The Long Game 159: Strength vs. Size, The Real Cause of Burnout, Moderation, Differentiation, First Dates
👥 How to Transform Your Social Life, Zuzalu, Perplexity, Sabbaticals, Why the Culture Wins, and Much More!
Hello friends, it’s been a while! Quite honestly, this year has been intense—I’ll share more about it in a future edition. My content consumption and time did not allow me to keep shipping The Long Game the way I wanted. I’m determined not to let this newsletter die as it’s something that enabled me to meet so many great people, but I’m not sure if it will stay a weekly newsletter. I might switch to every other week or monthly. Stay tuned 💌
In this episode, we explore:
Strength vs. size
The real cause of burnout
Differentiation is survival
Insights from 2,961 First Dates
Let’s dive in!
💪 Lifting: Strength vs. Size
There’s a constant debate in the lifting world around strength vs size. Are these the same? Does training for size necessarily lead to more strength? Does training for strength necessarily lead to more size?
With the explosion in popularity of strength sports in the last 20 years and the steady mainstreaming of bodybuilding, many people have misconceptions about the best training method for their true goal.
I found this text from Josh Bryant interesting:
GETTING BIG VS. GETTING STRONG
Are these two mutually exclusive goals or can we train for a bit of both?
Even your trainer down at the local franchise gym knows that hypertrophy is best had in the 6-12 rep range while strength gains are found in heavier sets of six reps or less. But the guy who trains with those growth-targeting ranges still ends up gaining strength, adding weight to the bar and failing at a higher rep number each week. The strength guy, meanwhile, may not be as big but can generally toss around much more weight. So what gives? Where is the overlap? Where is the divide? The answer may lie in a training variable that transcends total weight: intensity.
Simply, you’ve got to be willing to wage war when you lift. That’s why seemingly backwards routines on paper can bring success — fury trumps theory every day of the week and thrice on Sunday. Leading Russian sports scientist, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, has identified three ways to develop maximal tension (and therefore, size and strength) in a muscle—they each require your all.
The Repetition Method: Using higher reps with submaximal weights to spark muscle hypertrophy.
Ultimately, more size equates to better leverage. In other words, a guy with a chest as flat as a pancake pushes the bar much farther on the bench press than someone with a barrel chest, if the two individuals have the same arm length. While strength is primarily a function of the central nervous system, the literature unanimously agrees that a bigger muscle is a stronger one.
Training to failure in traditional bodybuilding rep ranges will get you stronger—anecdotal evidence supports this assertion as many of the top strength athletes train high reps in the off-season, both to give their central nervous systems a break and to maintain muscle size before the next competitive season.
The Dynamic Method: Maximum power is developed in core lifts using 50-80 percent of a lifter’s one repetition max.
Force = Mass x Acceleration. The key is violently exerting as much force possible into the barbell with each repetition, not pumping out rep after rep. This is not opinion. This is physics.
This is called Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). Lots of bodybuilders do this unknowingly when doing a set of 12 reps – the first 3-4 reps are explosive, while the next 8-9 reps have a little less steam. Whether they know it or not, they are getting beneficial adaptations from the dynamic method for strength gains in the first few reps. Your first rep is always your strongest – from that point on you are getting weaker – so exerting maximum force from the get-go can help you dynamically increase muscle tension.
The Max Effort Method: Lifting weights over 90 percent for 1-3 reps.
This is how most powerlifters train when prepping for a meet. It’s very intense but doesn’t involve very many repetitions, providing some of the same benefits as the Dynamic Method. Bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman have used the max effort method as little as three weeks out from the Olympia.
THE TAKE HOME
Strength is primarily gained by lifting heavy weight for low reps and lots of sets, mostly as a result of adaptations in the central nervous system (CNS). This maximizes neural efficiency or, in other words, gets you more coordinated at the movement. Greater coordination leads to leads to more efficiency of a lift, allowing all participating muscles to more fully contribute to each rep.
This is the primary piece of the strength pie. It will take longer but you can get stronger by training with 65-80 percent of your max to momentary muscular failure (MMF). Furthermore, you will get stronger by lifting lighter weights faster. You can produce higher amounts of force this way when compared to heavy weights.
