“The law of the instrument… Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”A
braham Kaplan, author and renowned behavioral scientist, wrote this in The Conduct of Inquiry. We see this quote proved day in and day out in our own lives, and that reality is compounded by the advice or direction that we seek in our areas of interest. Whether it’s nutrition, sport performance, CrossFit, MMA, strongman, bodybuilding, etc., we see people trying to “coach” others by pounding into them one aspect of fitness with their proverbial hammer, trying to help them by constantly pushing harder on a single element. We see it with max strength, mobility, speed work, HIIT, aerobic capacity…you name it. The man with a hammer treats every screw as if it were a nail, but this unfortunately leads to more problems down the road, as athletes aren’t addressing the right issues. Their performance doesn’t improve and they end up wasting time and energy on whatever new trendy thing they’ve chosen to try. Training methods, just like dieting methods, should be viewed as tools, not as concrete solutions. Every problem you encounter is unique, so a specific tool will be required to fix it. Diversify your toolbox and you’ll diversify your results.
“It comes as no particular surprise to discover that a scientist formulates problems in a way which requires for their solution just those techniques in which he himself is especially skilled…What else is a man to do when he has an idea…but ride it as hard as he can, and leave it to others to hold it back within proper limits?”
A coach can do the same thing as a scientist, in that respect. It’s no surprise that someone who specializes in kettlebells will suggest that your issues would be solved with kettlebells. Replace kettlebells with Olympic lifting, mobility, tempo workouts, or any other possible specialty and you would see a pattern. None of these training methods, on their own, will net you the results you seek because training is a complex issue. You don’t build a house with a hammer and a box of nails. There are too many variables in our bodies for one answer to always be right, yet we see the same “experts” repeating the same “wisdom” every single day. They have no interest in providing you with information about what’s actually right or wrong;they only care about pushing an agenda from which they themselves benefit.
“The price of training is always a certain ‘trained incapacity’: the more we know how to do something, the harder it is to learn to do it differently.”
Kaplan explains the dangers of always sticking to a one-dimensional system. “Trained incapacity” is something that we deal with everyday. The things you do each day will shape your brain to do things in that particular way, subsequently making it harder to perform that task differently. The more you squat wide-stance, the better at it you’ll be; consequently, you’ll get worse at squatting with a narrow stance unless you keep those movement patterns fresh. The same goes for the mental aspects of training. The more you learn to solve issues with a hammer, the less likely you are to try solving them with another tool that might be more appropriate.
“It is not [tools] that produce scientific results, but the investigator who uses them scientifically… [We] must continuously resist the impulse to see in every new development the promise at last of quick and easy riches.”
In closing, Kaplan reminds us that no matter what new advances or tools may emerge, it is the one who uses them correctly who will find what he is seeking. He reminds us to resist the temptation to jump blindly at new trends, and to think objectively instead for ourselves and to gather new tools as a way to prevent ourselves from becoming one. The important thing to remember is that there is never a single perfect path for your goals and every situation is unique. Don’t fall for the endless stream of advice proposing that X is the only way to improve Y.
There may be more than one way to skin a cat, but using a hammer certainly isn’t one of them.