Survivorship Bias And Success In Spite Of Celebrity Stupidity
For generations we’ve glorified the premier professional, strength, and physique athletes who’ve been successful in spite of bad or useless practices. Elite bodybuilders are the products of elite genetics combined with years of great nutrition, training intensity and volume, and pharmaceutical grade drugs. The number of competitors who got seriously injured, sick, or burned out along the way are often invisible. The guys (and girls) at the top are often those resilient enough or downright lucky to survive the bad practices and risky habits endemic to their sports.
Survivorship bias is defined as the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, due to lack of visibility. More plainly, it’s failing to see all the bodies along the way, broken by carelessness and poor methods. Instead the survivors credit and promote those methods, leading other to their doom.
We hunger for the special secret behind the pros success. It can’t really be as simple or obvious as great nutrition, consistent training with intensity, enough sleep, thoughtful recovery, or intelligent programming. Then wouldn’t everyone be elite? Not everyone is willing to apply these basics year in year out. They’re looking for shortcuts. Trying biohacks like butter in coffee or coffee enimas. Buying every unproven supplement without eating enough protein. Taking cold showers while sleeping 5 hours a night. Maxing out weight on every workout and cheating most reps. Compensating for dumbfuckrey with magic beans.
If everyone developed the patience to nail the basics we would see a lot more successful lifters and athletes. Master proven fundamentals and add years of quality to your workouts and life. Nothing about this message feels sexy, yet it’s the best road to long term sexiness and quality of life. We require the discipline to resist the rush to have everything now.
Here are 4 places where lifters fail to focus and do the basics right, often lured instead into fancy but useless tactics popularized by famous athletes. Even when these tactics offer some value, its because they’re seeking that extra 0.1% to make them better after years of mastering the big rocks, where you would be better served focusing on those big rocks first.
7-9 hours is recommended to function and recover optimally. For high level athletes error on the high end. You aren’t a machine who can sustain 4-5 hours a night. Ignore Dwayne Johnson, a perfect example of survivorship bias, one of the most recognizable, successful, charismatic, and downright awesome people in the world. He of 4 hours of sleep per night and an extensive array of surgeries and injuries from years of wrestling, stunts, and football. Try his routine and most of you would die within weeks. He’s an anomaly and succeeds through genetic gifts, unparalleled hard work and dedication, charisma, and a hell of a lot of good fortune. Dwayne has a 40,000 lbs of equipment gym he has shipped around with him to movie sets, good luck affording your own travelling gym. He succeeds in spite of sleeping so little. It’s hard to calculate what role his poor sleep plays in his injuries though it’s safe to assume it’s not helping.
We are functionally impaired when deprived of sleep, even after one night. Our reaction times are slowed. You fail to optimally build muscle and recover from training, and struggle to retain the willpower to make consistently positive nutrition and lifestyle choices. Even when we think we’re lying down for 8 hours, the presence of blue light through our devices affects our sleep quality to the point of detriment.
Prioritize 7-9 hours sleep, discard the grind porn mentality, and avoid blue light emitting devices within an hour before bed.
Eat enough calories for your training and recovery goals. Eat in a mild caloric deficit to drop body fat while using a mild surplus to drive lean muscle growth. Consume one gram of protein per lean pound of body mass. Eat a variety of healthy whole foods, fruit and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. Add calorie dense foods you enjoy within your goals to maintain sanity and fuel higher caloric needs. Add a good protein powder(mention Metabolic Drive Protein) to reach protein targets.
Trainees often bypass the basics of sleep and nutrition to ask about what over the counter supplements are the keys to building a great physique. We call this “majoring in the minor”. Outside of protein and creatine, proven effective components of any good training program, few other supplements offer benefit going beyond 1% improvement upon having already done everything else right. Failing to cover the proven basics renders supplements meaningless.
Avoid the fads and celebrity biohacks. Tom Brady is the most successful football player of all time due to a great mental makeup, elite skills and work ethic, a great coach and team, luck(Drew Bledsoe injury), and perhaps some carefully timed cheating, not because late in his career he began a pseudoscientific regime of eating “alkalizing” and “anti-inflammatory” foods. He’s successful not because of this bat shit insane dietary ideology, but in spite of it, as his other gifts more than compensate for this nonsense.
Resistance training breaks down muscle fibre. The body responds to training stimulus by repairing bigger and stronger in the presence of enough rest and fuel. We adapt stronger to progressive overload.