Everyone wants to get bigger and stronger…even big, strong guys. Training with a multitude of rep ranges and tempos will get you both in the long run but you should always concentrate on increasing your weight loads through whatever path you choose. All roads lead to Rome.
That’s a topic I’m really interested in because I changed my training style multiple times in the last ten years between pure strength, powerbuilding, and bodybuilding. My personal experience is that focusing purely on hypertrophy has been, by far, the best way to promote hypertrophy.
This can also impact exercise selection. If you’re ‘powerlifting-minded,’ you tend to focus on the big three, but I found that some other exercises work way better for me: incline presses, front squats, and RDLs. I stopped caring about the big three which was very beneficial for hypertrophy.
Additionally, if you’re interested in this topic, there’s a whole debate on YouTube around Powerbuilding (mixing powerlifting and bodybuilding):
🥱 The Real Cause of Burnout
A short but critical video on burnout:
Pair with: You Must Fuck Around and Find Out
You should take much more risk, and try new things much more often.
Much of your comfort with risk is hard-coded genetically, a variable carefully tuned by millions of years of evolution, balancing the upside and downside of risk.
But this is one of these cases where the modern world has become so different from our ancestral environment that our instincts are dramatically miscalibrated.
That is, the downside of experimentation nearly vanished — while you used to risk your life tasting a new mushroom, about the worst that can happen now is having to go back to Google if your startup doesn’t work out.
And just as the downside shrank, the upside grew by orders of magnitude. First, because the whole world benefits when a single one of us finds anything new, as we can then all copy the innovation. This alone buys you an increase in upside of maybe 100,000,000x, as our tribe grew from a few dozen people in a cave to 8 billion human beings.
🧠 Better Thinking
This thread by Jason Warner perfectly summarizes an idea I’ve been trying to put into words for a long time.
I hold a few very un-popular but likely hard truth views on the world and life
One of them is that most people will never achieve a single large goal they set out to do and it’s primarily because we as a society have taught them a very dangerous concept called ‘moderation’
I absolutely do not believe that if your goal is to do something even approaching very good let alone great, moderation is the way
Moderation is for mediocre. Perhaps more accurately , moderation is for maintaining
If your goal is to maintain your status quo, moderation
I think it does people an absolute disservice to tell them that if they have some large goal or dream anything other than the truth which is this: to do almost anything big or audacious means some extreme elements are needed
And I mean extreme
Sure, someone can be absolutely fools gold lucky, but that’s not a realistic viable path for everyone let alone most. You can’t bank on luck even if it seems most want to
What you can bank on is willpower, endurance, grit, tenacity, putting in the work, day after day improvement
Let’s just talk about something actually quite simple, but not easy. Its that time of year when many folks ‘want to get in shape’
If your goal is basically within the error bars improvement aka losing like 5-10 pounds, being able to run a 5k, or getting slightly stronger …
Moderation probably is fine…it matches the goals in that they’re with in your mostly steady state norms
But do you want to dramatically change your body comp, or run a marathon for time, or get above average strong, no….you need to adjust your expectations based on effort
I can tell you is that most people that set out to dramatically change their body comp will absolutely fail and my sincere belief is it’s bc we tell them they can do this by ‘moderation’
Or maybe another way to say it, talk about setting someone up for failure & frustration
And more, truthfully, that’s hard mode! It’s actually easier to say ‘you want some outsized goal? You’re have to put in outsized effort, determination, and willpower’ and realize that pie & ice cream won’t be a thing for a while. Or yes, you’re gonna have to be at the gym more
“But Jason, that’s restrictive eating and unhealthy!”
Yeah cool, be mediocre for the rest of your life
“But Jason, working out that much means I have to give up something else!”
Yeah cool, be an adult and honest with what you want then idk
Listen, I don’t care what you’re thinking you want. What I’m saying is if you really really really want something and you want to be great at it, you’re gonna have to change your mindset. I’m not even kidding a little
There’s a reason the best seem obsessive
There’s a reason hall of famers workout like fiends
There’s a reason people who accomplish stuff are away switched on
There’s a reason the greats never slow down
Now the real point of this is to understand your goals
I love to paint, draw, & write. But I don’t care to be the best at them so I treat them like a hobby
I can afford to let painting be something casual aka moderated
But the moment I cared…..boom, mindset switch
I can’t and won’t with moderate with work or fitness/health. Those are my areas I care about. So I understand what it takes
And my main point is a message of moderation is a path to mediocre/mostly maintaining. If I am super happy with my fitness level I can dial it back a bit
But if I’m not happy and need to change the slope and get to a new baseline, I have to ramp up the intensity and focus, concentrate the effort etc
Want to do something rather drastic from your current situation? Moderation won’t get you there I’m sorry to tell you
New Years is right around the corner. New Year’s resolutions with them. Will this year be any different?
