible. And the elliptical is already a ridiculous looking contraption (easy on the joints, sure, but it might replace or even divorce you from real, natural movement patterns like swimming that are equally easy on the joints), but if you do like to use it, just please keep it in the gym. No need to go flailing all over the road.
But on a more serious note, far too many people dig the proverbial hole for themselves when they try to improve their fitness levels by following CW’s lead. Take the Chronic Cardio crowd, for example. Most people still buy the line that running sixty minutes every day is the key to health, fitness, longevity, and happiness. They run those sixty minutes – hating perhaps fifty-five of them – every night to lose weight and get fit and to burn the all-important calories. Sure, some calories get burnt, but so do all their glycogen stores, stores that require restocking with tons of carbs, the more refined and delicious the better. They’ve just come home from a grueling seven mile run and they feel like maybe they deserve a little break, a little treat for all that hard work – so they order a large pizza and wolf the entire thing down, followed by a bowl of ice cream. They wake up feeling bloated (but man are those glycogen stores ready to go!) and horrible, which leads to mild self-flagellation and the decision to “hit the treadmill extra hard tonight” to make up for all the carbs. The same thing happens all over again. The wheels are in motion. This vicious, endless, Sisyphean cycle of Chronic Cardio and carb refueling leads to weight gain and broken spirits (“why can’t I lose the weight?!”) – and the broken, overweight, totally confused about what works and what doesn’t nation we see today.
That’s not to say the Primal fitness community doesn’t have its hole diggers. Some of us – and I’m guilty of this from time to time – make the mistake of thinking more is always better. More pain, more sprints, more weight, more sweat, perhaps even more vomit – are encouraging signs that good work is being done. Now, I’m a huge proponent of compound strength building movements, sprints, hikes, and anything that engages the entire body and works it hard to the core. These exercises are meant to tax and test our strength and our stamina, but there is a point of diminishing returns. There are occasions where – even if you’re doing Primal approved exercises – you run the risk of compromising your health and fitness. The body needs rest at times, and it possesses a pretty effective subconscious feedback system to let you know when it needs that rest. If you’ve lost count of how many hill sprints you’ve done, and each “sprint” has devolved into a plodding uphill jog, it’s time to stop. You’re not doing yourself any good; you’re only hurting your body and increasing your recovery/downtime. If that ain’t diggin’ a hole for yourself, I don’t know what is.
Conventional notions about what constitutes an effective fitness regimen always make me shake my head and throw up my hands. I see people doing ridiculous, ineffective routines with every fiber of their being with nothing to show for it except some lingering injury or a lighter wallet. I can’t help but feel a bit superior, maybe even a tad patronizing, when unbending dedication to a failed, counterproductive fitness methodology persists. But that quickly disappears when I remember that it used to be me. I used to be the most ardent supporter of Conventional Wisdom around. Even when my ultra running and endurance training was physically wearing me down and forcing me into terrible dietary habits, I told myself this was normal. I assumed, despite mountains of evidence (both personal, anecdotal, and clinical) to the contrary, that I was ensuring a long, active life for myself. I think a lot of people are in that situation, so I empathize.
Are you engaging in redundant, inane workouts that go nowhere? Are you working out on a regular basis and failing to see any results?
You may be diggin’ a hole to install a ladder to wash the basement windows, when you could forget the shovel, lose the ladder, grab your wash bucket and handle business.
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 three decades researching and 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 Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.