1st Principles

“The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Aristotle was the first major philosopher to put forth (at least in recorded history) the idea of working from your first principles. This is the ability to come all the way down to the very basic concepts and build up from there. Now he did make a number of mistakes when it comes to chemistry and biology, but the basic idea of working from first principles is a great thing for each of us to attempt.

Why should I care?

This is the foundation of the entire pyramid. With a strong base you can move forward and build. Take the time with whatever you are working with to find the real base of the problem and move forward from there. Once you have deduced the base you can also make your process more efficient as you only direct your attention at that which will have a great effect.

An Example

When it comes to maximal strength there are three different key components at the base. They are; your technique, your ability, and your psychology. The ability to enhance your strength through ability (muscle size, anthropometrics, etc.) is the hardest to increase and takes months and years to appreciably improve. The ability to perform a movement with optimal technique takes minutes to hours to improve but will let you perform at a higher capacity very efficiently. Finally, if you have a mental block or are not psychologically ready for a heavy load, no amount of ability or technique will allow that load to move. So if you are working with someone trying to enhance their maximal squat first check their technique followed by their psychology and final we start training ability.

Another Example

At the end of the day the biggest component to body weight change is simply the amount of calories that you are taking in relative to the amount of calories you are burning. Ketogenic diets, paleo, vegan, or whatever diet you are on won’t cause you to lose weight if you are in a caloric surplus. The first principle of the human body is simple thermodynamics where if you keep adding energy to a system the body will store that energy (I’m not talking about heat energy, hopefully you catch my drift). From there your macronutrient breakdown will have a large effect on the type of weight you gain or lose (hint: protein helps on all fronts). Things like supplementation and meal timing don’t have that big of an effect, so don’t fall prey to supplement companies touting how their raspberry ketones are going to make you lose weight.


Find the first principle of whatever you are working towards and then move forward. This will feed in to another post I’ll be putting up in a few weeks about thinking about the mechanism of action. I hope this was useful for you and if you have any questions about how to apply this please let me know. Thanks as always for reading.


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