Consider the idea that less is sometimes more.
Where is less of something more?
Well consider less debt=the potential to earn more money sooner;
Less distraction=more concentration;
Less critical=more creative;
Less talk=more action…you get the point.
This idea can (and should) also be applied to fitness.
Should training be an unorganized, disconnected experience where we throw assessments, goals, previous exposure, function and physiology out the window?
Of course not!
That data drives the prescription.
When planning our training we need to realize that in some cases less is exactly what we need to make progress. Whether progress is a top 10 finish at the Games, competing at Regionals or running your first 5K, sometimes less of what you have and/or want can be more of what you need.
The concept of overtraining and overreaching is individualized for each athlete. A training program that causes one athlete to appear consistently tired, injured, show a reduced motivation to train, or demonstrate a consistent decrease in performance may be a normal part of the training process for an advanced level athlete. Factors to consider here include training age, gender, previous history and function. Is this an athlete with zero training experience or a Regionals competitor with 10 years experience?
The key is to provide the correct training stimulus that drives adaptation, allows an athlete to recover and progress over time without too much training stress that may push the athlete into a state of overtraining/overreaching. Many times that looks like less lactate training and more CP work, maybe some Alactic work and some easy Z1 sessions.
Steps to help prevent overtraining/overreaching include an individualized program that incorporates planned periods of higher then lower training stress. As a coach, a good first step would be to decrease sets first (volume) but maintain intensity and see how the athlete responds if overtraining/overreaching is suspected.
It is, however, important to understand that this too is completely individualized. Some athletes may just alternate between accumulation phases if the sport of fitness is the goal with variability in volume from phase to phase. Other athletes may do well with active recovery strategies during periods of deload/restoration like easy Z1 sessions or manual therapy.
Many books and countless dollars have been spent on the discussion of diet and nutrition so I’ll make my point short. The question is often, “which diet is best for me?” Again, like most times the question of diet is answered with “it depends!”
It depends on your goals, current and past food profile, how well you tolerate certain foods, gut health and temperament to name a few. If your goal is weight loss and looking good naked, then you’ll need to more than likely decrease overall carbohydrate consumption and increase overall protein consumption along with the appropriate exercise prescription. Improving health and getting leaner means less sugar and a decreased consumption of processed carbohydrates over time that will lead to improved insulin sensitivity. Improved insulin sensitivity and better management of blood sugar is essential for long-term health.
That said, if your goal is athletic performance-not necessarily optimal health- you need a more comprehensive look at your current nutrition and recovery that may mean increasing your carbohydrate intake!
Refining Skills/ Skill Acquisition
Would you program the snatch for an athlete before they could overhead squat? Throw handstand push-ups at them before they have a single bodyweight dip?
Let’s examine a beginning/intermediate fitness athlete that we have assessed to have low scapular strength numbers and poor mechanics during his/her chin-ups. A muscle-up is the goal.
If an athlete lacks proper shoulder mobility along with poor control of the scapula we need to back them up and work on those structural imbalances using movements such as side-lying Powell raises, rows, trap 3 raises and/or dumbbell external rotations 2-3x per week. From there, improving strength numbers relative to bodyweight and relative to upper body pushing. Then, skill practice in a non-fatigued based session. Once the skill is achieved we can then begin to practice the skill in low fatigue based settings such as in an EMOM or density set building volume and progressing to fatigue based sessions over time. How long? It depends on the athlete of course!
It does not mean we throw a 7 muscle-up, 20 bodyweight deadlift, 20 calorie row 20 min AMRAP at this person right away. It means they need less practice of a given skill during fatigued based sessions and more skill work in non-fatigued based session while building volume, to master and safely perform a given skill.
Injuries suck. No question. Unfortunately injuries are, in some aspects, part of the game. We can do everything right and still something freakish can happen especially if you spend any appreciable time moving large loads, long distances, quickly.
Any rehab work or program needs to be done after the consult of a physician. In some cases, a good reason exists as to why resuming an exercise regimen should be placed on hold until the injury has healed.
Depending on the location of the injury we can and should continue to do some easy aerobic work. The bike or versa-climber is great here. In most cases, moving some blood and some lymph can help with the recovery process.
Training around the injury is also an option. For example, an upper body injury may mean we spend some dedicated time on the lower body and vice versa.
When beginning to return from rehab/injury what we need to be cognizant of is less volume and intensity and more mindfulness of how we are moving and regaining lost range(s) of motion.
An athlete with a low training age (0-18 mos.) should have a consistent program touching on similar movements to develop the nervous system. This athlete will learn new skills, brain and muscle connections will develop, and create a neuroendocrine response. Consistent training with less movement variety will develop opportunities to create maximal contractions in future training sessions. These athletes will typically stick with the same movements anywhere from 6-8 weeks as the nervous system develops.
Training Age Rate of Exercise Change
1 6-8 Weeks
2 4-6 Weeks
3 2-4 Weeks
7 1-2 Weeks
Conversely, when working with more advanced athletes in a CP session, the number of exercises is inversely proportionate to training intensity. Typically, advanced athletes working in maximal strength ranges will perform less total exercises (1-4) vs. a beginner performing 3-10 during a given CP session. Therefore, for more advanced athletes, intensity and complexity is higher but they will perform less total movements during CP sessions (though they will perform more sets and have longer rest periods). This may also mean that we train less frequently due to more work done at higher intensities. Does this mean advanced athletes do not perform higher rep exercises, of course not!
Finally, before you consider more supplementation, a Smolov squat cycle, post workout fuels, fad diets, and a new coach consider locking in the basics first. Less complexity and more simplicity. Make sure you have the natural laws in order:
Put the body in a position to thrive before adding!
In sum, it is important to see that when working with athletes or as an athlete yourself, that sometimes taking a step back, noticing, and moving forward with purpose is exactly what is needed.
OPEX Level 1 Associate Coach