Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Optimum v. Maximum

I had an English prof in college who personally hated any writer who started off pieces with definitions from a dictionary. So, in honor of this prof:

Optimum: (from Merriam Webster)
1 : the amount or degree of something that is most favorable to some end; especially : the most favorable condition for the growth and reproduction of an organism 2 : greatest degree attained or attainable under implied or specified conditions —optimum adjective

Maximum: (from Merriam Webster)
1 a : the greatest quantity or value attainable or attained b : the period of highest, greatest, or utmost development 2 : an upper limit allowed (as by a legal authority) or allowable (as by the circumstances of a particular case) —maximum adjective

(I'm not a writer, I'm a bystander who's got to get his thoughts about his training onto "paper" or he'll go nuts.)

I've lived my training career chasing the latter and now I find myself striving for the former. I think most of us as athletes, and most of us who derive a living from training others, are many times guilty of framing training in a maximum light instead of an optimum light.

Take yesterday's training session for example. I am quite capable of squatting 2x32kgs for reps, how many--I dunno--challenge me. But, apparently the load is or was yesterday, too heavy to focus on the bony rhythms I'm striving for while squatting. How do I know? Last night, the knee was pissed off. I had to hit some basic rehab work to re-establish the rhythms. Today, I performed almost the same workload with half the weight and my right leg--hams and adductors especially, are screaming. (We'll see how the left glute is later...) The difference? Optimum/optimal loading versus Maximum/maximal loading. Sometimes the needed stimulus to elicit a training result isn't always "maximum." I'd think this'd be obvious to me for as long as I've been training. But, for as long as I've been training, I've chased a number as the outcome, not a sensation or feeling.

I wonder how different my competitive career would've been if I had learned this hard-fought lesson earlier in life. Yeah, there was always the bio-feedback--but this is different. How so? Physiologically, optimum allows maximum to occur, but not necessarily the opposite. Take the current trend of the wide stance box squat used by Westside influenced powerlifters for example. This style allows for maximal weight to be lifted in the assistance gear that these lifters use. However, this is not an optimal squat pattern because of the torque created at the joints due to the wide stance. What will be the long term ramifications for using such a style? Hip injuries? Back injuries? Knee injuries? Time will tell.

Most of us are not (or no longer) training for anything maximum. We are training for health, body comp change, and pyscho-sociological relief. Many argue that less is truly more. I personally have gotten caught up in the more is better many times in the past and even a little bit now. There is such a thing as too much work when training. To quote Brett Jones, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." If we are over-stressed, under-recovered, and malnourished, the best plan on paper to accomplish your goals can be the worst thing for you.

More thoughts on this later.

Today's training:

A. Double KB Clean + Press: 2x32kg/10+10 x4; 2 minutes rest

B. Double KB FSQ: 2x16kg/10 x4; 2 minutes rest

C. KB Snatch: 32kg/5+5 every 30 seconds for 5 minutes.
This was good as snatches bother my knee. I was able to find the right rhythm between the ankle, knee, and hip here and this lit up my right hamstrings. Very pleased.

Tomorrow's off. Need it. Feel sore and tired. Just Z.


Blogger Franz Snideman said...


This hits home brother. As a strength coach who makes his living from it, and still trying to achieve some form of excellence in sport (sprinting), I am so GUILTY of training to MAXIMUM.

And as you get older you start seeing and better yet, start experiencing the essential truth of training OPTIMALLY. It's funny that when you're young you can see this need, only when you get older and hopefully wiser does it occur.

This is an excellent post that needs to be addressed to all strength enthusiasts but even more for strength coaches. Training people all day takes a toll on your body especially when you are giving clients your absolute best; it's damn fatiguing at times, do you agree?

It shouldn't be "Train as hard as you can all the time," it should be train in an optimal manner. Or as Dan John says, most champions are built by "punch the clock" workouts. It may not be fancy but it get the job done.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

I agree Franz, training clients all day long is "damn fatiguing" which is why I no longer do it. The money's not worth the damage to your health--physical, marital, emotional, spiritual, and otherwise.

I now train most of my clients on M-W-F and do other "stuff" on T-TH-S. I took a brief pay cut, but I overall, I felt much better.

The other thing we need to address is to differentiate the need for training for a goal and training for stress relief. I think I'll write about that next...

3:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Reifkind said...

yeah, eventually we all figure this out.well not all. and not eventually,lol.different persepctives sure change the scenery.I lived for maximum most of my life but now oprimum is so sweet.
and like you said ,maximum comes from optimum and every now and then when searching for optimum you get more.
I have always beleived consistency to be way more important than intensity anyway. of course if you have both.....

5:48 PM  
Blogger Brett Jones said...

Optimum is where to live - Maximum is a place to visit (it's a nice place but not somewhere you can afford to live). Very easy to try to turn the visit into a long term stay - this is why I have to cycle and use the Prilipin chart etc...

Training for conditioning is different than training for strength and stress reduction (the classic "workout") is very different from a focused, precise training session - I am after results - not a workout has become my mantra!

5:13 AM  
Blogger Brett Jones said...

BTW - Geoff, How is the knee? And do you think you need to use a bit more tension right now instead of just long spine to help stabilize the area?

5:14 AM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Brett--knee is a daily,irritable issue. Dr's appointment on the 6th to get an MRI scheduled. Regarding tension v. long spine: long spine is feedforward v. tension which is feedback. I lived with to much tension over the years so now I need to retrain my body to use the appropriate, or optimal amount of tension when necessary. And I agree, maximum is a nice place to visit but no place to live.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Brett Jones said...

Got it Geoff - we will have to talk more about the "feed forward" concept. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

1:16 PM  

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