Big Rocks= Big Guns

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Last Friday, I discussed the Pareto Principle. To summarize, it was named after an Italian economist (Vilfredo Pareto), who demonstrated that 80% of the wealth in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population. Taking it a step further, many have described it as a Law of Unequal Return, whereupon certain activities tend to give more return on investment than others. Incidentally, it should come as no surprise that many (if not all) aspects of fitness, can be applied here.

Taking a step back for a bit, anyone who’s ever listened to Alwyn Cosgrove lecture, knows that he often discusses the Big Rocks Theory.

Big Rocks Theory

For those who aren’t familiar- the basic premise of the story revolves around a professor who asks his students to fill a glass with rocks, pebbles, and sand. To start, he stacks the big rocks and then asks his students how to put the rest into the bucket. Not surprisingly, the students place the pebbles into the glass, followed by the sand. In the end, everything fits into the glass.

The professor then asks his students to reverse the process. However, after pouring the sand, the students realized that the sand alone filled the entire glass and nothing else could go in.

“It is the same with time”, explained the teacher. “Give time slots to the big things before anything else. Otherwise, the inevitable sand would fill up your day”.

In short, the story demonstrates how a vast majority of trainees like to focus on minutia (sand) rather than the “bang for your buck exercises” (rocks). For those still not following, it makes more sense to identify the big items that need to be addressed, whatever your goals may be, and planning the small things around them.

We all know a friend or family member (or someone who spends way too much time on the forums) who wants to lose some fat. They’ll be quick to discuss any number of fad diets they’ve been reading about in order to get that quick fix. They’ll also talk about hormone levels, cheat meals/re-feeds, or maybe what the best macronutrient breakdown is for their blood type. Worse still, they’ll discuss which supplements they should be taking, blah blah blah. Maybe if they focused on, I don’t know, how many calories they were ingesting per day (or actually got off their ass and did something), they would get results. Focus on the big rocks people- not the minutiae.

Or what about the high school kid who weighs 140 lbs, and is trying to get hyyooooge. Here’s a theory—–less bicep curls, and more deadlifts. Better yet, when you can actually perform ten bodyweight pull-ups (with good form), then we can worry about making the guns more gunny.

Likewise, a great real-world (and less obvious) example would be a male client that I work with who wants to increase his bench press. To his credit, he’s a dedicated client who never misses a session and is willing to learn. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve had a bitch of a time trying to get him to realize is that HARDER DOES NOT EQUAL BETTER. You see, he’s always felt that in order to get better, he needs to grind out every………..single…………rep. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not something that needs to happen on every rep, of every set.

Bench Press

What’s more, prior to training with us at CP, he benched at least three times per week (shocker!), did little to no dedicated upper back work, and had cringe worthy form; not to mention referred to benching as his “chest day,” which as you might have guessed, is grounds for going to bed with no dinner.

While it’s taken some time, we’ve definitely made some strides. We’ve done a lot of technique work- changing his bodybuilder form (flat back, elbows flared out, slooooooow tempo) to more of a powerlifting style (arched back, elbows tucked in, and more dedicated speed work). As well, we’ve focused more on the quality of reps rather than quantity of crap. As a result, he’s made some significant progress. By placing more of an emphasis on his “big rocks” (tons of technique work, upper back development, working on getting faster bar speed), rather than the sand (how can I make this exercise harder?), he’s gone from a shitty bench to a sucky bench.

With that said, what are YOUR goals? Are you focusing on the big rocks or the sand?

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