We have all heard the phrase, “perfect is the enemy of good.” It is something I have to remind myself of daily.
I am a strength and conditioning coach and a body nerd (anatomy, physiology, movement, yoga, mobility, etc.). And most of the thinking and writing around strength and conditioning is geared toward optimization. How can you max out your gains? What’s the quickest way to lose weight? What’s the fastest way to get strong? What’s the best technique to perform this lift? etc. That’s all great. As a professional I need to concern myself with the best methods to train and get results. However, the reality is that most people can’t train optimally (for multiple reasons) and focusing on doing things perfectly will often take valuable energy away from doing things good enough.
Why is chasing perfection impossible? Let’s consider the most basic barrier to perfection: your genetics. Just imagine if there was a scientific study that said training 6 days a week is optimal for making gains that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work best for you and your body. If scientists had gone and created an experiment to find the optimal training days, their findings would be based on a statistically significant number of people that completed the study. It would not be based on 100% of all people. That means there are always people that did NOT respond optimally to the 6 days a week. Some people responded better to 5 and some did better with 7.
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. — Confucius
Another example of genetics that can be a double edged sword is that some people have genes that favor endurance sports and others have genes that favor strength and there are various other athletic characteristics that your genes may favor. That suggests that if you are lucky enough to like marathon running and you happen to be genetically predisposed to being good at it, you can be very successful (Perfect). But there is no guaranty that you will like marathon running just because you have favorable genes for it. Furthermore, sometimes people are drawn to things that challenge them more than things that come easily to them. So you might be a weightlifter trapped in a runner’s body. In that scenario, you might never be a great weightlifter but will find more joy from it and train harder at it because of the challenge (Good).
So when I think about training myself and training regular people, I seldom concern myself with what is optimal. I concern myself with good enough and better. To the type A person reading this, it sounds like a recipe for mediocrity. We want to have a formula for being the best. Why should I chase good enough and better? Because real people spend more time concerning themselves with trying to pick the best program than actually working out. This problem is not just true of couch potatoes but it also a debilitating mindset displayed by many gym rats.
Somewhere there is someone on the couch googling things like “what’s better weightlifting or cardio?” “Will lifting make me bulky?” “How can I get huge like Arnold?” They are spinning their wheels worrying about what’s best: lifting, cardio, looking perfect, and Arnold. If they asked “what is good enough to get me started?” “What’s better than sitting on the couch?” They would be better off. If they decided to just go to the Zumba class five minutes from their house they’d be better off. Then after they get bored of that they might ask “what’s better than Zumba?” “What would I like to do?” They’d be making progress and moving forward. Slow progress is better than no progress.
Another example is the gym rat that is working out constantly thinking that more is better. They are always looking for the next new exercise or workout to make those gains. Those people often waste a lot of time chasing different workouts and worrying about if I’m working my legs, I’m not working my arms and when I’m working my arms, I’m not working my legs. So they are never satisfied. I used to spend a lot of time and money researching and buying new gear for the gym and for myself so that I could do a different exercise or add something else to my program. Ultimately, most of those purchases were a waste of time and money. I get more benefit working out harder with a few basic pieces of equipment than I do from fancy new toys. For example, I do not own a bench for bench pressing. Would it be optimal for developing upper body pushing strength? Perhaps. But I find that pushups, dips and floor presses are good enough to work my triceps. When I see an ad for a bench, I stop and think maybe I should get one, but then I decide to just stop worrying and do some dips. Maybe you are a powerlifter and want to compete, then you need to bench. But if that’s not you, there are plenty of ways to get strong that are good enough.
If you are sitting there and worrying about what’s best, stop! Go and do something good. Enjoy it.