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What Wall Street Can Teach Us About Fitness

wall street fitness

Have you ever been fascinated about the parallels between the stock market and the world of fitness? I didn’t think so. Truth be told, it is a rather odd and seemingly pointless comparison to illustrate. With that being said, let me explain the rather simple reason for me continuing down this twisted path of dork. I wanted to write an article about some fundamental rules and aspects of personal fitness and the fitness industry in general; but that had the potential of being dryer than Norm McDonald’s sense of humor. So as I was compiling my list of essential points and observations, I couldn’t help but notice that it could easily be applied to the world of financial investments (it should be noted that I took a butt-load of advanced investment courses while getting my BS and MBA). So here we go; the things I believe are essential for everyone to know and understand about fitness, training and your health in general with a side-order of Wall Street.

Consistency will generally lead to long-term gains (profits), but they will not be perfectly linear.

Sticking to a legitimate fitness and nutrition program will generally lead to quality gains and improvement, just like a legitimate investment strategy. However, it is important to remember that this will never occur in a perfectly linear fashion. For example, if you are trying to lose weight and you chart your total weight lost over a 12 month period, you will certainly see a solid improvement when you compare day 1 to day 365. However, you can become easily frustrated if you start comparing much smaller time frames, like May 1st to May 10th. It is important to understand that The Law of Averages is as relevant in fitness as it is investing. Losing 12 pounds in 12 weeks is very realistic, but it will not likely be exactly 1 pound every week. The weekly pattern will look more like: lose 1, lose 1, lose 0, lose 2, lose 0, gain 1, etc…. This is why individuals who weigh themselves every day, try to max out every other week or stare at their stocks moving up and down every hour are so easily frustrated and often make irrational decisions. So trust in your fitness program, just as you would trust in your long-term investment strategy, and avoid micro-monitoring.

There will be large setbacks (dips), but they can make you stronger.

Injuries for active individuals are about as inevitable as large dips in the market. Fitness at it’s very core is about pushing your body beyond it’s current capacity; just like investing is essentially about trying to get more value out of your current capital. In both scenarios, there are different levels of risk and as the risk increases, so too does the potential size of any future dips or setbacks. A fitness example could be a casual morning runner vs. an ultra-marathon runner. The casual runner may get up 5 days a week and knock out a 3 to 5 mile jog, while these ultra-marathoners are training to run 100+ miles in environments similar to Mars. Mr. Casual will certainly experience an occasional minor strain, some shin splints and even tendonitis; most of which will set him back a few weeks before he is back to his normal routine. However, this crazy bird who knocks out standard marathons in between snacks is likely going to encounter torn tendons, cracked bones, bacterial infections and countless other major issues over the life of her training that set her back months at a time. So while they both experience setbacks or dips, the severity of them are often loosely proportional to the risks or magnitude of their training or strategy. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, accepting setbacks is critically important to long-term success and can occasionally create opportunities for improvement.

While a setback or dip can certainly occur by simple chance, they are far more often a result of a mistake or shortcoming in your training or strategy. Yes, if a jackass drops a dumbbell on your foot it is simply a tough break for you. But if you strain a muscle in your lower back, it is likely due to improper technique, weakness in your lower back, lagging support muscle or overly-aggressive programming. Similar occurrences are seen everyday in the stock market. If not by pure chance, maybe your hedging strategy was flawed, analysis was incomplete or your strategy carried more risk than you were really willing to take on. In both situations, you are now served up an opportunity to sulk or take a step back and honestly asses the situation. The ability to look at yourself and your actions honestly and critically is essential to making extraordinary progress in any field. You made a mistake and you will certainly make another someday… learn from it.

apple stock

Take a look at the graph above; this is Apple’s stock from 2003 to early 2010. However, this could easily represent someones training progress over that same period. Lets say the line represents someone’s total pounds lost, starting at A and ending at Z. At point B, things were great, work was good, family was healthy, no additional stress and all nutrition and training was near perfect. However at point C, they pulled a muscle at work and had to grind out a couple months of rehab. The important thing to take away is the progress made from A to Z; it is not linear and it has plenty of dips, but they are much better off in 2010 than 2003.

