Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fat Loss Theory and the Hedgehog Concept

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins reveals to us the Hedgehog Concept, based on the famous Isaiah Berlin essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox." The story goes as follows.

The story revolves around the idea that people are categorized as either hedgehogs or foxes. Foxes know many things, but hedgehogs know one big thing.

The fox is cunning and can devise hundreds, if not thousands of strategies for sneaking up on the hedgehog. So, every day the fox comes up with a new plan to pounce on the hedgehog. He circles around the hedgehogs den just waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

The hedgehog leaves his den to find food, and the fox has his chance, so he leaps out hoping to surprise and kill the hedgehog using his new plan. Of course, the hedgehog, although he is in danger, is not afraid. He wonders if the fox will ever learn. The hedgehog rolls up into a ball and becomes a sphere of sharp spikes. The fox sees this and realizes he can't do anything or he will get speared... so he retreats and tries to come up with a new plan. Every day, another version of this battle takes place... and every day, the hedgehog wins.

As Bruce Lee once said, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

You see, foxes, according to Berlin, are "scattered or diffused, moving on many levels." What they don't have is a one unifying concept or overall vision. They see the world for all its complexities. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify all these complexities into one basic principle. Every challenge, every dilemma, no matter how complex, is reduced to a simple hedgehog idea. According to Collins, anything that does not relate to the hedgehog idea is irrelevant.

What does all this talk of hedgehogs and foxes have to do with fat loss? Read on and find out!

You see, there are two types of "exercisers."

There are those that bounce around from workout to workout, trying dozens upon dozens of different programs. They are never fully satisfied with the results from the program they are currently following... and this becomes especially apparent when the latest and greatest new workout is released claiming to solve all the problems they are currently having. So, rather than stick with the program, they jump ship... trying out the newer and better than ever workout. This cycle repeats itself and the exerciser is just constantly frustrated. Like the fox, this person never gets the result he or she wants.

Then there is the person that finds a program and sticks with it to the end. One concept. One program. One result. This person, day in and day out, follows a routine based on one central idea and is almost always satisfied with the end results... just like the hedgehog.

What type of exerciser are you?

Now, I want to address fat loss programming very briefly. There are thousands... maybe even millions... of programs, modalities, and pieces of equipment out there that claim to get you the results you want. There is steady state cardio, Insanity, P90X, the Ab Circle Pro, HIIT, high repetition and isolative resistance training, circuit training, fasted cardio, etc. In fact, I have written extensively on most of those subjects... if you care to follow the links.

All of them claim to have some unique science or explanation for why they are the best method for fat loss... but every single one of them misses the broadside of the barn entirely! They are wanting... and if you are like the fox... you will get caught up with all the complexities and all the information, and you will attempt to try each and every program to find out which of them is the best because... how else would you know if you didn't try all of them?!?!?!?

THAT is the fatal flaw of the fox. The fox doesn't see things as a unified whole and has to try everything.

Whenever I negatively review a fat loss program (such as P90X), there is always, without a doubt, someone who will get angry with me and say, "The program works! Have you even tried it?"

This argument, if you can even call it that, fails to stir up any kind of emotion in me simply because I have created a hedgehog concept, The Theory of Fat Loss. The power of a well-crafted hedgehog concept is that you do not need to waste your resources attempting to figure out whether things will work or not. You merely need to determine if they relate to the concept. If they do, they are valuable and worth pursuing. If they don't, they are not.

If you still fail to see my point... imagine this: A man approaches you on the street and asks you to buy cocaine from him. You say, "No thanks, cocaine is bad." He responds, "No, you're wrong. Cocaine is great. All my friends do it, and they have a blast every time, have never gone to jail, and are models of health and wellness. Have you even tried it?" Of course you haven't. Why? You follow the following hedgehog concept:

Illegal drugs are bad.

But I digress. It is not the modality. It is not the program. Fat loss is about absolute intensity and respecting individual limits. In other words, it is the unique context for every individual that determines how one should go about training to optimize long term and sustainable fat loss.

I am reminded of another Bruce Lee quote... ""Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own."

There are plenty of programs out there. The one's that will work for YOU all follow one simple concept.

If you want to find that one BIG thing... that hedgehog concept that will allow you to determine whether any fat loss program is worth pursuing... then look no further. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

The Theory of Fat Loss: A New Paradigm for Exercise

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