The Balancing Act, Part 2

Published December 20, 2019

Beginners, don't lose your mind.
Veterans, don't lose your edge.

This is a response to my own blog post I wrote a few months ago. As my understanding of balance expands over time, I want to continue writing about this topic as I am convinced it is key to optimal performance, in the gym or outside.

The benefit of immersing yourself in a new industry is the opportunity to learn the same lessons from another perspective. Everyone seems to learn the same sort of things eventually, albeit framed in a different way, and you’re extra lucky if you find yourself being able to review life material twice.

Building a physique isn’t easy, except that it is. People overcomplicate the wrong things and aren’t focused on the right thing because the right thing is actually the hard thing. So, they invent for themselves a matrix of seemingly hard things to distract themselves from what they actually need to do.

In the physique world, it is very similar to tech: if I work harder and increase my volume, I will be rewarded harder. Your body doesn’t agree.

In the podcast, Stronger by Science, episode 39, Greg Nuckols says this about lack of recovery in beginner trainees:

In a situation like that where you’ve had a week to recover from a training impulse and you’re still having a pretty noticeable decrease in performance, I think it’s very likely that the training you underwent was so extreme that you did actually break down more muscle protein than you synthesized.

Your body has an optimal point when it’s getting enough volume and stimulation to grow. Anything past that point puts you at risk of under-recovery and cannibalizes your muscle.

In the tech world, we call this burn-out. We push working past the point of optimal gain and when an employee burns out, they are so far gone they cannot function day-to-day, which effectively nullifies any previous advantage they may have had to begin with.

Finding balance is the key to building a world-class physique but this work is hard. There is no formula for it despite what snake oil salesmen claim. Some bodies have higher recovery times (tends to be females, en masse), some bodies have never seen a day of exercise (tends to happen in sedentary computer folk), and some bodies don’t respond to certain programs (genetic disposition in sports is still a thing).

Since there is no formula, many will claim all sorts of things to obtain that feeling of accomplishment to motivate themselves further down their path (or sell a path to others).

Eric Helms, another natural Bodybuilder and Educator says this (emphasis mine):

People make fun of balance but […] the word balance […] physically means standing on a narrow object and trying to resist forces in either direction of doing too little or too much. […] Balance requires constant attention. […] balance is difficult. And moderation does not absolutely equal mediocrity.

Similar to tech: many of us claim the hustle needs to happen or you won’t see results. This is a half truth. The level of hustling required doesn’t need to be extreme because results will appear regardless of effort or timeframe.

It’s not a matter of willpower. It’s not a matter of hardcoreness. It’s a matter of: it’s easy. It’s easy for you to go all-in. That’s your personality. So just don’t pretend that when you go all-in that it’s because you have this incredible work ethic. […] …you’re actually taking the path of least resistence, not the path of optimality. […] But, if you want to get to your true potential, maybe you need to not do what’s easy to you, which looks hard and which you can post about being hard, but actually what takes a little more moderation.

Moderation does not absolutely equal mediocrity.

To test this theory, I have been applying the art of non-hustle to both bodybuilding and how I work at Jupiter. We have yet to see market traction with Jupiter but I do know this: I’m more content that I’ve ever been in any other tech job and this peace of mind is more important to me than ever before.

I love building software enough to continue with it for the foreseeable future. It plays to my strengths and now that I’m closer to my customers, I feel the full breadth of being a designer again. I get to watch people use our software and listen to them talk about their lives. When they tell me they don’t like what we’ve built, I love the process even more.

Sustainability has become king. What is true is that I need this feeling to continue and therefore I must build the right environment to sustain it. So, I need to figure out my balance.

The process of finding balance in physique building is similar except wins and failures are more obvious. If theory is applied correctly and optimally, the results of my work are in the mirror or in the eyes of others. This isn’t the case with my technical career where the positive and ethical impact of my work can be unclear and hard to measure. Building in a non-physical realm can be very unfilling in that respect.

Still, the lessons are there if I’m paying attention. And I get to review the material twice.