Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Much Is Enough?

When I used to train athletes for a living I used to ask this question because from a volume comparison my training programs never looked like the ones recommended by the NSCA and other such organizations. I never had my athletes perform 100-150 ground contacts of "plyos," and the strength exercises were used on an "as needed" basis, meaning, I stuck with the basics unless a change was needed and then modified accordingly. It's interesting to watch the pendulum swing back this way in the fitness industry, and to a certain extent, the S&C industry of almost a decade of influence by well-meaning but misinformed and misapplying functional training gurus and rehab specialists. Back are the heavy compound lifts. Gone or dying is the prescription for unstable surfaces to "enhance proprioception."

Why is this?

Because, as my friend Zachariah Salazar says, "More is always more." There's only so much the body can adapt to and if there is too much "thrown at it," (nice scientific phrase, huh?) it won't adapt much at all and progress stalls.

The bottom line is everything we do in the gym and on the athletic field is a skill. If there are similarities between exercises, than skills are easier to obtain.

How are skills obtained?

By analyzing movement and practicing those movements...perfectly.

Intuitively we all know this, or at least we should. I vividly remember teaching the volleyball team my last year at RU how to land. That's right, land. They'd been taught how to jump, but never how to land. Most of them allowed their bodies to pitch forward at the net when blocking--especially the taller girls. So we focused on high quality landing mechanics from boxes of varying heights. Upon asking the girls if they'd ever been taught to land, everyone of them said "no." So how did learning how to land make a difference for them? They were able to land, load, and re-block/re-jump quicker. In science-speak, the amoritization phase of the stretch-shortening cycle decreased because they were no longer fighting their own bodies from pitching forward.

The same thing should be true with weight training. My good friend Brett Jones is on track to break into the Raw Elite ranks of Powerlifting. How's he train? Primarily with the squat, bench, and deadlift. The same is true for many elite weightlifters. They train the snatch, the clean, the jerk, and the front squat. My greatest success as a weightlifter was when I trained using a minimalist approach: pulls, jerks, squats, full lifts on Saturdays. I practiced the movements a lot. Then with heavier loads. A lot. Why did I change? Because I ran out of mobility.

I think that's why concepts like the Conjugate Method work well for some but not for others. If you run out of mobility in primary exercises, you have to find similar exercises that have "carryover." Why did the Bulgarians start beating the Russians in Weightlifting? Essays have been written about this and the debate will never surely die, but to a certain extent, the Bulgarians perfected the classic lifts and used others sparingly. This gets into varying aspects of sports science which are too in depth for this post, but on some fundamental level we all know that the best in every sport have the basics mastered: movement/technique/strategy. How much could Michael Jordan snatch or squat in his prime? Who cares?! All this of course is just my pontification/theory based on my experience, reflection, and study. Bottom line though is this: If we fail to use it, we lose it. Once it's gone, it's hard to get back--regardless of the "it."

So all this begs a question: How much is enough?

Just enough.

And unfortunately, that's dependent upon the individual at hand.

For the [almost] Elite Powerlifter, it may be [re]acquiring foot, ankle and hip mobility.

For the young field athlete, it may be keeping the mobility he already has and loading specific movements like lunges and jumps.

But the prescription is simple, I just wished I had learned it sooner: Learn how to move in all planes of motion.

This is more than multi-planar lunging as prescribed by some coaches. Or with adding a reach by others. It's learning how to move all your joints in full ranges of motion and then integrating those motions. Then, and only then, load them. I wish somebody'd told me this 15 years ago--not that I'd probably listen...

I'm doing this with my squat right now. My body won't let me load the squat right now, so every squat I do with just my bodyweight, I try to make it feel the same--exactly the same. Not similar, exactly. So when I can get back to loading, my body knows the pattern--exactly.

Quality is key. Not quantity. It's better, meaning reaping more results focusing on doing things well regardless of the prescribed rep ranges. Alfonso taught me to use these as a guide--"Do no more than x reps..." That sort of thing.

When quality breaks, stop. Stop when you are in pain. Stop when you start changing your breathing pattern (not frequency...). Stop when your posture starts to break down. Just stop. Move on to something else--another exercise, mobility work, recovery work, home...

Why am I posting all this?

Because I never stopped.

I'd be on my feet 16 hours a day having had 5 hours of sleep the previous night and then go snatch 80% on iron in a commercial gym, then back squat 90%. It's easy to keep going at 24, 25, 26. Not so much 10 years after that. It's easy to "put a hurt" on young athletes. Go back and visit them 10 years after you've worked with them. If you did your job, they'll be moving better and probably in better shape. If not, they'll look like me--broken and trying to regain lost ground, clinging to a glimmer of hope. If I weren't so darn stubborn, I would've given up two years ago.

Rif (Pavel?) is right--glory is temporary, pain is forever.

Once you dig yourself that hole, it's hard (but not impossible) to dig out.

Pay attention now and save your future.


Blogger Mark Reifkind said...

Ah it's mine :))

this is the one thing I too wished I had done forever.You cannot give up basic ROMS for ANYTHING. And you need to always stay in touch with thes basic mobilities/felxibilities or they can get lost easily and the problem show up very quickly in a primal movement pattern.
good post.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Thanks for the compliment, buddy. Even though we are taking currently different approaches to our current conditions, I'm surprised to how similar our experiences are.

Ever had head trauma?

I caught myself with my face after a throw in wrestling in HS. Stood up and somebody'd turned the lights out--there were some stars though! I think this has something to do with my knee issues. I will explore this possiblity in the future.

Do you think we would've listened when we were younger? Somehow I don't think so.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Tim Anderson said...

