Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Random Variety

I've been thinking about this for the past week and it's difficult for me to put it into words as eloquently as I would like. Art Devany has some very scientific examples of this "randomization" principle and wrote about it often, years ago. I don't know if he has addressed it recently, as my paid subscription to his site expired.

So here goes my "observational speculation";
With the exception of your (happily) chosen field and the practice of unconditional love, everything else done  steadily/daily will not serve you in optimal ways. (this even includes breathing and meditation)
I guess my thoughts about this aren't exactly earth shattering or new, I mean how old is the expression "variety is the spice of life"?
But after running the half marathon and many people flat out calling me crazy, I just started thinking more and more about this. My work outs are random, what I eat is random, how I run is very random.
Since I'm having difficulty putting this onto words, I will share my own personal examples.

I will hit the gym hard lets say for 4 weeks (3 x a week), and then just like that, I won't go for 2 weeks. This doesn't mean I'm not active. It just takes a different form, maybe lots of bodyweight stuff and outdoor sprinting. I might play tennis 3 times a week for 2 weeks, and then I'll be missing in action for 2 weeks, not playing any tennis. I might join my friend at his crossfit gym for a week, but it will be 3 months before they would see me back there. I might run a 5k or a half marathon and then not actually run for 6 weeks. Only speaking from observation and experience, I have been getting stronger and I never seem to injure myself (years ago, I would always get injured). I think that the steady running, the steady lifting, the crossfit 6 days a week, creates a repetitive strain  that our bodies just don't appreciate. Injury usually occurs. And I think that's where the much debated "what is fitness" question comes in. To me it means being strong, injury free and the ability to participate in the physical and mental activities that you are attracted to.  My kids who used to like making fun and say "dad works out, cause he wants to be buff", are learning that it's not about that. Dad wants to be surfing a lot when he's sixty, and that's only going to happen if he keeps in shape. I also think sometimes that it makes them feel good that their dad doesn't look like all their friends dads. But I could be wrong.

My eating patterns and choices are very random. I go from eating once a day, to 4-5 times a day and everything in between. I might IF for a few weeks and then not for another few weeks. Just the other day I bought a large package of smoked salmon at Costco, its about 2 pounds I think. I will finish this in 3 days, and then not have it again for 6 or 8 weeks. I can devour some Fage yogurt for 14 days, and then not for the following month. Do you see where I'm heading with all this? Keeping it random is very important I think.
What are your thoughts on it??

Enjoy your life, stick to what you know works for you, BUT SWITCH IT UP.
So completely random. Last night I wanted some rice. No idea why. A bit of rice topped with Cobia (fish)
sauteed onion, asparagus and a squeeze of tomato paste. Fresh cucumber and an evoo drizzle on the rice.
Crappy phone pic....so sorry.

A bit of a ramble I know, but try and use this to look at your own eating and exercising habits. Are you keeping things varied and random??


Chris said...


a very thought provoking post. Good stuff.

Mark said...

Art likes to talk about "diversifying your toxins" which is something I try to do. For example, I will skip vitamins on some days or take completely different ones (brands). We do the same with food - trying to make small modifications, buying different brands, etc.

I like this approach, though I don't think it works well when you make specific goals. For example, if doing a 1 arm PU was a goal, you need to put some rigor and structure into that.

epistemocrat said...

Excellent, Marc.

A "high entropy" diet seems healthy for multiple reasons: diversification of toxins and nutrients, novelty, and enjoyment. However, I have seen research on weight-loss that indicates a low-entropy diet for acute intervention may be most effective: the mechanism is likely satiation from the consumption of the same food repetitively (as long as it's real food, of course!). Part of "randomization" then would be in line with your thoughts in that sometimes we go through periods of time when our diets are simple--lots of FAGE and salmon for a few weeks, for instance--but then we take a Levy-flight and mix it up with something new. 'Random variety' in all facets of lifestyle design make things fun for me.

It seems to be key to sustainability.



TrailGrrl said...


You know it's weird, but that's what I've been doing but really for no reason. I sometimes am in grad school in addition to a fulltime job, so some of it is just my schedule is random, busy some days but not others. So I may only eat for the first time until 2:30 pm or later. I discovered that I feel great on no breakfast, assuming that I ate ok the night before... like hyper alert. And my workouts have been totally random. Maybe run for a few days, go to the functional workout for a few days and then not for a few weeks, bicycle, or nothing at all. Very weird, but I am in the best shape, at least as far as my clothes fit and how I feel. And for some weird reason I've been on a chicken panange curry kick, when I hardly have eaten much chicken for a few years, preferring steaks. Not sure what that is about. Just like I was on a carne asada kick for a few weeks. Every single day. Now Thai. When I ate the same things all the time, basically cycling menues and I worked out the same way all the time, I showed very little progress and I was tired all the time. Of course my eating was crappy protein shakes and bars and low fat stuff, and now it's real food with a lot of fat. I am itching for a workout though. Been off for about a week. But at least now I feel GOOD about being so inconsistent... I mean RANDOM.