Pair with: intensity
There’s that Charles Bukowski line from his poem Roll the Dice: If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. Most obsessive people crudely describe themselves as “all-or-nothing” types. They’ll say (read: I’ll say) that they are bad with moderation, that they need to “cut something out” if they want to cut back, which is just shorthand for “I only know how to go all the way.”
Bukowski goes on in his poem: Isolation is the gift. The rest is just a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. This feels especially topical as I have begun to feel that pull of obsession to my writing. It’s like there is this constant, unrelenting tug at my psyche: get to the keyboard, get to the keyboard, you could be at the keyboard. And though I wish I could say the voice irritates me, in truth, I am on board with it. I find myself responding internally: I know! I am TRYING TO GET TO THE KEYBOARD.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
I found this shareholder letter from Jeff Bezos powerful and worth sharing, especially this quote: “The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”
Differentiation is Survival and the Universe Wants You to be Typical
This is my last annual shareholder letter as the CEO of Amazon, and I have one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach. I hope all Amazonians take it to heart.
While the passage is not intended as a metaphor, it’s nevertheless a fantastic one, and very relevant to Amazon. I would argue that it’s relevant to all companies and all institutions and to each of our individual lives too. In what ways does the world pull at you in an attempt to make you normal? How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? To keep alive the thing or things that make you special?
I know a happily married couple who have a running joke in their relationship. Not infrequently, the husband looks at the wife with faux distress and says to her, “Can’t you just be normal?” They both smile and laugh, and of course the deep truth is that her distinctiveness is something he loves about her. But, at the same time, it’s also true that things would often be easier – take less energy – if we were a little more normal.
This phenomenon happens at all scale levels. Democracies are not normal. Tyranny is the historical norm. If we stopped doing all of the continuous hard work that is needed to maintain our distinctiveness in that regard, we would quickly come into equilibrium with tyranny.
We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. We are all taught to “be yourself.” What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.
You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously.
The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.
Pair with: How to do What you Love
To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: "Do what you love." But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.
The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn't — for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.
And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.
The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn't, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.
Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn't fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn't just do what you wanted.
📚 What I Read
A useful article:
I’ve experienced two versions of social life in New York:
You know a handful of people in the city but you don’t ask them to hang out because it makes you anxious, no one invites you to things, and you spend most weekends entirely alone. On Friday nights you feel depressed that the workweek is ending and you have no plans, so you send an office-wide Slack message asking if anyone wants to get dinner, which of course no one responds to because they all have lives.
You are invited to multiple parties every weekend (housewarmings, housecoolings, birthdays, salons, picnics, launch parties), you frequently ask people to hang out without a second thought, you host things every month, you meet several new people each week, and you make connections with random people on the internet who are interested in getting to know you.
It would have surprised me a few years ago to discover that it’s possible to go from (1) to (2), but indeed it happened for me, in the span of about a year. Here are the things that helped me make the transition.
Vitalik Buterin on why he built Zuzalu.
We tend to think about physical places, as well as the activities and cultures that come with those places, as being immutable. As an individual, you may have a choice to move to a particular place: to San Francisco for its open and accepting culture or for its AI development scene, to Berlin for the open source hacker culture, or to Asia to be part of a new and rising world.
At the same time, we take all of those features as given, as an exogenous and fixed part of the human world—there are tradeoffs, and you have to choose. But what if this could be different? What if cultures or tribes that have formed online with their own goals and values could materialize offline, and new physical places could grow due to intention rather than random chance?