Geoff, Great Post! We wouldn't have listened when we were younger. Most of the time we don't even listen now, even when we know better. At least I don't. Maybe the only "Prize" for pressing on through pain is the wisdom later gained that says we should've stopped. Hard lessons to learn. And yet for some reason I always act eager to keep learning the same lesson over and over. Again, awesome post.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Brett Jones said...

How much is enough? or What is the least you can do and still make progress? Z's quote is great but it is where most people live - just more.
PLers mistake stiffness for stability all the time.
Your base of movement is the foundation upon which all else is built - re-gain it, maintain it, improve it - never stop moving.
Train basic - Move well.

Great stuff Geoff - I am learning a great deal from your journey.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Thanks Tim and Brett.

Tim, that reminds me of a saying I often use, "The best thing about banging your head against a wall is stopping."

Brett, go here: http://despair.com/mis24x30prin.html

that's sometimes how I feel...

7:30 PM  
Blogger Frankie Faires said...

How much is enough?

The MEA (Minimal Effective Amount).

Dr. Phil McGraw has an analogous term as well as Tim Ferris.

MEA is what efficiency is all about.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Katie B. said...

Realistic decision making for the future isn't in the mind of a 20 year old.

Some of the latest research shows that the prefrontal cortex doesn't fully mature until the mid 20s. The prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making abilities, and unless this developmental process begins to occur earlier in age, athletes are going to continue to make mistakes (or whatever term you prefer here). These may not affect them today or even tomorrow, but as you said, where will they be in 10 years?

Great post and I too am guilty of banging my own head against the wall, but stopping is the ultimate payoff if you can do that much.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Katie--I guess that explains scientifically the expression, "Youth is wasted on the young."

8:37 AM  
Blogger Mike T Nelson said...

Geoff said "It's learning how to move all your joints in full ranges of motion and then integrating those motions. Then, and only then, load them."
---that is so HUGE!! Awesome post.

Mike N

11:03 AM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Frankie--MEA--Exactly. How do we find it? Trial and error I expect--not only that it changes with the individual on a daily basis. As I get older, I like the idea of "efficiency" more and more.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Brett Jones said...

Too damn funny!!! Love the link.
I'm sure you have another purpose - give me a minute and let me see..... ;)

6:16 PM  
Blogger Franz Snideman said...

Well said! Glory is temporary, pain is forever.

This whole topic you are talking reminds me of book in the bible I am reading now.

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes 10:10 where King Solomon is talking about the foolishness of not backing off, taking rest, and re-sharpening the saw.

Ecc 10:10 If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, Then he must use more strength, But Wisdom brings success.

Well apparently King Solomon figured it out more than 2600 years ago. If the ax (your body, your mind, your spirit, your business, you fill in the blank) is dull (overtrained, fatigued, injured, stagnant, overused, abused), re-sharpen the saw so that you do not have to use as much strength to get the job done. Basically an testament to the quality over quantity paradigm.

It makes perfect sense! If the ax is way too dull, of course you will naturally have to use more energy to cut the wood or object which will result in more QUANTITY. If you take the time to stop, rest and re-sharpen the tool, you will be instantly be stronger and thus your QUALITY of each strike will be better. Stronger by trying harder? No, stronger because the tool is prepared better and allows you to transfer you power and strength seamlessly and with more grace.

According to this scripture you actually get stronger by taking a break, by resting. In the last part of the scripture is says, "But wisdom brings success." That must logically mean that foolishness brings failure. If you are wise, you will take the time to sharpen the saw, much like the chapter in Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Take more vacations, spend more time doing recovery, Z-health, joint mobility, massage and just straight up relaxing. Read more, get outside more, be in nature and let your body recover and do other things.

Great post brother!

6:27 PM  
Blogger Mark Reifkind said...

dude, I was a gymnast. I've lost track of how many times I landed on my head,lol.
as to whether I would have listened when I was younger: absolutely. I was the most coachable athlete ever.If I only would have had better coaches.
As far as the Bulgarian system vs the Russian conjugate system remember the reason the bulgarians only had to use just the basic competition moves was that they were built for it. all the athletes were the same basic build, just as all the best gymnasts are the same somotype.
the conjugate/wsb system is for those NOT built to do the lift.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Rif, They were built for it--that's the rumor. But what is the "It?" Are you saying that the Soviets weren't built for weightlifting? There are a lot of successful weightlifting teams now who are using hybrids of the two systems like the Greeks and the Chinese. Not only that, Chakarov didn't exactly "look" like he was built to be a weightlifter, but he is/was a Bulgarian...I don't think this "debate" will ever be settled.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Mark Reifkind said...


the "it" is a bodytype that withstand the rigors of lots of pulling and squatting. The russians did the same thing,pick lifters with the same somatype,pavel mentions it in his laterst PtP newsletter.
The russian dynamo club and others came up with the conjugate system first I believe. the bulgarians found they didnt need to do so if they picked the"right" body types.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule but I think you will find most of the bulgarians are built with similar levers, even if they are different height/weight classes.
proof, as always brother, is in the pudding. if it works it works.
remember also, NONE of these systems were designed to produce "lifetime" weightlifters. they were used to produce champions who were not going to be trying to get masters records or even be lifting in their master years.
you could either handle the workloads( anabolically enhanced, of course) or you went back to the mine.lots of bodies to choose from.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

"remember also, NONE of these systems were designed to produce "lifetime" weightlifters. they were used to produce champions who were not going to be trying to get masters records or even be lifting in their master years.
you could either handle the workloads( anabolically enhanced, of course) or you went back to the mine.lots of bodies to choose from."

Excellent point.

9:56 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home