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Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Elite and You

There's a common assumption (and marketing tool) in the martial arts/self-defense/physical fitness industry that if a program, training method, or piece of equipment works for the "elite" (special forces, top-tier fighters, superior athletes), then that program, training method, or piece of equipment MUST be good for everyone.

It's a really tempting logic chain, but mostly, it doesn't work.

Dan John's Quadrant model outlines this very clearly for physical training. The elite just don't need the same things that the average person does. Honestly, the elite mastered the thing that the average person still struggles with on regular basis a long time ago. They are building on an incredible foundation: if you don't have that foundation, trying to build on it doesn't make sense.

The martial arts counterpart here: I see people trying to get good at showboat tricks without having the foundation. A few years ago, Anthony Pettis shocked the world by pulling off something straight out of a Jackie Chan movie in an MMA fight. And hey, that was genuinely impressive. But I was then forced to endure at least a month of watching people who can't kick well when standing on the ground try to throw that kick. Look, let's be real for a second here: if you can't throw a proper body kick when you're just standing in place, you probably shouldn't be trying to jump off walls to do it.

My wife and I caught a bit of the Olympic swimming competition the other night, and she remarked that the difference between the silver and bronze medalist was one tenth (that's 0.1) of a second. At the highest levels, a tenth of a percent matters. For the average person, a tenth of a second probably isn't measured. It just doesn't matter.

And here's the thing about that: those elite level swimmers? They have training programs designed to add that 0.1 seconds to their swim time, because that matters in their world. It probably does not matter in the lives of the average person. Chasing it means chasing that little percentage point to the exclusion of more productive uses of your training time.

Also, most of those programs assume a lifestyle that is not compatible with the average persons. You can train really, really hard when that's your job. If you don't have eight hours a day to devote to your chosen activity, you might want to rethink the idea of using a training method designed for someone who does.

Equipment is a little different, and the argument that people who do something seriously need very good equipment is occasionally legitimate. I say "occasionally" because sometimes, that equipment is really overkill. I mean, I could buy a barbell that would left me lift 1000 pounds, and it's probably a really nice barbell, but I'm in no danger of pulling a 1000 pounds, and a cheaper bar would probably serve me just as well.

It all kind of boils down to this: just because the elite do something does not mean you should do it. Evaluate based on your own goals and abilities, and be honest about what those are. It may sound cool to train like a navy seal, but unless you are one, there's no necessarily any point.

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