The Rise of Intelligence in the World of Fitness

I believe the world of fitness is in need of an infusion of intelligence. I would make the argument that from the general population clientele all the way down the spectrum to the professional athletes, people are failing to optimize their potential. Each person seems to be falling short of their goals because they are not properly using their brains. This may be a unique way of viewing athletic development in the world of fitness where it has been all about programming, supplementation, nutrition, recovery protocols, movement quality, technique, and ‘mental toughness’. Most people have a concept of intelligence that correlates to school, societal norms, and the beliefs they have about what the word ‘smart’ means to them. I need to clarify because there is a theory of cognitive science called multiple intelligence theory that states there are multiple dimensions of intelligence outside what can be measured in an IQ test or by traditional mainstream education. In spite of being a relatively strong academic student, I’ve always believed this to be true because as I observed humanity, I saw so many people who had unique aptitudes for learning in non traditional domains that made them amazing. As my career as a coach began to grow, I saw that each athlete had a unique subset of talents and I needed to provide that specific athlete the best path to progress. I also began to observe it was the mind that was often doing more work to aid in progress than the body’s suffering through training. The struggle was that each person’s mind grasped the information differently. There are more dimensions to the theory than these, but I believe the applicable intelligences to reach your fitness goals are: interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, and bodily/kinesthetic intelligence. I feel if you use these properly in your fitness journey, you will likely reach much higher levels of your potential than if you rely solely on will power, hard work, suffering, and dogmatic thinking.

The first intelligence that should be applied to fitness is interpersonal intelligence. I believe that this characterization of smarts is often used to a higher degree in the fitness world than the others. Interpersonal intelligence is essentially your understanding of and interaction with other people. Your ability to communicate, listen, observe, and operate within the confines of a group. In the fitness world, this is used, but in a limited way because many of the fitness cultures are at war with one another. There are CrossFitters, bodybuilders, weightlifters, powerlifters, endurance athletes, movement experts, vegetarians, paleo-eaters, zone dieters, etc and they are all extremely good at developing their interpersonal skills within factions. Unfortunately, it seems that our human nature is to create boundaries in order to define our egos within the context of a society, so we slowly begin to search for data within those cultures to support our opinion and judge the others’ perspectives. I feel that people should open their interpersonal intelligences to learn from other communities. This would help them learn to extract information from other people, not offend their perspective, share their perspective without becoming combative, and ultimately grow as a human beings and athletes. If you find yourself trapped in a group of people that uses judgment on the thinking of other groups to make themselves feel superior, or part of a “team,” it may be time for you look inside and challenge whether or not you are optimizing your own interpersonal intelligence. It could be limiting you from finding information that could make you better as an athlete or coach or make you more likely to achieve your fitness goals.

The second intelligence is intrapersonal intelligence. This is simply your awareness of yourself and your own experiences. I’ve found that many people really struggle to answer questions for themselves when pressured on their behaviors. TTT is in the process of trying to develop a tool (primarily led by head coach Kyle Ruth) for improving this variable in athletes. I’ve found a quick and easy way to know how engaged your own self-based intelligence is, is to ask yourself as many questions as possible. Why are you pursuing your goal? Why are you working (or not) with the coach you are working with? Why are you using the nutritional strategy you are currently implementing? What is the most effective way for you to warm up for different styles of workout? What are the signals in your body that tells you it is time to rest? How do you build up when you are trying to find maximal loads for a workout? How do you pace workouts in different time frames? How do you pace heavy workouts versus light workouts? Do you start your lifts with low or high hips? If you struggle to answer those questions for yourself, it’s time to start working on this ASAP. You can work on this at any level, from the cream of the crop to the worst genetic profile on the planet and it costs you no training/physical stress. I call this ‘free’ progress. It requires the work of thinking, but in relation to the damage that actual training does, seems the best bang for your buck in relation to improvement. If you are working with a one on one coach, they should be working on developing this in you. It takes a long time to reach a high level of self-awareness and it may happen through the design of specific workouts, through lines of questioning, through the consultation process, or specifically by a coach’s nature rubbing off on your line of inquiry into yourself. Develop this intelligence as early as you can in your athletic career and never stop the line of inquiry. This is the greatest way to ensure progress despite age.

