Marginal Gains

I’m a nerd.

I obsess over details even when I don’t fully understand the bigger picture. I genuinely, without any sense of irony or sarcasm, love graphs and data and tracking stuff, percentages, facts and figures, variables and numbers! Oh man, I fucking love numbers. One night, I remember trying to find out what the biggest factorial I could work out in my head was (13! Pretty happy with that!). What a catch. And I try to apply that to as many things as I can.

I have been known to use projection analysis and averages to work out just how long I will have to grind at an RPG to reach a requiste level. I get upset when a game tracks my progress and tells me I am 67% complete, because that means I’m nearly finished and I was really enjoying this game! The only reason I recently commited to a budget plan was that I was told I could use a spreadsheet. I excel at those….

Anyway, the latest victim of my over-analytical stupid science video game nerd numbers game is my fitness.

It started in the Autumn 2012. Even before this miraculous gym turn and my You Have Acheived Nothing, Better Get Fucking Moving epiphany. I had recently heard about the god-like transformations and exploits of nerd-come-zen-master-lifestlye-guru-and-all-round-guy-you-never-want-your-girlfriend-to-meet, Tim Ferriss, and his book, The Four Hour Body.

Here was a guy taking (along with a huge pinch of salt and a dash of snake oil) a scientific, Occam’s Razor approach to changing his body and it’s resulted in him gaining several kilos of muscle mass in under a month whilst dropping almost as much body fat, learning to run a marathon in a matter of weeks, and despite supplementing himself into oblivion, it all looked pretty acheivable. Do exactly this, for exactly this long, and you will acheive the biggest results. He treated his body like a machine, optimising everything from his sleep and meal timings, exercise routines and diet, even the temperature of his shower to give him a freakishly good body.

And I was hooked. Not only for the obvious reasons, but because there was evidence. Charts, and graphs and numbers galore. Admittedly, the validity of half of his case studies might have been distorted, but dammit at least there were cases to study! It was a scientific, almost ‘digital’ process applied to fitness, something I had always considered much more fluid, or analogue (that analogy makes sense to me, honest). And it wasn’t even in the biggest parts of the book that I was amazed by, it was the simple little marginal gain ‘bodyhacks’ that just begged to be tried out by a still-at-that-point Lazy Shit.

“I don’t need to exercise or do any running, because if I take two cold showers everyday and eat spinach for breakfast, It’ll stimulate suchandsuch a response leading to a higher percentage of fat-burning whatsits. Oh, and if I do this, and this…”

So thats what I did. For 8 weeks, in the middle of winter, I lived for those litte gains. I’d have HOLYFUCKITSCOLD! showers twice a day, and eat spinach, eggs and cottage cheese at every given opportunity. Rather than do anything like press ups or even go for a run, I’d hold odd yoga-like poses and suck in my stomach under the pretense that “This was the only exercise [Ferriss] did that produced veins across my abs.” And isn’t all we really want veiny abs?

I’m still convinced it sort of worked. Since my masochistic torture showers (which I still continue, but now because its toofuckinghotjesuschristtheresfuckallventilationinthisplace!) I did notice small changes to my waistline. But, in all fairness, man cannot live on bread alone, nor can man ever expect to look good with his shirt off if all he does is eat eggs and freeze his knackers off every morning. Marginal gains need to be on the margin of something else, and something bigger.

Although now I think I’m worse. By introducing a gym into my life, I have a whole new set of tools and routines for which I need to find the optimum settings for my body. Is it better to do cardio before weights or after? High reps with light weights or low reps with heavy weights? Interval or stead state cardio? Protein intake before or after gym? If I’m going to take supplements, which should I prioritise? And on and on. I know that really, in the great grand scheme of things, these questions don’t matter at all, but I feel compelled to nail the details.

But I’m the same with videogames. Should I take this sheild that gives my +10 to magic resistance, or this sword that gives me a health buff? This gun has 8% faster fire rate and elemental effect change, but this hammer gives me +100% extra melee damage and chance to paralyse. If I put a point into this skill tree, I will gain this skill, but miss out of this skill that might come in useful. Should I take my health pack now or later? (Always later. Be prepared, motherfucker.)

IT DOESNT MATTER. REPEAT: IT DOESNT MATTER. No choices you make in a video game will affect your overall level of enjoyment and acheivement when you finish it. It may make some bits easier and others harder, but at the end of it all, the outcome will be the same.

Equally so, your body doesnt give a fuck if you do weights first and then cardio, or vice versa, you’re still going to feel like you’re going to pass out, arms aching too much to take off your shirt that is now about a pound heavier from sweat, you’ll still need a shower, and you’ll still feel just as satisfied. And at the end of the day, you’ll still get to where you need to get to, regardless of all those little bodyhacks.

Now go have a warm shower.

(One other thing I noticed that I hate about the gym: Spotters. Now I know there’s always an inherent safety risk when you’re pursuing the unnatural feat of lifting the weight of small car over your own head, and that someone probably has to stop you from accidental melon-crushing. But guys – and it is always guys – whose entire time at the gym seems to be spent standing over someone else shouting stupid motivation platitudes just feel like their trying to look like they’re doing shit. It’s the same as in schools, “Where is your work?” “Oh, we’re working together, sir. I was helping him.” Bullshit. You’re lazier than me. You clearly weren’t at one point because you’re stacked, but now you’re just a layabout. At least I’m spending all my time in the gym doing something. You and your ‘brah’ can go do one.)

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