The problem with ‘optimal’ progress

written by Philip Stefanov  |  NOVEMBER 30, 2021

I’d like to discuss an idea that’s been on my mind for a while: the obsession with ‘optimal.’

We love optimizing our training, nutrition, recovery, and more. We do that to achieve better results: more muscle, strength, fat loss, and such. At first glance, there is nothing wrong with the mindset. In fact, optimizing is a perfectly normal thing to do if we want to achieve anything good.

I’m not saying that optimal isn’t something to strive for. I have shared many pieces of advice on how to optimize different aspects of fitness. I have also spent considerable time thinking about how to improve my process. But I’ve been wondering lately: Why do we obsess so much with optimizing everything? Why can’t we be happy with some progress? Further, how do we know what optimal is? Do we have concrete data, or are we working off someone’s ideas?

Let’s take muscle growth as an example. Everyone wants to optimize growth, but what does that even mean? Sure, there are some guidelines, but it’s mostly guesswork because we are so uniquely different. One person might be able to gain 25 pounds of muscle in their first year of training. Another person might only gain 15 pounds, or 10. Even if you know for a fact how much muscle you should gain, how can you be certain that you’re growing optimally? Sure, you might be gaining scale weight, but how much is fat, and how much is actual muscle? It’s pretty hard to say.

Because of recent circumstances and an inability to eat or train optimally, I’ve come to cherish any progress I make. I have also asked myself, “Does the rate of progress matter that much?” At first glance, it does. After all, who wants to make slow progress toward a goal when they could achieve an outcome quicker? But allow me to share two questions to think about:

1. Isn’t slow progress still getting you closer to your goals?
2. If you’re in it for the long haul, why obsess so much about short-term gains?

I’m not saying you should stop caring about your process. By all means, learn and improve. My goal today is to suggest that optimizing things isn’t always the way to go. Sometimes, all we can hope for is slow progress toward our goals. For example, should you give up if life circumstances stop you from eating well, training hard, or sleeping enough? Of course not.

So, what does it all mean? If you ever feel discouraged that you can’t dedicate yourself to fitness, take a step back and look at things from the long-term lens. Don’t just consider this week or month, but think about this year and the next few years. Your trajectory matters, even if your current efforts feel inadequate.

Until next week,


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