The Fabian Strategy : An Attritional Approach To Achieving Your Fitness Goals

In the year 218 BC the great Carthagian general Hannibal led his army of mercenaries over the Alps and into Italy where he began to inflict a series of devastating defeats on the Roman army.

Appointed by the senate to expel this foreign invader Fabius Maximus decided the Carthaginians could not be defeated in open battle and must be worn down through small skirmishes, disrupted supply lines and the steady progression of time.

From a military standpoint these tactics were a success. Politically they were a disaster and Fabius was replaced by another commander, Gaius Terentius Varro, who immediately sought decisive victory but instead was utterly crushed at the battle of Cannae in one of the bloodiest days of the ancient world.

In the aftermath of this disaster the Romans realised the error of their ways and returned to Fabian's strategy of slow, patient attrition which eventually drove Hannibal and his Carthaginian army from Italian shores.

It struck me this story shares many parallels with the way we tackle our own body and fitness goals.

With their offer of quick, decisive victories the intense bootcamp, 21 day cleanse or celebrity crash diet are easily marketable, popular and very enticing solutions. However in most instances they are also unsustainable and ineffective over the long haul.

Instead of blitzing our body with an all or nothing approach we can adopt the Fabian Strategy and steadily chip away at our fitness goals through the formation of small, sustainable habits which gather momentum over time.

  • This could mean eating one extra serving of vegetables
  • This could mean replacing one junk food with a healthier alternative
  • This could mean doing 10 minutes of extra walking per day
  • This could mean doing 1 extra rep of our resistance exercises
  • This could mean carving out a few extra minutes to stretch

Like the Romans hounding the Carthaginians we can let these small victories slowly accumulate to produce impressive final results.

All it needs is a little patience.