Monday, July 15, 2019


There was a time in my life when I was the biggest World of Warcraft nerd that you can imagine. It was around the middle of the second expansion that I got exposed to the concept of "theorycrafting" or "min/maxing" and it revolutionized how I played not just that game, but all games. Instead of simply playing the game, I also played a meta-game of spreadsheets, equations, simulators, math, numbers, and I was able to achieve character power and success I never had before. I lay this groundwork so that what I am about to say can land more strongly - because I am a nerd, and not just a dummy meathead or whatever who is shouting and drooling.

Nerds ruin everything.

It's been a long time since my WoW min/maxing obsession days but I still remember how to think that way. And it's because I do that when I read questions like this:

  • What's better for functional strength - powerlifting, bodybuilding, or strongman?
  • Should I do 5/3/1 or GZCL?
  • How can I optimize my PPL routine?
  • When do you become an intermediate?
All I see is this:
  • Should I play a Warlock or a Mage or a Shadow Priest?
  • Should I be Arms or Fury?
  • What's the Best in Slot gear at Tier 9 for my Ret Paladin? (fuckin' rerolling, that's what)
  • Is my gearscore high enough to do Heroic ICC?
To put it in the vernacular: Hi, my name is John, and I hate every single one of you.

If you're not familiar with the term "min/maxing", it's shorthand for "minimizing weaknesses / maximizing strengths". The concept is to build the most powerful possible character with what you've got, often also determining the best things to get. In practice, what this boils down to is little more than doing a bunch of math, which works out pretty well because that's what many games, especially RPGs, are based on. And for the most part this strategy is incredibly successful, across many different games. There are parts of it that can even be applied to aspects of real life with success. So people get into a habit of thinking this way. And then they get into lifting, and try to think the same way.

But there's a problem - Lifting is not a fucking video game. And you people need to stop, because you are driving the rest of us insane.

Min/Maxing is touted as being a strategy for making strong characters. But in my opinion, what it's really about is removing as much effort from gameplay as possible. This does not just apply to the dudes who make twinks (not that kind) to steamroll the game. Even for people who try to build the most powerful characters so that they can tackle the hardest possible content are still, ultimately, trying to reduce their effort level. Fundamentally, min/maxing is about trying to front-load effort through thinking, doing math, planning, and acquiring the right gear, to reduce the impact that their gameplay can have on their success. It is about determining the perfect way to create a character that can be as successful as possible, as quickly as possible, just by virtue of knowing all the pieces, where they come from, and exactly how you will acquire them and in what order, in advance, before you even truly do anything in the game itself.


This is reason number one that lifting cannot be treated like a video game. The 80/20 rule is out in force, and for my money one of the top three of what gets you the 80% (it's really more like 90, IMO), alongside consistency and time, is effort. Min/maxing is about transmuting future effort in execution into present effort in planning, so that by the latter you have reduced how much is required in the former. But this is backwards and wrong. Success in lifting is heavily tied to effort in execution, and only tenuously at best to effort in planning. Focusing on having a "perfect" training and diet plan while leaving the execution of that plan as a given is flawed at best and self-sabotage at worst. I've said this so many different ways that I feel like a broken record, but I truly believe it needs to be hammered on again and again - effort trumps intelligence. The time to focus on your effort and execution is not after you have created a great plan and it fails, as you would when min/maxing, it is from Day 1.

It sounds stupid to have to say that video games are nothing like real life, but apparently on some level people don't understand this, and it is reason number two to please for everyone's sanity stop treating lifting like an MMO. The entire practice of min/maxing hinges completely and 100% on all inner workings of the game being both completely knowable and infinitely replicable. If DickSocks69 puts the same gear on his character as WarlockMasterXXX, the math and equations that determine their characters' potential damage will always be exactly the same. And both of them can always know exactly what those equations are, how any of the potential random factors average out on a certain timescale, and even what the most optimal rotation or priority list of spellcasting is. But human beings are not RPG characters that are built on math equations. You cannot take Jim and Bill and put them on identical training and dietary plans and have their results be exactly the same. Ever. There is simply too much variance at every possible level and too many factors that are unknowable. This should be obvious, but every single day people behave as though they don't understand that they are not an Orc Warlock.

Finally, there is an inherent attitude of min/maxing that is incompatible with the pursuit of lifting. As always, the context of this is having actual goals. The attitude I mean has many facets and can be described in a many ways, but one I feel that captures a lot of them is "When can I stop?" Part of the strategy of min/maxing is about minimizing the grind from character creation to the highest levels, and acquiring the best gear as rapidly as possible, because it is not until this point that "the real game actually starts". Min/maxing treats the process of a character growing as a waste of your time, a barrier that must be torn down. If you think of leveling up or iteratively improving the power of your gear as a parallel for training, it becomes about trying to skip as much training as possible. 

But this, again, is completely backwards, and ties back in to the first point about effort avoidance. Skipping training is wrong - You want to train more, not less. In a game, you can come up with character builds that manipulate numbers and allow you to walk into a level, lay waste to it, and rapidly advance through the game. But there is no such thing as a secret training and diet plan that is so well planned out, so firmly based in science, that it removes so much effort while giving you such rapid results - because effort and time are primary drivers in results. You can't, through the magic of perfect exercise and food selection, skip the years of consistency and effort it takes most people to achieve their true goals, in the way you can blast from Level 1 to 90 by dumping a bunch of +Experience Gain gear onto your character.

I see this way of thinking fuck with people constantly. Everyone I've ever tried to help with any fitness goal who was a nerd first, they have this exact same problem. And I say all this because I have been there too, and for me, it was only because I figured out how to break myself that I ever got down to the brass tacks of actually busting my balls in training and accomplished anything real. The challenge is not simply to understand that this way of thinking is not compatible with every pursuit, and why, but it is more importantly about learning how to find the switch in your head so you can turn it off sometimes. I don't have any advice to offer there other than to say that I know there's a switch because I found it. But I've only got a map for my own head.

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