Cutting edge recovery methods and biohacking are gaining attention as research struggles to keep up and athletes seek an edge over competition. Heat and cold therapy or the combination of both are gaining popularity.
Lebron James spends $1.5 million per year to keep his body in top condition. Most notably his use of a cryo-therapy chamber. Research points to some benefit from cryo-therapy as a mild pain reliever and anti-inflammatory benefitting in season athletes, helping them stay on the court and be effective. Other popular bio hacks among pro athletes like kinesio-tape and cupping, have never been supported by research.
Cryo-therapy isn’t magic. Its effects are minor and the experience of being immersed in an ice cold bath can be awful. The anti-inflammatory effects would interfere with offseason training intent on building muscle size and strength adaptation, as inflammation is a natural part of the muscle break down and repair cycle. It’s no replacement for great sleep and nutrition. The sexy features on Lebron’s cryo often leave out the basics he does well or that fact he’s a genetic god of basketball forged with confidence from years of hard work. Cryo-therapy may offer a slight edge to Lebron but won’t offer tangible benefits to the dedicated gym goer in the pursuit of an ever more impressive physique, while implementing is impractical at best. Cryo-therapy didn’t make Lebron, Lebron helped make cryo a fad. Nor has cryo hasn’t taken any mediocre players and vaulted them into NBA superstardom.
Training Form and Ego Lifting
Your ego can be your best ally or worst enemy in the gym. Consistently faking strength because you lie to yourself about your true abilities can over time accumulate injury risk and poor results. Instead use your ego to avoid missing workouts. Use it to drive long term consistency and hard work. Out train, out eat, and out rest everyone else. Learn patience and trust the process to enjoy the rewards of an ever improving physique.
Learn excellent form early and apply it always. Don’t let a little cheating become a regular excuse to throw around weight you otherwise aren’t strong enough to lift or control. Learn the rules to know when it’s safe and effective to break them. Stop maxing out on your bench press every week and your 5 rep max cheat curl/hip swing looks like garbage. Squat to proper depth for your hip mobility and ditch the ultra heavy quarter squats on the smith machine. You aren’t fooling anyone. Frequent cheat reps are just a way to legitimize bad form and using too much weight.
I’ve never seen a video of IFBB Pro Branch Warren training with strict form. He’s reached great heights in pro bodybuilding. Many people equate these as his secret. Pay closer attention and you have a pro bodybuilder who’s career was repeatedly interrupted by serious injuries. We can’t say with certainty the training style “caused” all those injuries but it’s not a difficult reach. Furthermore you have no business training this way, because most of you reading this don’t have his genetics or pharmaceuticals. His work ethic, to train and recover from those injuries, along with his nutrition are likely unmatched too. Beginner and intermediate lifters shouldn’t be doing world class bodybuilder programs and training volumes. Use Ronnie Coleman videos for some “light weight baby” motivation but don’t copy it.
Experienced lifters are stubborn creatures of habit. All too often the skills and habits that worked for you for so many years are no longer serving you and causing more problems than now solving. Younger lifters can get away with training hard without training smart. Brute force of will and youthful resilience evade or recover from wear and tear enough to build a decent physique. A physique capable of big numbers in the absence of strict form.
This approach works until the day it stops working. Until your body finally says enough and something quits on you. The guy who says “I’ve never gotten hurt doing it this way” hasn’t gotten hurt YET. He may never but he’s inviting it to happen.
Now you’re faced with an injury requiring rest and modified workouts. Still many of us rush back to our old habits without proper rehabilitation or enough recovery time. Right back to the same movement and programming flaws causing the injury in the first place. Soon the cycle repeats. Until the injury becomes severe enough to remove the lifter from the gym outright, or they wisen up and make some changes to their approach. Training time lost due to injury is one of the single greatest barriers to your best results.
It’s important to understand we aren’t always successful ‘because’ of our habits, but ‘in spite’ of them. Most long term lifters do enough things right with training, intensity, nutrition, “supplements”, and rest, where they mistake problem behaviours for significant contributors to their progress. Ego lifting, questionable form, unique secret sauce exercises no one else does (is foolish enough to bother with), and poor recovery tactics all masquerade as the secret ingredients to success. These become anecdotes passed around the gym as keys to success when they’re anything but. Glossed over are the tried and true but boring consistencies behind your progress.