Ideas like this have floated around online philosophical circles for decades. In 1988, the French sociologist Michel Maffesoli wrote a book called The Time of the Tribes, arguing that the next era will see more agency exercised in groups defined by common interests, rather than common history or blood and soil. More recently, Balaji Srinivasan wrote The Network State, arguing that communities defined by common interests can start off as purely online discussion forums, but then “materialize” into in-person hubs over time. From the perspective of economic democracy, David de Ugarte’s Phyles advocated for cultural and economic collaboration between transnational groups that would coordinate both online and offline.
7. Find mentors that can help, and want to:
When I was 19, an older brother in my fraternity told me that he felt compelled to help me, because he always felt I was the cusp of greatness but had critical flaws like a Shakespearean character and would never get to greatness without his help. So he was motivated to help me far more than those lacking flaws.
At an earlier age I would philosophize in my own head when I hit a problem. Now, whenever I encounter a problem, my first instinct is, who can I find that will want to meet with me regularly and is an expert at guiding me to a solution.
8. The world of people who change the world is quite small:
Arriving in Silicon Valley in 2012 I was overwhelmed by how much there was to learn about who actually built large tech companies and how it was done. Now, a decade later, I realize that the set of players relevant today has a massive overlap with those a decade ago. Not a whole lot changes.
And the same is true in politics, media, science, and entertainment. Once you understand these worlds of people and how they think, it’s far easier to understand where the world is headed.
Exploring the Optimistic Utopia of Iain M. Banks' Sci-Fi Universe in 'The Culture' Series
This is what makes the Culture the ultimate memeplex, with the largest, deepest basin of attraction. It exists only to reproduce itself. It derives its entire sense of purpose, its raison d’être, from a set of activities that result in it seeking out and converting all societies to its own culture. Of course, this is not how people of the Culture themselves perceive it. As far as they’re concerned, they’re just “doing the right thing.” This self-deception is, of course, part of what makes the Culture so effective at reproducing itself.
From a certain perspective, the Culture is not all that different from Star Trek’s Borg. The difference is that Banks tricks the reader into, in effect, sympathizing with the Borg.19 Indeed, his sly suggestion is that we – those of us living in modern, liberal societies – are a part of the Borg. In Star Trek, the Borg are a vulgar caricature. “You will be assimilated, you will service the Borg” – this is probably not how the Borg see it. “We’re just here to help. Beside, how could you possibly not want to join?” – this is how the Culture sees itself. Yet from the outside, the Culture and the Borg have certain essential similarities.
Summing up: Banks’s conception of the Culture is driven by three central ideas. First, there is the thought that, in the future, basic problems of social organization will be given essentially technocratic solutions, and so the competition between cultures will be based upon their viral qualities, not their functional attributes. Second, there is postulation of Contact as essentially the reproduction mechanism of the Culture. And finally, there is the suggestion that the operations of Contact serve not just as an idle distraction, but in fact provides a solution to an existential crisis that is at the core of the Culture. This is what gives the Culture its ultraviral quality: its only reason for existence is to reproduce itself.
Why this is a luxury belief.
“Socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”
This is the position of many affluent people.
Research indicates that while most Americans lean toward populism, elites are more libertarian.
Summing up his findings, the Stanford political economist Neil Malhotra has stated:
“There is this soft populism among voters overall, which tends to be more economically liberal and socially moderate. Whereas the elite donors are more libertarian in some ways — more economically conservative and more socially liberal than the base of their parties.”
Ordinary people tend to be relatively more socially conservative and economically liberal. This position makes sense.
The position is roughly that people should adhere to norms but if they fail there should be a safety net available.
Highly educated and affluent people are more economically conservative and socially liberal. This doesn’t make sense.
The position is roughly that people shouldn’t have to adhere to norms and if/when they inevitably hurt themselves or others, then there should be no safety net available.
It’s a luxury belief.
Or how flawed thinking can make $10 billion disappear
I abandoned philosophy because of Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto scammer.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I abandoned my formal study of philosophy because of people like Bankman-Fried.
Unfortunately, they were my professors at the time.
Where do I even begin in telling this?
It’s not easy. That’s why I’ve never given a full account of my years as a philosophy student at Oxford—despite some readers requesting this. I don’t talk about it because the story is complicated.
But Sam Bankman-Fried gives me the excuse—or even the necessity—of digging into this gnarly matter. That’s because the crypto scammer was deeply involved in a philosophical movement that originated at Oxford. It draws on the same tenets I was taught in those distant days.
