Putting in 80 percent effort is plenty

David Chodousky, of Crested Butte, Colo. knocks down a gate on his way to winning the men's slalom ski race at the U.S. Alpine Championships, Sunday, March 29, 2015, at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

‘Go full out. Give 110 percent. Push harder than ever, all the time. Full bore, full on, never stop. Full power. Every stroke 100 percent!” These are the exhortations of today’s coaches, teachers and the advisors of our lives. We are inferior if we aren’t at the bleeding edge of our performance abilities. We are slacking off if we’re not red-lining.

But guess what? I’m an 80 percenter. And I’ll be a happy one for the rest of my life.

You get to a stage of life when you realize that “good enough” is truly good enough. That exerting yourself on your skis at 80 percent of your maximum speed, taking 80 percent of the risk, on 80 percent of the runs you could have taken, is a gift. Eighty percent of sleep is just fine. Eighty percent of the time for sex is truly fabulous. You learn that in training for the sports you love, 80 percent effort is sustainable, saves some energy for later, diminishes injuries and actually feels good.

You push yourself at a more than moderate pace, dipping into extremes if desired or needed, but not as a baseline. You push others at rates that demand that they perform, but at paces they can sustain. Your expectations are high, but not unachievable.

You learn that 100 percent is short-term, shortsighted and sometimes dangerous. Maximum exertion predisposes you to injury. It impresses, but it drains your tank. You mentally compare an injury-free 80 percent to 100 percent, with its long periods of 0 percent due to injuries.

For competitive athletes, success favors those who are willing to own the 100 percent territory. Their willingness to sacrifice their bodies for a gold medal is what sets them apart. But for athletes who are looking beyond that finish line, 100 percent exertion with 100 percent of the risk is just not worth it.

Relinquishing your addiction to 100 percent is difficult. Reprogramming a body that’s satisfied only when operating at its upper limit takes willpower. Scaling down to 80 percent can feel like defeat. It can make you question whether another run, bike ride or a full day of skiing even makes sense. You’ll find that a life at 100 percent has prepared your 80 percent to be pretty damn good.

You’ll find that your 80 percent can best other people’s 100 percent. You will still sweat, your heart will still thump and your muscles will still ache. You’ll still summit the mountain, you’ll still finish the race, and you’ll still feel like an athlete. You might even gain a few additional friends who find your 80 percent to be welcoming — while your 100 percent was threatening.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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