Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fitness, Success, and The 10,000 Hour Rule

I started reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers yesterday (along with a couple other books- I like to keep a few going at a time). In it, he illuminates some interesting points about 'successful people', including the fact that success does not just happen, nor is someone born with it. Success often stems from the combination of important innate traits (drive, ambition), with external factors such as support, means, timing, and opportunities. A sort of 'perfect storm' for success.

Bill Gates is a good example of a successful individual. Everyone knows Bill Gates and Microsoft, which he co-founded as a college drop-out. Most people would say that he lucked out and started at the right time (when the PC was just becoming a regular tool in business). However, overlooked was the fact that he had the opportunity to start programming computers in middle school and worked over 10,000 hours doing so before he started Microsoft. He was leaps and bounds beyond just about anyone in the world with computer programming experience. He had crafted his skill long enough to give him an advantage over just about everyone. His timing was perfect, too.

Gladwell explains the 10,000-hour rule. To become an expert or refine a skill at a world-class level(physical, mental or a combination) you need to deliberately practice for at least 10,000 hours. The brain needs this much time to develop this level of proficiency. This applies to athletes, musicians, computer programmers, you name it. To be not just good, but really good , you need to put a lot of time into developing your skill. You must practice to be successful.

Of course, I thought about how this rule applies to fitness. I realized that it does apply precisely to fitness. Adults can become proficient exercisers with adequate practice. That is right, practice. Adults need to look at exercise training, like they are practicing to become an expert exerciser. So often, new exercisers (or life-long sporadic exercisers) look for the quickest way to burn some Calories or 'work' some body part they don't like. Usually, it is very short-term- a month, 12 weeks, six months, etc. Ultimately, it usually ends in failure. From my experience, clients that take time to learn the exercise techniques correctly, work through their various limitations (bad posture, old injuries, etc.), are consistent, and train to improve themselves over the long-term are the ones who are successful.

You are probably wondering, "do I need to train for 10,000 hours before I see the results that I want?" No. But, if your mind-set is that you need to learn what to do and take the time week in, week out, to develop your skills, you will see big improvements. If you can make a commitment to a training program (not for two weeks, but for a year or more), adjust your expectations for long-term (instead of short-term, like just about everything in fitness is now), stay focused, and support your body (good nutrition, recovery, sleep, etc.) you will be successful. Heck, you might even learn to enjoy the process of proper exercise training and in time you may be viewed as an outlier, too.

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