Thursday Thoughts: There Is No ‘One True Way’

Anywhere you go on the internet, you’re bound to come across people who will tell you that there is One True Way to whatever your goals are, that you have to follow their routine precisely or else you might as well just pull into McDonald’s and gorge yourself.

The thing is, I’m someone who delves into things deeply when I get interested in them. I become something of a sponge, absorbing all the information I can find. With fitness, it’s been no different.

Over time, things change, and so even if I forgo fitness for a while, I still come back and delve in deep. I need to see what’s changed, what new information has science provided.

Because of that, I’ve learned one really great lesson about health and fitness: There is no One True Way.

Going back to earlier this week, there may be optimal methods for whatever your goals are. These are often hailed as the One True Way.

Other contenders for the One True Way include programs people are selling, supplements being marketed, even systems which push you to find someone to diagnose you with low testosterone. They’ll lash out at anyone who shows the least bit of refusal to accept their claims at face value. Believe me, I’ve seen them.

But at the end of the day, part of the reason we find so much confusion–and the reason these hucksters can market their One True Way–is that there are many paths to whatever your goals are.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can become the World’s Strongest Man by using nothing but resistance bands? Probably not.

But what it does mean is that there are dozens of programs that could make you a contender for World’s Strongest Man if you have the genetics, drive, and desire to go through all that such a goal entails.

The thing is, the more specific you get with what you demand, the more and more you get into preaching a One True Way.

Imagine someone comes up with a system that takes you from couch potato to powerlifting competitions. Their system calls for you to do the main three lifts several times per week, all barbell work. They shun dumbbell work, accommodating resistance, kettlebells, anything that’s not barbell work. They even warn you not to worry about conditioning for all kinds of reasons.

Because this program is very specific, they and their adherents will lash out at anyone who thinks dumbbells are viable or even better than barbells. They’ll attack anyone who disagrees not just with barbells being superior, but even those who agree with them on the implement, but not on how to maximize the use of it.

People with programs like this will often hold up their success stories as proof it works–and there are always success stories.

But at the end of the day, their competitors have success stories too. The hypothetical bodybuilding program that focuses on dumbbells will have success stories too. So does the kettlebell program. Oh, and the program that uses all of them? It’s got success stories too.

“Oh, but those programs all have different goals,” someone may note, and that may be true. But even if you account for that, almost all of the powerlifting programs out there have people who have achieved success with them.

At the end of the day, we’re just arguing about what is optimal rather than effective.

But like I noted on Monday, not everything that’s optimal is a great idea.

I wrote a while back about how I still had some timidity under a barbell. I talked about smashing my face with a barbell loaded with way more weight than I needed to be screwing with, and how I shunned barbell exercises to some extent for a while.

I started lifting with dumbbells almost exclusively. I still love dumbbells. I’m much more comfortable with them. I can also give you a list of reasonable sounding reasons why I felt they were superior to barbells.

But, at the end of the day, I just liked them better.

But then I started doing Starting Strength. That’s barbell only exercises. Rippetoe is very much a non-fan of dumbbells. He believes the One True Way is to use barbell exercises on his program.

And, well, it works. I got a hell of a lot stronger over those three months. I’ll give him credit for that.

But could I have used those principles and gotten stronger with dumbbells? Probably. I’d have been more comfortable, that’s for sure.

Now, I’m not bashing the barbell lifts. I still do barbell lifts as my primary training tools because I’m not nearly as timid as I used to be. Not only that, but the discomfort I feel is something I want to work past, so I keep doing them.

But I’m not about to say dumbbells won’t make you stronger. They may not be ideal if you want to be a competitive powerlifter, but they definitely have their place in the training pantheon.

Hell, let’s be honest for a second. I’ll dog on machine-based training all day long, but you can still increase strength using those machines. It may not be ideal, but if that’s what it takes for someone to train, so be it. They’ll gain some strength and get a little healthier. That’s not a bad thing.

At the end of the day, there’s no single way to get stronger. There are some ways that are better than others, at least for some people, but I’m getting tired of people going on and on about how you need to do it this way if you want to do X, especially when there’s little evidence supporting their BS claims.

Instead, just find a way that works. There are plenty of them.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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