Tons of “experts” and “magic formulas”… minimal substance.

Part of what make it so difficult to find personal success with fitness or investing is the massive flood of misleading marketing, misinformation and asses that want you to think they have a secret. Since most of you have a pretty good understanding of this problem’s existence, I am going to focus more on developing perspective rather than attempting to prove the problem is real. What was the most popular trend, program or book 20, 15, 10, 5, 3 years ago? Is is still relevant? With few exceptions, that is highly unlikely in most fields and industries. Now look at the ones that have withstood the test of time and almost all of them are teaching something that is not far removed from “basic fundamentals.” There is a lot of money to be made by marketing off-the-wall ideas and “revolutionary” principals; which is why so many people do it. This is especially true if it promises faster results. The beauty of it is that by the time everyone realizes that polished turd is still just a turd when you open it up, their bank account is looking lovely. The reason people do this is that it is simply not profitable to market minor training improvements to the masses, as legitimate as they may be.

Most new discoveries in training and exercise physiology research are measured in numbers that are far too small to excite the general population. Yes, people like myself and others who take this industry seriously will get all jacked up about a technique that improves explosive force in the squat by 1/2 a percentage or increases VO2 Max by 2%….. but you wont see that on the best seller’s list. When exercise and fitness advances are looked at in 5,10 and 15 year increments, you will see some pretty amazing improvements; but books and magazines need to make you think they happen monthly or yearly. Look for sources that simply provide you up-to-date information and do not claim to have a unique or secret method or formula.

Lots of good strategies; generally the same result.

One of the main concepts I remember being incredibly fascinated by in one of my investment courses was the fact that, when applied to the same market, most hedging strategies provided almost the exact same end result, despite huge differences in theory. I believe that there is a tremendous amount of truth to this in the fitness and training industry as well. If you take a handful of legitimate and proven programs with the same goal and apply them to equivalent populations for an equal amount of time, the end results are going to be very similar. Why am I so sure this is true? First, I’ve worked with thousands of individuals in my training career, used a lot of different techniques and seen the results first hand. Second, if there was a single program that dominated the others it would be blatantly obvious in competitive outlets. Take power lifting for example; if there was a single program that clearly produced the best long-term results, those lifters would all rise to the top and dominate the record books. But no, you have a number of different power lifting programs with seemingly different approaches that ultimately produce very similar results. Keep in mind that I am talking about solid, time-tested strategies that are based on solid fundamental principals, not Joe Dingo’s Ballistic Bosu Body Buster (not real, don’t try to find it).

Whatever program you are on, you need to give it legitimate time and stop bouncing from program to program just because your neighbor said they added 50 pounds of muscle in 5 days or your best friend said they know how to fart out subcutaneous water. All solid programs are designed with the long-term in mind; so make a real commitment, jump in with both feet and push yourself. If you don’t trust that the program designer is giving you good information…. find a program designed by someone you do trust. If you are second guessing everything, you will never have the commitment or focus required for any program to work.

Diversity is essential.

From an investing stand point, anyone that went all in on the .com boom in the 90’s or the real estate explosion around 2008 can attest to the importance of diversity. The same holds true to the stereo-typical meat head who crushes a few heavy lifts and forgets about accessory work, pre-habilitation, flexibility, cardiovascular development, balanced nutrition, mobility, GPP, etc… Based upon your goal, there is certainly elements of training that have to make up the majority of your program; but forgetting about everything else is simply setting yourself up for disaster. On the other side of this coin, trying to do an equal amount of everything pretty much ensures that you won’t be real good at anything or make any real strides in the direction of your actual goal.  Unfortunately, many of today’s most popular programs are built upon this concept of non-specificity.

