Opportunity cost is a term I first came across when watching a clip from a lecture given by a sport scientist, Dr Mike Isratael, during which he was discussing the merits, or lack of, of certain training methods when applied to athletes. In essence, he was referring to the fact that everything you do in the gym has a cost in terms of time and energy, and therefore an athlete should not waste their time on ineffective and unproven training methods.
While it is true that some competitive athletes and fitness enthusiasts are happy to spend all their free time in the gym, productively or otherwise, the truth is that most people would prefer to keep the time spent working out to a minimum, so that they can get back to watching celebrities baking cakes. It's not something I understand, my life begins and ends in the gym, but each to their own, I guess.
That being the case, the concept of opportunity cost, has in some ways, a greater relevance to non-athletes, because 60mins of time in a sub-optimal workout may constitute a very large percentage of many people's structured exercise. For an amateur triathlete with no girlfriend, what's an extra forty five minutes when he's already doing fifteen hours a week? He's got no where else to go anyway. However, for most people, getting to the gym for three hours a week is often a stretch, so we need to know that we are making those sessions count
The major problem we have is how do we know how best to spend our time? If you've read this far, you must have at least a casual interest in health and fitness, which means you must have been bombarded with conflicting information from leading experts and gyms about how best to workout.
If you are now expecting some kind of revelation about the latest Hollywood celebrity backed time efficient super workout that is all things to all people, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. However, there are two steps that you can take to make sure that you are getting value for your time
The truth is that there is no such thing as a class or workout that truly provides everything, despite claims made to the contrary. There will always be a compromise. Your body will adapt to the specific training that it has been exposed to, although you may find that certain methods tick more than one box. For example, a structured and individualised gym program, geared up to improving your strength will likely improve your physique and health as byproducts, but is not going to make you a better dancer. If you wear your hoodie and headphones whilst hogging the bench press, you might get better at benching, but you won't make any friends. Going to Zumba will help burn a few calories and get the heart rate up and can be fun, but will not make you much stronger. Yoga will help with stress management, but is not optimal for improving your aerobic capacity and so on.
I'll finish with a word of warning, there are lots of classes and methods that will promise you everything, crossfit, circuit training and all the bootcamp classes for example, but the truth is that while they will improve several aspects of fitness at once, each aspect is being compromised relative to if it was trained in isolation. That might well be a compromise that you are happy to make, but just do so in the understanding that you won't go that far in any aspect of your fitness if you are trying to do it all at once.