Bryce said...


As I've matured in my understanding of how to live and enjoy the primal life, I've become very conscious of this pattern of activity and eating in my own life. I'll be very motivated towards a certain type of exercise for a while, or towards eating a certain type of food, and then I'll just move on.

Before I would look at this as my lack of personal consistency. Conventional Wisdom WRT fitness was telling me that my inability to stick to a program would hold me back.

Over time, however, I've come to recognize my proclivity towards a constantly evolving and varying way of life as a virtue, not a fault. By becoming more sensitive to what my body is asking for, I've found myself in the same place you seem to be: growing in overall fitness and healthfulness, while becoming progressively more free of chronic overuse injuries.

In keeping with living how we were meant to, living by randomness really becomes a key underlying principle to this paleo way!

Great post Mark, thanks!


Ian Simon said...

Interesting stuff, Marc. For the tri's, consistency & repetition is the key. However, I'm prepared to accept that getting to my peak ability in tri isn't going to mean I'll be at my fittest, and definitely won't mean I'm at my healthiest. I think the key is that I've considered that and accept it.

Mark made a very good point above, re targetting goals. Maybe the key is to chase frequent (and relatively easily achievable?) targets? But do you get the same thrill from running a 5k as you would from training a year to run a marathon? or completing 100 press-ups rather than deadlifting your body-weight? I guess it comes down to personality.

Marc said...

Thank you, with the exception of 2 people I know...TWO!....I just don't see anyone getting results following the 'exercise grind protocol"

That's a great point! But do you really need the structure? Maybe time for a litte self experiment.

Brent thanks for sharing your well thought out and concise thoughts.
Key point "FUN"...this I forgot to mention in my post...it keeps it fun this way. Excellent!

Sounds like you are on to something to me!!!
Panang curry...YUM ;-)
Like Brent you mentioned somethig critical; how you feel!! This is a key factor. If you workout all the time follow some tpye of diet, but you feel like crap all the time..what good is it? Thanks for sharing that.

Like Brent you have this knack for perfectly putting into words what I'm thinking ;-)
You're 100% right. This randomness is a "key" a large piece of the puzzle if you will to making it work.
Hope all is well at sea.

Good thoughts everyone, I appreciate the feedback.


Marc said...


ah...but like brent said "are you having fun?" This is key also.
And I know you are.

Mark did make a very good point. As to your point, not just personality but also capability.
For some actually making it to 100 press ups is as significant an achievement as a marathon is for others.
Thanks for the good insights.


John Sifferman said...

This is a great topic, Marc.

Spontaneity works very well for those who are seeking general fitness, but as Mark said, it doesn't work as well for people with very specific goals. It's true that most people who specialize in some type of activity, whether it be weightlifting, running, whatever - specialists tend to get injured regularly. This is not because specialization leads to injury, but that specialization without compensation leads to injury.

I know many people, myself included, whom specialize in a couple of areas and haven't been injured since they've adopted a specific practice of compensating for those activities which can lead to injury through repetition and overtraining. Things like joint mobility and yoga can go a long way, especially if you refine them to meet your individual needs on a daily basis.

In the same breath, I think planned spontaneity is a crucial aspect of physical living because it purposely allows us to experience adaptability (a skill), instead of just adapting to our routine - being adaptable instead of just adaptive. That's why I have my training goals at the center of my physical practice (including the compensatory practice required to seek those goals long-term), but I also allow some room for creativity. I'll be the first to suggest a long hiking trip, or an impromptu wrestling session, or a game of ultimate frisbee just because it's fun.

Training should support our lifestyle, not the other way around. Life is spontaneous. We can try to control it as best we can, but ultimately, something is going to disrupt the flow of things and we'll have to adapt. Why not take advantage of that every day?

Jen-JensFitnessTips.com said...

I love this post! I recently read another post from an awesome fitness blogger that talks about what you are talking about....Randomness!! It's good to mix up our routine and give our bodies new and challenging things to do. You are always active no matter if you're in the gym or not and I think that's key! Thanks for sharing...I love it!

Jen :)

Andy's Blog said...

Good post. I'm perhaps not as random as you, but do notice that at least regarding exercise, I do need a shift in protocol about every six weeks or so. Diversity in food is what keeps me reading these blogs for various ideas on what to make.

Unknown said...

I think this follows evolutionary principle. SEASONS. In our ancestors past choosing your toxins involved availability of foods based on weather conditions. We have the luxury of mass transportation now so we can choose to be random. Great post and i do the same thing.

Marc said...

Thank you so much for sharing your insights.
I couldn't agree more and I wrote once before; expect the unexpected, it's going to happen when you least expect it...don't worry about it, just flow with it.

the switch up in the gym/exercise keeps it fun and stimulating I think. Going to try your pork...thanks. See? it works both ways. Blogs=a wonderful thing. ;-)

Right on!
I eat a lot of tomatoes and peppers this time of year. They are plentiful, local and delicious. Thanks for leaving a comment!!!