Sunday, January 25, 2015


"Embrace simplicity" - Laozi, Daodejing

There is a concept in psychology called the Hedonic Treadmill (also called hedonic adaptation, but here I am using treadmill, as the pun is intended). The idea that we keep having to accumulate things to be happy. We buy something, and it makes us happy for a while, but then the feeling dissipates, so we have to buy more, and its never enough. More of everything.

This concept affects the world of fitness in two ways. Firstly, we feel we need the latest gadgets and accoutrements to make us feel better. Those new trainers, the new GPS, the new sunglasses will make us better. Of course, we know deep down that this is probably not the case, but we like buying things, it makes us happy and feel part of something; for a while.

The same happens in the gym, if only I had an Eleiko bar or my gym had a plate loaded hack squat, then I would achieve my goals. We get distracted by the frivolous and the material, we can use them as excuses and temporary hapiness.

Somewhere someone in India is doing yoga and is not concerned about having an air conditioned studio with the latest props, mirrors and mats and somewhere in Kenya someone is running around a broken down track barefoot.

Not only do we get trapped by having to have the latest things, which in most cases make absolutely no difference to our training. We are also on the hedonic treadmill of programs and nutrition.

The internet has provided an infinite amount of information and fitness programming. You can do one program for a week, then find another one the week after and then another. We are temporarily satisfied, but it's not enough, we switch programs and exercises looking for instant results

Generally, if you want to get better at running for most people, the first thing they should do is run more. If you want to get stronger, then lift more, and lift more often. But we are program hoppers and always looking for the latest fad. Of course, I could lift more and stick to the basic lifts, but surely if I do band assisted work and then add chains, and then do a complicated split routine with lots of accessory lifts it must be better than just doing the basics, right?

The same with running, there is no secret exercise that makes it easier.

Fitness is a skill and we want to take a short cut or look for the magic answer.

If you are in the gym power cleaning 70kg, having the most expensive Eleiko bar makes no difference, you are not good enough yet, you are not strong enough. If your running program consists of 2 x 20 min jogs a week, guess what? You need to run more. Compression socks, minimal shoes, hokas, maffetone formulas, crossfit endurance aren't going to make any difference. You just need to run more. It doesn't have to be complicated.

Maybe buying these will make you happy and make you a better runner. Or maybe you should just run more.

Of course, you might be that 1% who is lifting elite amounts of weight or already running 80 miles a week, in which case the small things can make a difference. But never forget Paul Anderson, Eugene Sandow, Ed Coan etc basically lifted heavy things and ate. Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile wearing a pair of leather plimsolls on a cinder track while training in between full time medical studies.

We want it to be complicated, because the alternative is hard to digest - hard work and repetition.

The same applies to nutrition, eat whole foods, prepare as much as you can your self, avoid overly processed things. But we want the new, the esoteric supplement will save us, the latest fad diet. I know why I'm not making gains it must be because I don't carb back load, it can't be my appalling nutrition or my lacklustre training regime.

The best of the best keep it simple. Kenyan runners don't really track mileage, but they run everyday, sometimes twice a day, and they eat ugali. No fancy micro managed diet from the latest guru.

If only you had a proper track you would be a world class runner. Oh wait? Source:

True conversation:
Runner: How do I get better at running hills?
Me: What hill training do you do now?
Runner: None
Me: Run more hills
Runner: Is there anything else I can do?
Me: Just start running up some hills.

Even some of the most elite athletes in the world have less complicated routines, nutrition plans and supplement regimes than some weekend warrior gym goers.


But simplify doesn't mean lack of structure.

It means do the basics well. Often.

Martial arts is based on repetition, sometimes mind numbing repetition. The modern western mind finds it hard to deal with. Where is the short cut, where is the hack?

New to exercise? What's the best fat loss routine? Go for a walk everyday. Do 50 body weight squats everyday.

I make a living telling people what to do. In some cases they are injured or have tried other things, or are looking to find that bit extra to win. But in most cases it is simple.

In the fitness industry we are guilty of showing someone a basic move such as a squat or deadlift and when the client doesn't grasp it, we move on, we don't spend time grooving in perfect technique. We feel the need to keep the client entertained by showing them new things or progressing them onto things they have no business doing yet as they don't have the movement capacity or fitness., But we want to show them what we know.

Yeah, I know Starting Strength is boring, and 5x5 doesn't work for you because you are special, and cross country running won't work for you... except.... but....

Simplify doesn't mean no coaching. It doesn't mean lack of quality.

I don't think all individuals know intuitively how to military press or bench press or even have good running technique.

The job of the coach is to help people shape the raw material they have. But the answer doesn't have to be complicated. Help clients identify the thing they are neglecting, the quality they need to work on.

Does everyone need a program? That's a question for next weeks blog.

In the meantime.


Move more often.

Work on the basics.

Get rid of superfluous things.

Simplify training, simplify exercise selection, simplify nutrition, simplify life.

(Yes, I'm aware that it took me over 1000 words to say keep things simple).

If you think going for a run for a total of 2 hours a week is hard try staring at a wall for 9 years. What could be simpler than sitting down. Bodhidharma Source: wikipedia.


  1. Wonderful post Steve. Encapsulates so much of what I've only really started to understand in the last 6 months or so. After 7yrs as a runner...