I recently heard an athlete say something to the effect of: “I’ve been squatting a lot lately and my knees are killing me. I think it’s finally time to invest in some knee sleeves.”
My aim is not to admonish her for this judgment. In fact, her thinking illustrates a deeper issue in our culture that sparks deeper consideration. To solve her issue she immediately looked for what was missing. Her instinct was for addition. What can I add to solve the problem?
This response is flawed twofold. First, the perspective places the onus on external factors rather than on personal responsibility. Rather than believe she is capable of solving the issue (or at least trying), she looked for assistance. Second, she assumed that an external solution exists at all.
Many of us in the functional movement culture have adopted a more holistic view of health and nutrition. We look to our ancestry for answers. We know that health comes from returning to the essentials. We believe that healthy nutritional choices come from eliminating problematic factors rather than adding a supplement or pill. I am struck by the inherent contradictions in her fitness beliefs. This athlete would espouse the benefits of a more natural Paleo Diet while, in the same breath, seek optimal squatting through the use of very-non-Paleo tools like lifting shoes and knee sleeves.
She sought a pill to treat her symptoms rather than examine her current squatting diet. Perhaps she has eaten too many squats lately. She might consider changing the frequency or type of squat. Maybe it is the way she is consuming her squats: position, loading, form, or other imbalances. Rather than assume control and examine what she can change, she elected for the off-the-shelf solution.
As with most training lessons, her story illustrates a truth that goes far beyond health and fitness.
In solving every issue, look first to subtraction.
Ask, if I had to solve this by only eliminating factors, how would I do it?
Nearly every problem can be solved by pure elimination. Subtraction is not the easier route, but it is simpler and usually more effective.
I’ve been forced to make many difficult cuts. I suffered a back injury that grew only worse with heavy strength work. Eliminating heavy barbells from my training and dialing back the intensity forced me to let go of my CrossFit competition goals. Ending a toxic relationship required the most painful conversation that I’ve ever had. When a room of your house or an area of your life feel overwhelming and stress-inducing, it’s time to declutter.
Solutions rarely lay in the world, but rather underneath the pile of influences that we’ve already accumulated.
This essay was originally written in December 2016 and a version appear on Inspired Human Development here.