The third intelligence is linguistic based. This one is a little bit less applicable to developing athletes than the previous two, however, its application to fitness is still viable. This is especially true within the current landscape of coaching in the fitness culture. CrossFit’s™ explosion has brought people of various professions into the world of fitness. This new movement has brought professional bloggers, writers, marketing experts, etc. As a result, we have a large number of people who are extremely passionate about fitness, but not necessarily the most physically gifted. Often times this is due to the physical learning barrier. Linguistically gifted people will likely learn and respond really well to verbal cues. Instead of putting your hands on someone’s triceps, for example, and telling them to tighten this to improve the overhead position, you might use a metaphor to explain how you want them to feel pressing the bar up as hard as they possibly can. Improving this intelligence can improve you as a coach, by learning to communicate to linguistic learners AND as an athlete by ensuring you find a coach that teaches you the way you are most effective at learning. I would say this skill is much more important to develop in a coach than athlete because reading, learning from speeches/seminars, and coaching athletes more effectively relies heavily on this style of thought.

The fourth intelligence is logical-mathematical intelligence. I believe this is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of intelligence that needs to be cultivated globally in the industry. It’s application to fitness would be in determining your training priorities on a statistical level (what is most important to spend your training time on), ensuring you are progressively overloading your weaknesses, measuring the distribution of your macros and what fueling you need for your training volume, counting the volume of contractions you can take in a week, measuring results to determine how many times a year you should be competing, and evaluating the most effective way to monetize your career is long term, etc. In athletes, this skill is generally a waste of time in developing unless they are coaching themselves. If you are an athlete and you know that this is an inherent weakness in your intellectual capacity, you should put your ego aside and hire a coach that is effective at this in addition to one you have a good personal vibe with. If you are a coach and this isn’t your inherent strength, you should work to develop it or ensure that you are limiting your amount of time spent programming (instead investing in movement, motivation, technique, etc or some other quality inherently valuable in coaching) because the structure of a program should always be determined by this style of intelligence.

Last, but not least, is bodily/kinesthetic awareness. The people who created the world of fitness have an extreme aptitude for this style of intelligence. We commonly don’t refer to the ability to manipulate ones body as a form of intelligence, but anyone who spends time around genetic talents know that while they work hard, their speed of learning, adaptation, etc exceeds that of normal people by quite a bit. If you are coached by one of these people, just ensure that they have a history of coaching people with less talent and have learned to apply their methods to the masses of the bell curves. If you are one of these as an athlete, ensure that you improve the other aspects of your intelligences so that you can extract all of your potential. Being a savant in this can often be both an athlete’s greatest gift and greatest curse. I’ve seen many athletes at a high level fail to achieve their goals because they let their egos regarding this intelligence distort their lack of intelligence in some of the other components of the mind. This could mean having a good support staff, having a good coach, having training partners that are willing to challenge you, or just continual investigation into your own mind. I’ve never seen someone rely solely on this aspect of intelligence and succeed for the long term on a continual basis.

As you can see, the complexity of intelligence and the mind is much deeper than the currently accepted mainstream view. There is always work to do on your levels of intelligence and it is extremely important, even in the world of fitness. In the world of sport, here is an example of how the levels of intellect could help you achieve your potential as an athlete. It would start, in the same order as the article but not the determined hierarchy, with developing interpersonal intelligence so you understand how social media works and how to get the crowd riled up and rooting for you so that you can attract sponsors to ensure your number one priority in life is training. Next working on intrapersonal intelligence, which would include understanding your game day fueling, pacing on each workout, how you jump in weights, how you warm up and cool down, and how you keep yourself sane during your training. Linguistic intelligence could be developed to both assist in your media pursuits and to help you express to the people around you what you need to perform at a high level without offending the people who love and care about you. Developing mathematical/logical intelligence could be used to predict workout trends in the sport, figure out what your statistical weaknesses are, and come up with mathematical pace structures to improve your times on workouts. Developing bodily intelligence is what athletes do fundamentally in the gym every day; train! And while the last is a huge piece of the athletic picture, it is usually isolated as a the only variable in athlete’s plans. I’ve found that often the general population is seeking to accomplish something with their body while ignoring their other intelligences. I believe this is likely the missing link to your training. I have corpus – animus as part of the seal of my business because I believe firmly that the union between the mind and body cannot be separated. And I believe with all of my heart that if you invest in your mind as a tool to improve your body, you will not be disappointed. Become the intelligent athlete!

~ Max

Created By
Max El-Hag

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