Posted by on Apr 4, 2013


In Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he raised almost 500 million dollars through donations of 100 dollars or less. Every little bit made a big difference. When it comes to fitness and health goals, however, the ‘Yes we can’ approach is much different.

It’s easy to fall into the mindset that every little intervention matters – even if it only does a little. After all, forward progress is always better than no progress or going backwards, right?

There are two big drawbacks to his approach:

1. Small victories mean nothing if you’re not winning the war

Cinnamon is purported to help regulate blood sugar. But not by much. There are several other ‘natural’ remedies for blood sugar regulation. You could take all of these, and still fail to achieve a normal blood glucose level or healthy hemiglobin a1c, which is an indicator of glucose control over 3 months. Sure, you might even achieve a better a1c, which is nice, but not really, truly the goal.

The operation can’t have been a success if the patient died.

2. You have a finite amount of resources

Imagine building a bridge out of wood across a river. You can buy big pieces of wood or small pieces of wood from the local vendors. Oddly, they have this strange deal where every piece of wood costs exactly the same. And you have $1000.

This is an easy scenario: you buy the longest, biggest pieces you can find so that you can get across the river. Only when you have run out of big pieces would you start to buy the bigger of the smaller pieces.

When it comes to losing weight/fat or gaining muscle, your limited resources are your energy, your time, your money and your willpower. You only have so much time in the day. You only have so much effort to spend. Remembering to eat 5 times a day is energy spent 5 times.

Exerting willpower to cut out swathes of food categories is part of the same reserve that you use not to miss a workout. Cluttering your routine with countless rituals that have marginal effect chips away at your ability to adhere to them as well as the rituals that have big effects. You’re buying small pieces of wood for the same price as big ones that you haven’t run out of yet, and not getting across that river.

The lesson here is that in an Information Age where you’re bombarded with lots of things with marginal effect, you need to exert some discrimination. We all want to get across the river as fast as possible and it’s tempting to buy the newest piece of wood because it’s marketed as being really big when it’s actually not.

Fortunately, at least when it comes to weight lifting, Fitocracy is a great tool. Even if the point scheme isn’t totally perfect (*coughweightedcalfpress*), take a look at where you’re spending most of your points, and whether there’s a more efficient, simpler way to get the same number of points while still working the same number of muscle groups.

Your goal is to get across the river and win the war. Every little bit doesn’t count unless, in the end, you actually achieve your goal.

Bryan Chung MD, PhD is a Canadian currently living in New York as a fellow in hand surgery. He is a research methodologist in musculoskeletal health and is the owner of “Evidence-Based Fitness”, a blog that examines and interprets research and its role (or lack thereof) in fitness and nutrition. He has a distinct dislike for abused research abstracts, but a particular fondness for bacon.

Visit Bryan on his website, Twitter, Facebook or Fitocracy.

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