The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between
Simple to Complex

Simple to Complex

I was reading an article the other day in which Jim Wendler stated that in order to achieve success, programs go from Simple to Complex.

For a long time, I held the opposite view.  Things should not get more difficult as you progress, but should become easier.  After reading his examples though, I realized that he was completely right.  You see with experience things that were once “complex” for you become “simpler.” As you continue to progress though, you must make your workouts more difficult or more “complex” from an outsider’s perspective. 

Too often, what happens with people and exercise is that they go from doing nothing, to wanting to do one of the most complex training systems.   Then they wonder why they’re not seeing any results or success in the gym.   

Despite knowing that we must be stretched beyond our comfort zone, we must not be stretched so far as to feel intimidated or scared to try the workouts (which is why having a partner or a good personal trainer is such a help when starting out). 

Chunk Theory

In Psychology, there’s a term for how we go from simple to complex with learning and growing.  An example is when you first learned how to read when you were younger.  You went from individual letters to simple words with pictures, C-A-T, Cat.

From those words you added complexity with sentence structure and then abstract ideas.  Each realm added a layer of complexity, while also negating the smaller items. 

The reason why anyone is able to do this is because of a term coined by psychologists as “chunk theory.”  When we were first learning, each letter represented a “chunk” of information.  As we learned more, strings of letters became a whole “chunk,” aka, words.  And then after that, strings of words become Chunks (Think “United States of America”). 

In learning anything, from chess to exercise, this chunk theory and the ability to progress from simple to complex is what separates novices from experts and experts from world-class performers and athletes. 

This is also one of the main reasons why taking advice from “experts” can be so difficult sometimes.  They see things and say things that are relevant from their perspective and not necessarily yours. 

With that said, what’s the point of all of this? 

The whole point is to start with something that is “complex and challenging” FOR YOU, individually and not some abstract definition.  Research has shown time and time again, that we like to be held accountable to higher standards.  Those higher standards show us a glimpse of the possible, of what we are made of and what we are capable of achieving when we put our minds to something.  The key is to find what is appropriate FOR YOU and then to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone and into your “learning zone.”   

As time goes on and you continue to improve, in order to continue to see progress, you will need to change it up and be able to make the “chunks of exercise” more complex.  The key though is starting with what is appropriate for you.  Start with the letters if need be (walking in terms of exercise).  If you’ve moved past the letters, then go onto the words (machine based exercises and some jogging).  If you’re past that, then work on sentence structure (appropriate strength training and cardio combinations).  And if you’re really advanced, then you can work on the abstract ideas (Drop sets, Interval Training, Long-term program structure, etc…). 

The key is to know your individual level and stretch yourself from there.  Say you are in the “letter” group.  Stretch yourself to jog for just 30 seconds every 5 minutes you spend walking and stretch yourself.  If you’re in the “words” category, try learning a couple free weight exercises, and so on. 

So the only question then is, are you actually going to do it?  If you need some help, visit the workouts page on this site.

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