The expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” is often used in a derogatory manner. The implication is that it’s better to specialize: to focus on one thing and become the best-in-class at that one thing.
But there are other expressions that can describe the Jack of all trades: all-rounder, polymath, multipotentialite… and they’re awesome.
Here’s why it’s better to be skilled in multiple aspects of fitness, as opposed to being simply “strong” or “endurant.”
Reason 1: You Never Lose
One of the reasons I like dabbling in multiple aspects of fitness, is that I’m actually insanely competitive. I know for a fact that I will never be the strongest guy in the world. However much I focused on strength training, I’d always encounter people stronger than me.
If my whole identity were wrapped up in that, it would be devastating to my ego.
By lifting weights just a little bit, you’re automatically stronger than 90% of the population – seeing as most people don’t lift weights. But if you meet someone who is stronger than me, you still have the knowledge that I might be able to outrun them. Or perform a handstand push up.
They might be strong, but you’re now adept in all aspects of your physicality.
This also has practical purposes.
If you’re ever in an altercation, you have multiple skills to fall back on. First, try and talk your way out of the situation, or outsmart the aggressor. Failing that, to outrun them. If you practice sprinting AND endurance, there’s a good chance you’ll get away.
If that didn’t work, you could try climbing over a fence, or onto a bus shelter to get away.
And if you STILL haven’t lost them, there’s a chance you might be able to overpower them. Especially if you have some background in strength training AND martial arts.
Someone needs to be trained in all those areas to be a serious threat to a multipotentialite.
Reason 2: You Can Do You
One of the best things about training different modalities, is it means you’re free to pick and choose what works for you.
Sometimes exercises and moves just don’t click with us. We find them uncomfortable, or boring, or even painful. Or maybe they just don’t feel like they’re doing anything!
Conversely, there are those moves that just WORK. I now have a catalogue of 20-or-so exercises that I pick from whenever I want a good workout fast. I feel these working. I like how they feel. And they agree with my physiology.
And I found them from a wide variety of different training modalities: from strength training, to calisthenics, to gymnastics, to yoga, to dance!
For me, training across disciplines is simply more fun and exciting. There’s always something new to explore. Training never gets dull or repetitive. And whenever you hit a plateau, you can simply find a new avenue of performance to explore.
Reason 4: It Leads to Breakthroughs
True breakthroughs happen when you combine ideas from multiple different sources. Those we think of as geniuses are not the best in their respective fields, necessarily, but rather they are creative and able to introduce entirely new ideas.
I recently watched an inspiring video from Jimmy the Giant about a guy called William Spencer. William made his name by posting skateboarding videos unlike anything the community had ever seen before: skateboarding videos combined with parkour-like movements and flips.
What was the response from that community, initially? Well, not entirely positive! While there were no-doubt fans, there were also a LOT of haters commenting that Spencer wasn’t a real skateboarder. That he was just an attention seeker. That these were just circus tricks.
In what world is this NOT cool, though? How can people be so blind to something awesome, just because it isn’t exactly what they’ve been doing all this time?
Of course, William went on to become extremely successful and eventually worked as Andrew Garfield’s stunt double on The Amazing Spider-Man. But this struck a massive chord with me, as it’s an attitude I’ve experienced myself – especially when I was a 16 year old Jackie Chan wannabe sharing low res videos with the parkour and tricking community that featured a whole lot of… bodybuilding.
Granted, my stuff genuinely sucked, but the point is that being tribalistic and cliquey simply stifles creativity and natural progress. And it alienates people who don’t necessarily want to do things exactly that way.
You know who else took from multiple disciplines to create something new? Bruce Lee! And without him, we arguably wouldn’t have MMA.
Reason 5: You Remain Adaptable
With multiple types of fitness, you are ready for anything.
Someone extremely strong will be helpful any time they need to lift something extremely heavy that is in the way. Or needs moving.
But if that same person finds themselves being chased, they might quickly run out of breath. If they need to climb over a ledge, they may well struggle.
Likewise, someone who has a ton of endurance could come unstuck when they need to help carry a friend who has passed out.
But if you are above average in all these areas, you will be ready for a much wider variety of potential scenarios. Better yet, many scenarios will actually require a combination of these kinds of abilities. Watch any action scene, and the hero will likely exhibit strength, speed, stamina, reflexes, quick-thinking, and agility all at once or in rapid succession.
See also: There Are Other Avenues for Progression
And many skills actually support one another: more mobility can mean a deeper squat and more strength. More strength can help a runner travel further with the same effort.
Reason 6: You Avoid Imbalances
Training in a single modality can often lead to imbalances and over-use injuries. We see this commonly in sports: in fact many of the most common injuries are named after the sports that cause them. That includes runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, tennis elbow AKA climber’s elbow, golfer’s elbow AKA lifter’s elbow… the list goes on.
Many runners struggle with tight IT bands, many bodybuilders and powerlifters find they get out of breath easily.
Even if you don’t get injured, focusing on only certain types of movement will result in areas of weakness. Powerlifters often don’t train rotational strength. Calisthenics athlete’s can lack max strength, particularly in the legs.
The body is BUILT for variety. All these activities are good for us, but just as too much of one health food can cause health problems, so too can sticking to a single repetitive movement pattern. Everything in moderation. Which is to say, everything relative to everything else!
When you focus on just one skill or trait, you’ll experience diminishing returns. At first, you’ll enjoy noob gains and get much stronger, or much faster, very quickly. Once you’re established, though, you’ll find yourself adding just a few pounds onto your lifts, or shaving just a few seconds off your run times.
See also: There Are Other Avenues for Progression
Conversely, if you’re free to explore different avenues of fitness and performance, you’ll be able to become highly skilled in one area and then learn something entirely new. You’ll enjoy gaining new abilities rapidly AND you’ll have a more well-rounded skill-set.
Reason 8: You Explore Your Fullest Potential
I liken the approach of specialization in fitness to fixing just one part of a car.
If someone promised to revamp your car and all they did was change the tires, you might feel let down. Likewise, if they just changed the engine.
Similarly, an MOT shouldn’t just focus on one aspect and ignore the rest!
To make your car the best it can be, you should focus on everything from the wheels, to the engine, to the ignition, to the… windows… can you tell I don’t know much about cars?
You can also look it as min-maxing.
But the point is: if you only ever focus on stamina, you’ll never know how strong you could have been. How mobile. How fast. How powerful.
Jack of all trades, master of none; but oftentimes better than a master of one.
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This content was originally published here.