Do You Need Complexity?
By Chris Zinn
When an industry completely fills its niche, and the market becomes saturated, the typical solution is to come up with other ideas or products to sell to you. Businesses develop increasingly unique and specific products or services to sell.
This is especially rampant in the fitness industry.
I’m sure you’ve been scrolling on Instagram or Facebook and came across some crazy new workout with new exercises you've never seen before. You've probably also seen a new diet or new way of eating, the salesperson in the ad claiming that “you NEED to try this” or “other fitness experts don’t want you to know about this”.
I’ve heard and seen a lot of them myself.
With all of these complicated methods of dieting and 10-part exercises to shed belly fat popping up everywhere, it leads me to one question:
Do YOU need this complexity?
Well, it depends.
First of all, by complexity, I’m referring specifically to specialized and targeted approaches to nutrition and exercise. This could be a day in your training program dedicated to improving your snatch with accessory exercises, or it could be tracking your macronutrients, water intake, sodium intake, and bowel movements.
However, unless you’re an Olympic lifter or a bodybuilder preparing for a show, you most likely don’t need this type of specificity.
On the other hand, what I would not classify as unnecessary complexity would be doing things like increasing weights in the gym, following a planned exercise program, keeping track of what you’re eating, or eating less to lose weight.
These basics can usually get you to where you need to go. The fancy "new" stuff out there is almost always simply marketing gimmicks to get people's attention.
“A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise person marvels at the commonplace”
For most people, and I really do mean most… I’m talking like 98%, increasing the difficulty and complexity of things just muddies the waters and makes it hard for people to focus on their main goals. They lose track of the fundamentals in the name of something shiny and new.
Tim Duncan, a retired professional basketball player, had a nickname. Can you guess what it was?
The Big Fundamentals.
He never celebrated his highlight plays, never added any extra flair to his moves; just plain ol’ elbow jump shots and layups. Now, some would argue that showboating in sports is what makes it fun, but that’s a different argument.
The point is, Tim Duncan is one of the best players to ever play and his game hinged on mastery of what mattered, and nothing more.
For most folks, taking the same approach with both exercise and diet is going to bring them the success they've always been missing. Focus on what truly matters, and nothing more.
Heck, that's going to be the case with most things in life, but especially exercise and diet.
Additionally, many people see added complexity as progress. A typical mindset being:
“Once I master the basics, I must add complexity to keep going or I will not make progress”.
In reality that’s not quite how it works. It’s not like school, where you need to graduate to the next thing to keep going. Instead, think of additional complexity as targeted strategies and tactics for particular objectives, and not as levels of personal growth.
For example, in the fitness world, you may exercise for a while and then decide you want to start training for a specific event - bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit, Olympic lifting, whatever. There is a certain level of specificity and complexity that must be added to your training to chase that specific goal.
However, if you're not training for something like that, you most likely don't need to add unnecessary things to your training routine. It can actually do more harm than good.
Try not to think of the next level or additional complexity as a measure of expertise or a measure of how good you are. More complexity does not equal better.
Beginners complicate, experts simplify.
What Do You Need?
So, you don’t need the most complex training plan. You don't need the most obscure exercises that only the elite fitness trainers have heard of. You don’t need to track your carbs and time them to the minute… probably.
What then? How do you achieve your goals? How can you be healthier, look better, feel better, and perform better?
Like I mentioned above, master the basics.
Some skills that you should have nailed down before adding any type of targeted training or nutrition approaches are being able to:
Plan, prioritize, and prepare;
Regulate eating behaviors;
Match energy intake to goals;
Choose higher-quality foods more often;
Get adequate nutrients;
Move often and well; and
Rest and recover
These are very broad suggestions and are explored more in our full nutrition coaching program, but at the very least you should be able to do these things in your sleep.
Okay, so what if you’re able to do all of the things listed above very easily, should you start to add complexity?
That’s your decision. If you are happy with where you are and you feel healthy, then you probably can and should stay at this level.
The skills I mentioned above form the foundation of a happy and healthy life and they are sustainable, so there's no reason to move beyond them if you're already having success.
So, even if you’ve mastered the basics, that doesn't always mean you need to progress to something more complex. Instead, focus only on what you need to accomplish your goals.
Now, let's say you’ve bettered your life by focusing on the basics first, but you have some specific goals, and you’re ready for a challenge…
What Does Complexity Look Like?
If you've mastered the simple daily things that create a solid foundation, and you can do them consistently well, that's good. That will always be the foundation.
But, if you want to add to your foundational skills with some more complexity and you like the idea of a challenge, let's talk about that for a minute.
Keep in mind, however, that there's no point in simply adding complexity for the sake of a challenge. We're talking about adding some complexity for the sake of going after and accomplishing a specific goal.
If you find yourself meeting those criteria, then maybe adding complexity would benefit you and help you achieve your more specific goals.
Some typical goals of someone who needs a more specialized approach might be:
To improve athletic performance and recovery;
To tailor nutrition to specific needs or goals;
To manage demands of a highly specialized job (tactical or emergency personnel); and
To work toward competing in physique or modeling competitions.
Although these are goals that would require some higher levels of specialization, it doesn’t guarantee that the people with these goals can consistently meet basic skills and practices.
Individuals with these more specific goals must be able to complete the more basic skills that we’ve already discussed, but they also may need to do things like:
Spend at least 6 hours or more exercising;
Do complex tasks 75% of the time;
Do simple tasks 90% of the time; and
Have moderate to high knowledge about exercise and/or nutrition.
For an example of someone who requires a more specialized approach, let’s use an elite bodybuilder.
They will utilize some sort of carbohydrate cycling to achieve their desired leanness.
They will measure every single thing they put in their body, and they will calculate the intake down to the gram.
They might take PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs)
They manipulate their fluid balance
As you can see, these protocols are used specifically to get the individual to a desired body fat percentage and aren’t very sustainable or healthy things to do.
The problem arises, however, when someone puts out an ad telling you that one of these specialized approaches (which may not even be healthy in the first place) is the secret to losing body fat that nobody else knows about!
The bottom line is that, if you want to chase a specific goal and add more complexity to your exercise and nutrition program, you need to know what you're getting yourself into, and you must be able to embrace the challenge.
However, it's not for the faint of heart. That's exactly why many people who have no business trying to work out or eat like a bodybuilder wind up failing if they try. Sure, it may help some people lose ridiculous amounts of body fat, but there's always a sacrifice.
For most people, it adds too much complexity and demand in their life, and it prevents them from developing a healthy and sustainable routine.
If you have a goal to be an elite bodybuilder or Olympic athlete, great. You'll need to take some more complex approaches to exercise and nutrition to reach that elite status.
For the rest of us, however, focus on mastering the basics first. Simple things like planning and preparing meals, and seeking out higher quality nutrients, go a long way.
If you can master the basics and stick to them 80-90% of the time, you likely have all you need for long-term success.
So, before you start doing exercises while standing on your head and eating at exactly 3 AM every night, nail down the basics and make sure you have a solid foundation!
Want to find out more about how to craft an approach to eating that will fit in with your needs, goals, and lifestyle? You can get started today working with Med Gym's own Certified Nutrition Coach, Chris Zinn, in our Nutrition Coaching Program!
If you've tried diet after diet and struggled to reach your goals, nutrition coaching may be the answer you need. Working with a qualified nutrition coach to craft and stick to the plan that is the right fit for you can be game-changing!
Contact us here to learn more about the nutrition coaching program and how you can get started.