Is Your Box Too Small


Recently I wrote a fairly well received article I titled There is a Reason There is a Box. The premise of the article was that “out of the box” thinking is running out of control and that we need to make sure that we are “masters of the box” before we begin to think outside the box.

A recent conversation with my friend Dan Dyrek DPT added yet another thought to the process. As we discussed the premise of the previously mentioned article Dan said “what if your box is too small”.  I realized that this was a brilliant slant that I had missed. I have often criticized the one tool wonders. These are people who have a very small toolbox yet think they can cure every ill with their one tool. Imagine a handyman with nothing but a hammer in his small toolbox. The visual quickly brings us to the clichéd line “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

What about when the only tool you have is a kettlebell, or a Pilates workout, or a yoga class. Any of these tools in isolation clearly gives you a limited toolbox.  Personally, I like to have all of these tools in my toolbox. I love kettlebells for swings , split squats, 1 leg straight leg deadlifts and getups. I love stretches derived from Yoga and groin rehab from Pilates. I consider my toolbox to be large and well stocked. Much like browsing the tool aisle at Home Depot I am always experimenting with new tools. However, I think carefully before I add them to my box. If you look in your box and see one tool you should ask yourself  what you can fix with that tool. If you answer “everything”, you probably should think again.

To be honest we should probably all start with a small toolbox and add tools as you need them. The important point is to realize that you are not yet a master carpenter and that you still need to add quality tools and learn how to use them.

The “one tool wonder” idea does not just apply to strength and conditioning or fitness. We often see the same thing in the worlds of physical therapy and sportsmedicine. Often here we may have more of a “tool of the week” or “tool of the year” approach. Believe me, it’s OK to add ART or Graston to your toolbox. Just don’t throw out all the other tools.

The real key may be to ask yourself if your box is big enough, well stocked, and has room to expand.  A expandable box in this case is an open mind. Well stocked means that you have enough tools but, not too many. Room to expand means room to learn and room to grow. Some suggested steps:

Step 1. Buy the basic tools that will serve you well for 90% of the jobs you need done.

Step 2. When something arises where your tools don’t work, you go buy another tool. Just the tool you need.

Step 3. When another problem arises, you buy another tool. If there’s no problem, you don’t need new tools.

Over time your toolbox will be huge, but it doesn’t start that way.

This gives you time to master the tools you have before you buy more.

8 Responses to “Is Your Box Too Small”

  1. […] few weeks ago I read a blog post by Mike Boyle entitled “Is your Box Too Small”. The article discussed  expanding your “fitness tool kit,” and developing your […]

  2. Mr. Boyle,

    I enjoyed your article, however I believe there is an important component missing that should be included.

    Although I too have always used the “toolbox” metaphor in training and life in general, I have yet another perspective to add to the mix. Even more important than the tools in your toolbox is the mind that guides their use. I try and instill in every coach and athlete I work with this fundamental concept – The thing Has No Power!

    A tool only has a set of given properties or potential, but has no power to do anything on its own until it is acted upon by the user. In the right hands a hammer can be used to build something wonderful or destroy something beautiful – the hammer is indifferent. If we replace hammer with foam roller we have the same dynamic. That foam roller does nothing towards addressing restrictions through myofascial release when a group of young athletes use them as props to drape their bodies over as they socialize before practice. Daily I see foam roller use that is not grounded in any kind of guiding principle of correct use in context of a desired outcome or meeting athletic development objectives.

    The power for change and meeting athletic development objectives is not in the “thing”, the tool, but in the application of the tool. Having a tool box with a wide assortment of tools is handy, but useless without the proper engine to drive its correct use – your mind.

    There are 2 criteria that need to be met. First, picking the right tool for the job and second, the ability to correctly use the tool to achieve a given outcome. Both are dependent on one’s intention and guiding principles. For example, I use models to assess and develop athletes. As such all tool choices and their application are rooted in the guiding principles of these models. These guiding principles include the laws of motion and the primary principle of electricity.

    Models are very powerful in that they guide one in the rules of a process or “how” to do something correctly, rather than exactly “what” to do. A sound model of athletic development will help guide both tool choice and how it should be best applied. A model provides a solid framework to guide your thought process, while allowing for infinite flexibility in its application.

    The Scientific Model/Method is one such example. One set of rules which guide us in the correct method of how to conduct valid experiments. It makes no difference what the nature of the experiment is; or your location, objectives, experience, education, ego, etc. One set of variables covers all experiment process needs. It doesn’t matter what tools you use, or what your objectives are, simply follow the rules in the Scientific Model/Method and you will have a framework for conducting a valid experiment.

    I like to test my thought processes outside of the specific issue and industry to gain universal perspective, which helps with objectivity for all parties involved. The more areas of life that I can correctly apply my thought process to, the more confident I am in its value and validity. This is similar to the scientific community moving from hypothesis to theory to laws. The more a given phenomenon is tested under increasingly varied circumstances and found to be true, the closer it is to becoming a law – like gravity. I usually feel more confident when I can say, ‘the nature of what we are discussing applies to all areas of life, at the moment we just happen to be focusing on and applying it to one specific area of life – physical development.’

    With this in mind…
    Union carpenters receive the same training and mostly carry the same tools. So why does one use his tools and build something strong and attractive that meets my objectives in every way, while another carpenter using the same tools build something weak and unattractive that does not at all meet my objectives? Since the training and tools are the same, it can only be “how” that carpenter’s mind applies his training and application of his tools which determine whether he produces something good or bad. Two artists with the same training using the same paints, brushes, canvas, etc can produce vastly different results as their actions are guided by whatever principles exist in their hearts and minds.

    Now replace carpenter with physician, attorney, architect, accountant, electrician, mechanic, engineer, programmer, landscaper, realtor, coach, trainer, teacher or chef and we get the same results – some are great while some are awful.

    The tools in your toolbox are important, but more important still is the engine that drives the tool. The thing Has No Power – You Do!

    Thank You.

  3. […] reading these two articles  by one of the leaders in the field Mike Boyle about having a training toolbox and thinking outside the box I realized that marketing plays a big part in in choosing a trainer […]

  4. Reblogged this on Athletic Training and Fitness and commented:
    Check out this excellent post by Mike Boyle on his Strength Coach Blog! It just makes sense…

  5. mboyle1959 Says:

    That’s a great quote. I’ll have to use that.

  6. Very well said, great analogy. Too many fitness professionals and fitness facilities don’t understand this. The market themselves (or their tools) as “for everyone” and this is simply not the case. I often say that “nothing is for everyone”. Your article is a good prescription for those that truly want to serve the largest possible variety of clients, it’s a prescription for proper education. Learning the basics is the key to any educational process, only then can you build and innovate. One of my favourite quotes on education is “The purpose of an education is to replace an empty mind with an open one”, I think this is right in line with what you’re preaching.

  7. An expandable box is an open mind–I love this. Great article, Mike. There is a quote by, George Bernard Shaw that reminded me of this: Progress is impossible without change,
    and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

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