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The Fox And The Hedgehog

In a 1953 essay, Isiah Berlin puts a new spin on a classic Greek parable about a fox and a hedgehog. He uses the parable to outline a greater point about life and decision-making. In the essay, Berlin notes that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”.

The hedgehog focuses on his one big idea (self-defense) and uses it in every situation to ensure his own survival. He sees the world through one, single-focused lens and knows no other way. Because of this, he is very good at his one thing (balling up into a shell of spikes). However, the hedgehog is unable to adapt or change his tactics based on the environment or circumstance.

The fox, on the other hand, is cunning and versatile. The fox can change and adapt to different situations. They are more in-tune with different nuances and use different approaches depending on the problem. Both the fox and the hedgehog have distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the end goal.

How does this translate into the fitness/physical therapy realm? We all have a wide variety of experiences, ideas, philosophies, and beliefs when it comes to fitness and training. We also have noticeably different anatomy and physiology based on height, weight, gender, skeletal structure, and so much more.

If this is true, then why do we think there is one absolute way to train? Why would there be one “right” way to train and a bunch of other “wrong” ways to train. Are you a diehard kettlebell guru and neglect other methods or movements? Is a particular movement bad for everyone? If you squat with your knees caving in… is that “wrong”? Should you avoid barbell exercises because they are “bad” for your back?

In short, be a fox (not a hedgehog) when it comes to training and physical therapy. The goal is to get our body to be versatile and pain-free in all movements and positions.

For my baseball guys, Chris Sale is a dominant force on the mound, but I would never teach those mechanics to someone. He is a violent display of elbows and knees that other people would have a very difficult time replicating. There were probably hundreds of coaches that tried to change him and “fix” his mechanics. At the end of the day, he found what works for him. He didn’t need to fit some made up, cookie-cutter norm that we typically associate with pitching mechanics.

What works for you won’t always benefit the next person. The problem with some coaches and trainers is that they have a tendency to teach movements based on how that movement feels and works for them. Proper programming for the individual will always reign supreme. One of the best questions to ask yourself when choosing a modality/treatment/exercise is: “Is this a sustainable tool that I can use to help me reach my goals?”

This question simply addresses the fact that your training or rehab program should be in line with your goals and it should not cause pain/discomfort. If squatting with a safety bar feels better than a straight bar, then do it. Training and physical therapy is all about adding an appropriate load to muscles, cartilage, discs, and bones in order to achieve a positive adaptation in those tissues. Can I put into practice what I’m developing for the foreseeable future? If not, then it’s probably a good time to switch it up.

It’s almost as if we are treating the body like a high-performance car. Doing the necessary maintenance on each individual part can improve the performance of the entire car… but you can’t perform individualized maintenance with one single tool. You need a lot of things in your toolbox! You also will benefit from learning and practicing modalities is the knowledge gained along the way. You’ll be a more versatile athlete. Harder to kill. The more you do --> the more you learn --> the more you learn the more in touch with your own individual self.

Have an open mind. Bruce Lee said it best: “Be water.” Don’t listen to the guy that thinks there is only one way to skin a cat. He is wrong. If we in the “fitness” industry are so committed to health and wellness, then the first step is knowing what our own bodies benefit from the most. This could be different for each individual. It could be different depending on the day. It is our job as physical therapists or personal trainers to be able to identify what our clients need and give you the tools to reach your goals.

It’s important to have an open mind and be radically honest with ourselves going forward. Humility is very important when it comes to personal growth and development, ego is the least important thing. Try adding a new modality or movement into your programming, challenge your body and challenge your mind. The best place to start is to start. It’s my job to help you along the way but it is your job to be open and receptive to new challenges. It’s time to Level Up.

At PRIME, we study these aspects of training and program building to provide the best possible route for our patients. We often ask our patients to do new things and undertake new stimuli so it is crucial that we scale and modify accordingly to continue to create positive adaptations in your body. To learn more about how we can write a program for you to get out of pain and back to doing the things you love, email us at We look forward to hearing from you!

This article was written by Jackson Metcalf of Level Up Performance here in Charleston, SC. Jackson is a former college baseball player and owns his own sports performance clinic where he helps athletes of all ages reach the next level. You can find him on Instagram at @levelsperformancechs!

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