I recently stumbled upon this intriguing blog post by Seth Godin. Seth discusses how foraging animals exhaust the nuts and berries in a small area and then randomly walk to a new site and start foraging again. This foraging pattern is described mathematically as a “Lévy Flight.” The Lévy Flight describes a random walk which after a large number of steps the distance from the origin tends towards a stable distribution. As you see in the picture, small clusters form around the starting point but none of the clusters is particularly far from the origin. There is a sort of localized and stabilized randomness to the pattern.
Naturally, I began to think of this as it might apply to fitness. In this age most people forage around with a new fitness craze for a little while and then wander off in search of something new and tasty. When they feel that they haven’t progressed or have used all the shiny machines at the gym, then they get bored or uninspired and look for something to stimulate them. Also people tend to stay close to their “home”: runners try different running based programs, weightlifters try various weightlifting programs, yogis try different yoga classes.
A constantly varied exercise program like CrossFit is the way to make the inevitable fitness Lévy Flight maximally productive. Keeping things varied and constantly creating new and interesting challenges for your athletes allows them to get excited about something but move on to a new skill or task before they become over- or underwhelmed. An origin of “functional movement implemented at high intensity” allows the amount of variance to be very wide while at the same time providing a “home” or guiding principle to orbit around.
The criticism of constant variance is that it does not allow for true mastery, which is usually achieved by immersing oneself for an extended period into one specific area. This is a valid criticism. However, most people don’t have the patience to achieve mastery, and in fact have less interest in such achievement than in more aesthetic goals like six pack abs.
To that end, having a fitness program that allows people a buffet of different physical challenges and moves seamlessly from one to the other is a great way to keep inspiration and motivation high, while not wasting time meandering and trying find a new quick fix.