This morning I went for a bike ride. I rode up St. Nicholas in Harlem through the Heights to hit the Highbridge Park mountain bike course. There are dirt jumps, a pump track, and trails for anyone to ride.
When it was time to head downtown, I finished a run on Dyckman Street, took of my pads and gloves, then headed to the Henry Hudson Greenway. The 12 miles on the way back should have been pretty easy, and I expected it would take an hour to get back to MFF. The ride ended up taking me an hour and a half to go the 13 miles, and I only averaged 8 miles per hour. Sure, I had spent 3 hours riding aggressively before that. Sure, I should have had more caffeine and a lot more calories in my body by then. But I’m not sure that’s what made the ride back
suck slower than expected.
I have pretty big tires on my bike which helps me stick to the ground when riding downhill or on trails, but when riding on a paved trail, they’re not so hot. Physics 101: Tires with great off-road traction have horribly high rolling resistance. This is how my tires compared to what the road cyclists were cruising by on:
As I contemplated how rubbery my legs felt on the way back, I resolved to make it to midtown without putting down my feet or stopping. I was making progress, slowly and steadily. As I rode, I had an epiphany of how this all relates to fitness.
Of course it relates to fitness!
When it comes to fitness, the Law of Specificity is king. We get better at the things that we regularly do, and often improving performance in one measurement of fitness limits or reduces our ability to perform in other measurements. As a general rule, those who are training to be elite endurance athletes or strength/power athletes will assess, train, and test differently. There are universal aspects of fitness that can improve together, but by and large, we’ll need some degree of specificity.
Unfortunately, specificity comes without the emotional burden of preference.
Runners love to put in their miles, powerlifters love to pick up their weights, and the Laws of Specificity don’t give a shit what you prefer to do. If you love to lift, but want to do a 10k, and decide to lift a little bit faster, well the the lack of specificity is going to hold you back. If a 10k is your warm-up but you’d like to get stronger, swapping in some sprints isn’t going to do it. The ambiguity is going to hold you back.
When it comes to fitness programming, we spend too much timing slowly moving towards our goals with un-specified programs, rather than concentrating on one aspect of performance that we’d really like to focus on. If your goals if Fat Loss, relentlessly pursue fat loss. If it’s hypertrophy, get jacked and do only that. If you want to prepare for the SFG Snatch Test, qualifying for an Ironman, or hitting more home runs than anyone else in your softball league, set your focus and then build a plan.
Casually meandering the fitness landscape with a variety of interests is more than okay, but too much time with well intentioned, but unplanned, unexecuted, and unachieved goals is a recipe for disaster. We don’t get any better waiting for our dreams to come true. We get better when we plan to practice and achieve our goals.
Every missed fitness goal is an opportunity to examine just how well planned a fitness program was. Using a powerlifting program for body composition, or a running program for strength development could work, but the chances for success are low. Set a higher standard for yourself, and others, to set a plan that works for their exact goals. Now that you’re working smarter:
Setting an expectation for results or performance makes it easier for us to reach our fitness goals, and too often the program we use holds us back from achieving the desired results. Personal preference matters when choosing a plan that we’ll stick to, but we can’t ignore the unbiased Law of Specificity. Work smarter before you work harder.
Rolling along the Hudson River on high-volume tires was a great example of how to not prepare for one activity, but it’s part of going out to play on my bike; I’d rather be slow on the pavement and fast on the dirt. The reminder that we can choose better programs to prepare for specific activities is important, so we can be efficient and effective in living our best lives.