Occam’s Razor

William of Ockham. He Da Man!


Occam’s Razor . . . my favorite scientific principal. Simply stated (since that is the theme of this post) it means do not choose a complicated answer when a simple one will suffice. Attributed to William of Ockham, this principle has become one of the pillars of the scientific method.


What does this have to do with fitness? Just about everything.


The fitness industry is full of fancy terms that serve to showcase exercise as the science it aspires to be. “Sports Science”, “Exercise Physiology”, “Applied Kinesiology”, “Sports Medicine”, these are just some of the sub-genres of exercise science.


To be sure, the scientific study of human physiology and its response to physical training is a glorious pursuit having brought with it many wonderful revelations. But I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost sight of Occam’s Razor. And if we actually have strayed from this scientific foundation, can we really claim to be practicing sound science?


It seems to me that many practitioners in the field of strength, conditioning and athletics are unable to navigate the straight path.


“I want to get stronger and lose weight” you tell your personal trainer. “No problem,” your trainer responds, “First, let me take a seven point pinch test to determine your body fat level. Next, the sit and reach test to check flexibility. Now, let’s subtract your age from 220 to determine your maximum heart rate. Great. So now we’re going to put you on the treadmill at 50% of your estimated VO2 Max in order to optimally burn fat calories. Then maybe some one-legged bosu ball squats to develop functional core strength . . .”


Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass how many one-legged bosu ball squats you can do, and my guess is neither do you. You stated a simple goal – build strength and lose weight – and now you’ve spent half your training session under exam and the other half doing oddball or fruitless exercises. It all seems so scientific, but what are the results you have to show for it?


Now what if you bypassed your trainer altogether and instead made a B line to that buff scary bald-headed guy over by the squat rack. What would he have to say?


“You want to lose weight and get stronger? Then drop to the floor and give me twenty,” he might say. “Now load that barbell with a couple 45’s and start squatting. Good, now go have some steak and green shit for dinner”.


If you think this method might be more likely to produce the desired results you’d be correct. I don’t blame the personal trainers. They’ve spent plenty of time and money acquiring education and training credentials. Why go through all that effort just to prescribe your client pushups and squats? Any simpleton could do that.


And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? A trainer better have some fancy exotic exercises and scientific mumbo jumbo to show for all their schooling and self-study. Otherwise why would anyone pay their exorbitant hourly rate?


But the fact is we don’t give a shit about mumbo jumbo. We want results. So I’m telling you right now, if you want real results then keep it simple. Choose your goal and walk the straight line to get there.


But how can you tell the direct path from the convoluted? Simple . . .


Occam’s Razor.


Whenever you are presented with a routine or diet ask yourself, “Is there a simpler way?” If so, then you can be sure it’s a better way.





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  1. Hey Trevor… I have never heard of Occam or his Gillette Mach 3 Super Blade. But, the philosophy in this post rings of truth. A short observation:

    My Taekwondo instructor’s favorite exercise is the push-up. He’ll bark out orders in a moment’s notice to do 20 or 30 out of the blue during our 45-60 minute sessions. Sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes more.

    I used to hate push-ups. And I struggled with them for a long time. But I realized, if I could do every single number of push-ups he told us to do, it would divert negative attention and shame from me. These days, I am almost always the first one finished in class. And very often with an extra 5 or 10 on top of the number he told us.

    I’ve since made it a priority to do (collectively) a minimum of 100 to 120 or more in one day, 3-4 times a week. At this point, I can do 50 in one shot; which by no co-incidence is half way to my 100 a day. I want these things done and over with as quickly as possible. At the beginning of the year, I was lucky to do 30; and also without the goal of 100+ per day.

    The key motivator here for me is, simply, shame and fear. I fear the shame of not being able to do something as simple as push-ups when the instructor tells us to. I watch other classmates struggle with these, and say to myself … no freaking way … not for me. Now, a reverse, jump side-kick? Another story. But that is not as simple and basic as a push-up. So I allow myself a little slack (though not much, mind you).

    He’s a good trainer, not because he’s a nice guy, he’s good because he knows what he’s doing, and he pushes you hard. He has that attitude that speaks … if you don’t do what I say, you will be the one who suffers in the end. It seems like we’re all seeking some form of approval from this guy. And he rarely gives it. But that in itself is motivating. Strange how I pay good money for this abuse, huh? Still, I see it as a necessary evil to walk the road of self-improvement.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog, thus far as a new visitor this week. Happy New Year to you!

    • Hi Jeffrey, I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my blog. And I appreciate you sharing your story. 50 pushups in one set is a serious accomplishment. Congrats on turning a weakness into a strength. That’s no easy feat.

      It sounds like your instructor has managed to find the sweet spot of tough love. Encouraging, but allowing no excuses. I think I’d like this guy.

      I hope you stick around and continue to add your insight when you feel you have something to offer.


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