The funny part about this concept in the training and athletic world is that the biggest proponents of diversity, balance, pre-habilitation, etc.. tend to be those on the way out of their given sport or domain.  I am certain this is true with investors as well; particularly when talking to anyone who acquired a massive amount of wealth, only to see it vanish in an instant.  Why is this?  Well it is undoubtedly a result of using one’s current state or health as a gauge for future success.  When you are a young, healthy athlete or individual it is very hard to picture it being any other way; the same holds true for a young investor who has only seen thriving markets and never experienced a notable dip.  But ask any recently-retired running back, powerlifter, bodybuilder or gymnast what they would have done differently in order to add a couple financially valuable years to their career or be able to retire with a lot less permanent damage to their body.  In retrospect many of them will acknowledge how much more balance and preventative measures they would have incorporated into their standard routine.  So don’t pigeon hole yourself into an excessively focused frame of mind; adding the proper balance and diversity will actually accelerate your progress and certainly your longevity.

You get in what you put in.

To get huge actual profits, you typically have to invest huge sums of cash across the board.  Lets say Investor A dedicates $1,000 to a single stock for 1 year and it yields a return of 10% at the end of the year.  Whereas Investor B dedicates $1,000 each to 2 different stocks, both of which yield a return of 8% at the end of the year.  Investor A, with his higher return, ends the year with $110 in his pocket.  Investor B, with his slightly lower rate of return, ends the year with $2,160 in his pocket.  When looked at from an investment standpoint it is very straightforward and seemingly elementary.  Unfortunately for most people, they don’t see a similar correlation to their training and general health.

From a fitness standpoint, look at it as though Individual 1 commits his full energy to pure weight training.  At the end of the year, assuming no injury, he is going to see some pretty impressive gains.  Now lets assume Individual 2 commits solid, but just slightly less, energy to their weight training and their nutrition.  At the end of the year, their overall health and fitness gains will be slightly higher than those of Individual 1.  Now the beauty of the fitness world vs. the world of investments is that the independent variables can directly improve the gains and progress of the other variables; no such relationship exists in the world of investments.  For example, if you are committed to both a quality strength training program and a balanced nutrition plan, the benefits of each are increased by the pure existence and implementation of the other.  However, in investing, one stock in your portfolio will not provide a higher return simply because you added another stock.

The important take away here is that investing your energy and commitment to more than one aspect or your training or health will result in much better progress.  As simple as this seems, most experienced trainers and coaches can attest to rampant existence of this shortcoming.

OK, let’s cash out.

In summary, there are important aspects of training, exercise and health that can help guide you and avoid personal frustration, just by knowing they exist.

  1. Consistency is key with every goal.  You will have ups and downs, but it is the long-term commitment that is most important.
  2. You WILL have setbacks.  Everybody has them and those that aren’t deterred by them will yield the greatest personal success.
  3. There are no magic shakes or formulas.  Companies know that people love the promise of a shortcut and they will take your money until you see the truth.
  4. Use time-tested, quality principals, techniques and routines and trust in them long enough to reap the results.
  5. There is more than 1 program that can help you reach your goal.  Pick 1 and stick to it long enough to reap its results.  Don’t bounce around.
  6. Diversify your training, but keep the majority of it relative to your main goal.  Don’t over-diversify… unless you don’t have a goal (shame on you).
  7. Big results require a big personal investment.  Mediocre results require a mediocre personal investment.  Pick one and don’t expect anything above what you chose.

You only have one life on this planet*, so invest Big!


*Assumption…. please don’t email me about this.

lucas irwin

One Comment

  1. Jon Alcalay says:

    Definitely agree with everything in this article. The last month or so I have dedicated myself to a consistent workout regimen and a clean diet. I don’t weigh myself because I noticed in the past, every time I saw progress or a decline, I’d get complacent and slack off on my routine. I decided to weigh myself at the beginning at end of every month to keep me motivated.

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