Perfect Can Be the Enemy of Good Enough in Fitness Training
The only perfect workout is the one that you just finished. Too often, we lose track of getting something done because we are too focused on having enough time, the perfect weather conditions, the best equipment or gear, or even perfect technique, especially when it comes to swimming laps.
For thousands of years, thinkers have seen the impossibility of achieving perfection in life. Usually, striving for perfection will yield merely good results or no results at all. It’s rare that things are done perfectly.
Even Army Gen. George S. Patton understood the philosophy, saying, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
High standards for yourself and others are good, but the notion of waiting for the perfect moment to do something comes at the cost of time wasted when you could get something that’s good enough done right now.
When it comes to fitness, what counts as good enough?
Here are ideas that can help make good out of something that does not have to be done perfectly. When you focus on perfecting a fitness event, you may find that that very focus will cause you to neglect some other aspect of your workout. Many good athletes work on their current strengths in an effort to get better, but this approach can create a weakness in overall strength and durability in runners and in endurance and muscle stamina for lifters.
In the world of tactical fitness, we can’t tolerate that kind of weakness since we strive to be good at every aspect of fitness: strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility and mobility.
It’s not just the time you spend training that matters, it’s how you are training to improve your overall performance in the tactical world.
Are you waiting for the ideal weather to run? Is it too hot now? Too cold? You can choose to run in less-than-ideal conditions if you adhere to safety protocols. Or you can opt out and use a treadmill. Most people do not enjoy treadmills, but when the air pollution is bad or ice is covering the sidewalks, tracks and trails, it makes sense to just get something done inside.
No access to a treadmill? Try jumping jacks mixed with calisthenics or jump roping or running up and down stairs. You can get some decent cardio even if you cannot find the perfect place and time to run.
Many great runners can do a sub-six-minute-mile pace without much effort, while non-running athletes must work hard to get to that level. If you are running a six-minute mile for timed runs, that is good enough. The effort to achieve a five-minute mile pace for timed runs may produce weaknesses in your overall strength and calisthenics testing if you are neglecting them to run faster than a pace that’s good enough.
My advice is to get your strength numbers up to competitive scores, then work to run faster if you want. Depending on the job you are preparing for, you will likely also be doing load-bearing activity in the form of rucking or equipment carry. Do not neglect this training in pursuit of a faster run time on a timed running event.
Many people will spend a significant amount of time perfecting swimming techniques and neglect the conditioning required. If you have access to a pool, do a workout I call the 50-50. You spend 50% of the time working to learn the techniques of a certain stroke and 50% of the time just doing laps as best you can or using a stroke you already know.
We do this with the Combat Swimmer Stroke (Navy PST training) and freestyle. Even if you do not have a perfect freestyle technique, you will work hard in the water and that work will help you with your overall water conditioning and general comfort levels.
The 50-50 looks like this:
Repeat 5-10 times
Swim 50 meters freestyle
Swim 50 meters CSS
Swimming faster is a product of technique and conditioning, so you have to work on both.
If you do not have a pool that is ideal for lap swimming, consider open water swimming (only if that’s safe) or get a swim bungee that can turn any small backyard pool or above-ground pool into an endless pool using the belt and rubber band contraption. Some have used the swim bungee on the pier in a lake for safer swimming conditions when pools are closed.
Having a full gym with a wide variety of free weights, suspension trainers, lifting and cardio machines is the ideal situation. Many lifters are striving for a perfect technique and trying to find perfect form to lift the most weight. Instead, I focus on finding the best technique that will prevent me from hurting myself. Over time, your strength and technique will improve until you find that ideal method that works best for you and your body.
When we cannot get to the gym, we must make do with what is available at home. There’s no need to skip chest day or leg day because you cannot get to the bench or squat rack.
Try the following ideas or get creative:
Weight vests or rucks can add 50-100 lbs. to calisthenics or push-ups and squats. If you figure a push-up or squat is about 40-50% of our body weight in resistance being lifted every repetition, the addition of a weight vest or backpack can turn your living room into a gym that is good enough.
Sandbags, Logs and Water Jugs: Add other weight to your lifting movements, and you will find lifts, carries and stair climbs provide sufficient resistance training that can not only make a leg day “good enough” but help you develop more muscle stamina in the legs as well.
Time: Not having enough time to do your “full” workout is another challenge many people face. Something is always better than nothing. Don’t wait: Get something done now.
In closing, here are some of the many minds throughout time that understood the idea that “perfect is the enemy of good.”
Voltaire: “Best is the enemy of good.” The translation from Italian to English yielded the saying that is most popular today.
Confucius: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
Ed Bliss: “Perfection, fortunately, is not the only alternative to mediocrity. A more sensible alternative is excellence. Striving for excellence is stimulating and rewarding; striving for perfection — in practically anything — is both neurotic and futile.”
Leo Tolstoy: “If you look for perfection, you will never be content.”
— Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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