My teachers didn’t run crypto exchanges, and (to my knowledge) never embezzled anything more valuable than a bottle of port from the common room. Even so, there’s a direct connection between them and Mr. Bankman-Fried.
They were erudite and devoted teachers, but I was disillusioned by what they taught. It eventually chased me away from philosophy, specifically analytic philosophy of the Anglo-American variety.
I had no idea that their worldview would come back to life as a popular movement promoted by the biggest scam artist of the digital age. But I’m not really surprised—because it’s a dangerous worldview with potential to do damage on the largest scale.
The philosophy is nowadays called Effective Altruism. It even has a web site with recruiting videos—there’s a warning sign right there!—where it brags about its origins at Oxford.
But here’s the catch, if you actually try to put this philosophy into practice, you might sell your granny to sex traffickers.
Women rate 72% of men as below average in physical attractiveness.
29% of men and women haven’t had sex in the past year.
People care more about their partner’s politics than their religion, and more about their religion than their ethnicity. Women care more about their partner’s politics, religion, and ethnicity than men.
Men like 51% of women they speak to during 8-minute-long speed dates. Women like 31% of men.
Men are more comfortable being friends with someone that disagrees with them on important political topics.
Women are eight times more likely to be bisexual than men.
Attractive men tend to have more sexual partners. Attractive women don’t.
🍭 Brain Food
This is an interesting question asked on the LessWrong forum:
I'd be curious to hear stories of people who have successfully become more hard-working, especially if they started out as not particularly hard-working. Types of things I can imagine playing a role or know have played a role for some people:
Switching roles to something that is conducive to hard work, e.g. a fast-paced environment with lots of concrete tasks and fires to put out.
Medication, e.g. ADHD medication
Internal work, e.g. specific types of therapy, meditation, self-help reading, or other types of reflection.
Productivity hacks, e.g. more accountability, putting specific systems in place
Motivational events, arguments, or life periods, e.g. working a normal corporate jobs where long hours are expected
Switching work environment to something that is conducive to hard work, e.g. always working in an office with others who hold you accountable
This curiosity was triggered by realising that I know of very few people that have become substantially harder-working over their late adolescence/adult life. I also noticed that the few people that I know successfully and seemingly permanently increased their mental health/work satisfaction always were hard-working even when they were unhappy (unless they were in the middle of burn-out or similar).
People becoming more hard-working seems really useful but I haven't seen much in terms of evidence that it's feasible or effective methods. If there are books or studies on this topic, those would also be welcome. Thank you!
Contributors shared various approaches such as changing environments, therapy, medication for ADHD, productivity hacks, and motivation from life changes. Many emphasized the importance of aligning work with personal interests and values, self-knowledge, and creating systems for accountability.
There was also a common theme of internal motivation and the impact of meaningful work in increasing productivity.
Pair with: This quote from Sam Altman
Extreme people get extreme results. Working a lot comes with huge life trade-offs, and it's perfectly rational to decide not to do it. But it has a lot of advantages. As in most cases, momentum compounds, and success begets success.
And it's often really fun. One of the great joys in life is finding your purpose, excelling at it, and discovering that your impact matters to something larger than yourself. A YC founder recently expressed great surprise about how much happier and more fulfilled he was after leaving his job at a big company and working towards his maximum possible impact. Working hard at that should be celebrated.
One more thought about working hard: do it at the beginning of your career. Hard work compounds like interest, and the earlier you do it, the more time you have for the benefits to pay off. It's also easier to work hard when you have fewer other responsibilities, which is frequently but not always the case when you're young.
🎥 What I’m Watching
📉 What They’ll Never Tell You About Chasing a Six-Pack
I think a six-pack is a bad goal for most people.
🧘♂️ I Sold My Startup & Then Did Nothing for 365 Days
Great video by Michael Karnjanaprakorn.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
I’ve almost entirely replaced my Google usage with either ChatGPT or Perplexity. I like the UX & UI of perplexity, and I’ve been using it daily for months. Highly recommend.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
"These slightly older men in their thirties and forties seemed to survive in much greater numbers. Surprisingly it was the young men who died first on the railway. Perhaps the older ones were stronger emotionally. Perhaps with families they had more to live for"
— Alistair Urquhart
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Until next week,