Before his affairs suffered a major reversal, Wall Street investor Ivan Boesky glibly pronounced, "Greed is good." Putting aside the ethics of this philosophy, one might wonder
about the wisdom of it, since it landed Boesky and several of his compatriots in prison, and, if we can believe him, sent him into bankruptcy as well. The funny thing is that
this same principle-the greed factor-appears in gyms every day, and just as it is with investors, the results can range from mildly disruptive to permanently disabling.
Let's take a look at th egreed factor in operation and see what it does to people who are on the path to getting bigger and stronger. Imagine this archetypal scene A very young lifter and an old fossil of a coach are in the gym together, and the coach is starting to talk brave. Let's name our lifter Louie and eavesdrop for a couple of minutes. "Louie, you can do it," the coach coaches, and then he follows that with, "If you want to enough," "Show us what you're made of," and the all-time favorite, "Be a man." By now poor Louie has no choice but to at least outwardly go along with the plan.
Inside he's shaking, hut what can he do? His coach is calling for a personal record attempt. As good fortune would have it, Louie hits the P.R., and what does the coach do? Does he slap Louie on the back and offer to buy him a beer or whatever? No way. He ups the ante by starting the tough talk all over again and calls for another increase. Louie's locked in by now because his coach is going to keep raising the weight until Louie misses, and then the coach is likely to have Louie try it two or three more times-each time boxing him on the ears with all the usual catch phrases.
Incidentally, this scene-involving this lifter and this coach-occurs at least once a week, and, not uncommonly, it defines nearly every workout. Across town another lifter is training under the watchful eye of another coach. The lifter hits his top scheduled sets with authority and tells his coach how light they felt. "Can I go up?" he asks, and the coach lets him take a shot at a weight that is 2.5 kilos over his best, which also flies up.
The lifter asks nearly begs for another increase, but the coach shakes his head and just says, "Don't be greedy. Save something for another day." At least at first glance the aggressive coach's strategy would appear to be on the road to something big, while the second coach's strategy would appear to be fine for little old ladies, but that's about all. The funny thing is, the first coach's lifters don't have nearly the success that the second coach's lifters have.
In fact, the first coach's lifters suffer from burnout, bomb outs and battered bodies, while the second coach's lifters hit the big lifts when it counts and make Olympic teams, among other accomplishments. The second coach says that his philosophy can be summed up by an old joke, which we'll offer in a sanitized form: Two bulls, one young and one old, are standing on a hillside looking down at a flock of sheep. "Let's run down and meet a couple of them," the young bull urges. "Let's walk down and meet all of them," the old bull replies.
And if you press the second coach, he explains that while you'd like the lifter to always want to try more, one of the key roles of a good coach is to know when to hold the lifter back and when to send him out full tilt. Don't think you have to have a coach or aspirations of achieving world-class performances in order to fall into the clutches of the greed factor, consider the most basic programs around, programs that are successfully applied in the most primitive of gyms by zillions of guys training alone. Consider, in particular, a program that calls for the lifter to start with a moderate weight but to add five pounds to the squat bar at every single workout, three times a week, for six weeks.
The first lifter follows the program as written and at the end of the first two weeks is up to weights that are hard but not yet crippling. The second lifter is already in P.R. territory having started at close to his limit and then slapped on 20 pounds at a crack. In another two weeks the first lifter is in P.R. territory, is growing like a weed and is wondering why it took him so long to try this program. The second lifter has quit, complaining of numerous aches, and has returned to his beliefs that he shouldn't train too hard or too frequently, because he's genetically predisposed to be a shrimp.
After two more weeks the first lifter is way into P.R. territory has outgrown his second set of clothes and has all his friends wondering just what he's doing to get so big so fast. The second lifter is still close to his opening bodyweight and has already blown up on yet another program, even though he's now training only once every six days. As with many other facets of training, successful management of the greed factor requires striking the proper balance. You have to check the impulse to strive for too much progress too fast, which raises a critical point.
The folks who succumb to the greed factor in training aren't evil in any way-quite the contrary. What usually drives them to excess is their genuine enthusiasm and desire for success. It's this focus on progress that ultimately trips them up, however, just as a child who tries to run before learning to walk trips. What they need to learn is that the race for more size and strength is better run with the measured pace of the tortoise than the hurry-up-and-wait pace of the hare.
Besides slowing down your progress, succumbing to the greed factor can empty your checking account faster than an exotic car can. Remember our discussion of Machiavellians in muscledom and how being greedy is the best way to get fleeced? People who look for something for nothing are prime prospects for con men. Thus, for example, an all-too- familiar pattern in the muscle industry takes the form of the latest, greatest supplement-the steroid replacement-which is always being presented to the eager and the gullible. The same applies to equipment and information-although not quite so dramatically.
Meanwhile, the lifter who exercises some restraint along with his or her muscles realizes that there are no real secrets and that anything that's presented as a shortcut is probably just another way to get shortchanged. Remember that the idea of properly managing the greed factor applies to the full spectrum of successful training programs, which is good because there's more than one way to arrive at your goals. This idea-that no matter which route to progress you take, greed will block your path-has long been recognized in the investment world as well, where people who try to profit by betting that the market is moving north are called "bulls," and those who bet that things are heading south are called "bears."
The collective wisdom of Wall Street proclaims, "Bulls can get rich and bears can get rich, but pigs don't."