Short term results versus long term success: be the tortoise!


Everyone has fallen into the trap: “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” or “add 50 lbs to your squat in 1 month”. I probably don’t need to tell you that these programs rarely work, and if they do, they set you up for disappointment in the future. But why?

While short term results might be very tempting, they are rarely what you really wanted in the long run. Programs which promise these results, fail in areas which we will discuss here.

  1. Too much too soon: lack of realistic progressive overload

    This applies to most of the programs which promise you inhuman strength gains in short amounts of time. They focus on you working at very high intensities for most of the days, constantly overloading the samAfbeeldingsresultaat voor bulgariae muscles right from the get-go or after a very short build-up. This is very similar to the Bulgarian style of weight
    lifting training.

    While these
    athletes did in fact produce great results from time to time, a large part of their success can be attributed to the high training specificity (which can also be a pitfall as we will discuss in the next point) and their reported use of “vitamin S”. The lack of progressive overload makes this a recipe for disaster.

  2. The law of specificity

    What’s the best way to increase your bench press in 2 weeks? Well… Just bench press. Same applies to running, jumping, and about any other activity you can mention. That’s exactly what the law of specificity says: you will get better at what you train in. It probably won’t get you much better in anything other than that though (well, it depends on the exercise and your training status).

    And that’s what most of these strength programs try to do. They put heavy emphasis on a certain movement or muscle group, neglecting everything else. But after a short while, improvements will stall, while simultaneously realizing you’ve made zero progress on all the other things you wanted to achieve. Also, when you revert to your normal training regimen, your central nervous system will quickly adapt again and revert to its old status, leaving you with no/little results. (note that most of your initial strength improvements are from central nervous system adaptations (=neural drive), not from actual muscle growth (=PCSA), as shown in the graph below)
    aerobic_anaerobic_exercise_adaptations

  3. Unhealthy changes

    This one applies specifically to weight loss. A fantastic way to lose weight very fast is to cut all water intake and carbohydrates. I promise you will lose a lot of weight in a very short amount of time. I also promise you will get sick and feel horrible, and will rebound back to your starting weight.

    I won’t go into details why cutting water is a bad idea (lowering carbohydrate intake is very often a good idea though, but that’s the topic of another post), but this is clearly a prime example of cheating yourself and pursuing short-term goals while neglecting other more important things.

  4. Injuries

    Another issue with these programs is that they either start off way too intense or ramp up volume extremely fast. They neglect the need for a general preparation phase to let your body adjust to the task at hand. Instead they jump straight in. The unprepared body will react accordingly, breaking down at the weakest point. The result: an injury, which instead of getting you 2 steps further, brings you back 3.

  5. Burnout and quitting

The last thing I’d like to discuss is the risk of a burnout and reverting to not doing anything at all. So you’ve just done nothing for 3 months. You gather the courage to start working out again. Awesome. Screw the beginner workouts, you’re jumping straight to the extreme killer abs in 2 weeks program.  After a strong first few days, results are not there yet but you are extremely sore. How could this be? You carry on and reach the end of the program, but the results are not as promised. If the killer 2 week program can’t help you, you must be a lost cause. Disappointed, you shy away from exercising for 2 months, only to come to the conclusion that you still haven’t reached your goal.

The unrealistic expectations and lack of results in these kind of programs set you up for disappointment. They make you feel like a failure. It’s not you, it’s the crappy program which caused all of this. All you did wrong was falling into the trap of short term results.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor tortoise hare

The conclusion: be the tortoise

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare. The latter thought he would win the race, but the smart tortoise made slow and steady progress, while the hare was distracted and fell asleep. Slow and steady progress is better than fast short progress followed by nothing at all. Be the tortoise!