David Van Skike
“The idea that the harder you work, the better you’re going to be is just garbage. The greatest improvement is made by the man or woman who works most intelligently.”
― Bill Bowerman
By analogy, training economy means investing in tools that will last, that are versatile and that have proven value. Bad training economy is buying up interesting but ultimately useless gadgets from the outlet mall in hopes they will contribute to the cause.
|Squat More is the answer…what was the question again?|
Let’s talk practical terms. It is my position that there are few if any “bad exercises” (except sumo deadlift hi pulls, those are bad). Certainly, there are poor applications of really limited tools (like tricep kickbacks), there are overblown or over prescribed ideas (circuit training or so-called Metabolic Conditioning) but mostly there are poor application of a good tool, say prescribing the snatch and clean and jerk for distance runners.
If you decide you want to:
- throw the discus at a masters track meet having never touched one, what’s the first thing to do?
- want to run a marathon, having not run for several years, what the first thing to do?
- compete in a submission wrestling tournament having not been on a mat since high school, what’s step one?
You know that the answers are learn to throw, run, wrestle…or more specifically, find a resource to learn to throw, develop your running technique and find a group to train your wrestling skills. This is Base Training. Base is not GPP. GPP is preparing the individual to train. It’s working directly the fundamental skills and qualities of your sport. Base training is also specific: Runners Run, Weightlifters Lift, Throwers Throw. Base is where you need the bulk of your actual training time.
These priorities should be obvious because they are the fundamental prerequisites for accomplishing the goal at hand. These abilities also take the longest time to develop. Economical training is based on this prioritization, such that you focus on the critical pieces early and often. This probably sounds like the old saw of focusing on the fundamentals. That’s because it is and because fundamentals work.
Throwing Drills:10 full turn drills,5 power position throws, 10 full indoor shotput throws
What do you see? I see Simplicity and Efficiency
He starts with primary skill work for his sport. He moves on to snatch pulls, which this athlete has found to have better carryover to his throws than a full snatch or power snatch. This movement develops his ability to deliver maximum hip extension in a forceful and coordinated manner. Then he does some bench pressing for developing upper body pressing strength crucial to the stone throws. He finishes with the king of full body strength exercises, the squat. Squats make you strong. Period. Notably absent is any fluff, excessive GPP, “metabolic conditioning” or bodybuilding work that this athlete does not need (some people do). All the lifts are contributing directly to the sport at hand.
Limited Variety-Economical Training requires limiting variety
The myth of variety is that it will make you well rounded. Lean and powerful, flexible and strong, quick with great endurance…these are fitness follies. The sooner you recognize this as a myth, the better. One of the hallmarks of good athletes is that they strive to do fewer things better rather than many things mediocre. Sacrifice means giving up something you want for something else you want more.
Now, everyone bristles at the idea of these limitations. People love to look to examples of multi-sport athletes who, through grit and talent became great in several sports: the Bo Jacksons, the Bryan Oldfields, the talented all rounders.
Couple of things on this:
Thing 1. This will sting a little. Elite athletes are born with gifted. Many would excel at any number of sports regardless of how well or poorly they trained. If you have to wonder if you were born gifted, you probably weren’t. I know, bummer...but 99.999 % of the world is in the same boat, so get over it. Accept that we’ve got no free ride genetically, and we have limited time and recovery ability, we need to make it our mission to master a very limited set of things.
Thing 2. The examples are usually horseshit. Most multisport athletes, even at the high school level, are pretty average outside their specific area and this amazing talent set disappears under the harsh light of adult competition. Even great athletes like Michael Jordan, who tried to push beyond their sport, found out they were average at best outside it.
The third semi-legitimate reason for variety is to combat boredom. I say this is a semi-legitimate reason because most people training require some amount of variety to stay motivated. This is not surprising. However, no one ever said training for a goal was easy, and if boredom places a significant damper to motivation, then perhaps that athlete is not terribly motivated to begin with. In any case, the least amount of variety necessary is what’s called for. Frankly, focusing on a goal and hitting personal records is far more motivating.
- Sport Specific Drills
- Olympic lift
- Squat, Front and Back
A list of best practices for a rugby player might include:
- Power versions of the Olympic lifts
- Squat, Front and Back
Hmmmmmm……..That’s weird. What about something like a Judo player or a wrestle
- Sport Specific Drills
- Power versions of the Olympic lifts
Notice anything? That’s right, the effective tools to build power and strength in sports that have a need for power and strength, are basically the same. There’s nothing fancy or exotic. These components of training have proven,time and again, to have the best bang for the buck. If your program includes much else, you had better have a very good reason.
|“Everything yields to diligence”
Thing Two. Never forget that each individual is an experiment of one, with their own unique set of weaknesses and strengths. Economical training is recognizing that not everyone derives the same benefit from one training tool versus another. The degree to which certain tools work for an individual is… well…individual.
What’s more important is not that you have the best tools, but that you master all the tools you do have. As they say in drag racing, Run what Ya Brung.
For instance Olympic lifts have long been prescribed for throwers. This is, in no small part, likely because the qualities that make one a good Olympic lifts (explosive and strong) are also the qualities that make one a good thrower. Does this mean all throwers should do the Olympic lifts? Well, it depends. Can they learn them expeditiously? Can they safely and powerfully execute them better and heavier over time? As with our thrower example above, he found that limited partial Olympic lift from the hang is good enough. That lift transfers to his sport. Time spent learning a complicated lift to support your sport is most often better spent either lifting more or doing the sport. Having a “pretty” power clean has some value, being a diligent and consistent thrower has more value. Any time spent learning a supportive skill takes away from and conflicts with the main skill in some small way. Does this mean don’t do supportive work like lifting? No. It means spend your energy wisely. Observe below. Many rank amateurs can execute a better looking power clean than Robert. Mr. Harting’s gold medal in the discus is a pretty good consolation prize.
This is a trap a lot of self coached athletes fall into. When it comes to programming, don’t do in three moves something you can achieve in two moves with consistent practice. Here is egregious example that cuts to the heart of uneconomic training.
- To develop as a track cyclist, I need to be stronger
- Front Squats will make me stronger.
- I can’t seem to hit a good depth on the squat so I need comprehensive flexibility routine to be able to front squat well.
And so on…. The athlete goes from chasing his goal to chasing his tail in three easy moves. Need to get stronger? Find a version of squat you can execute well and go to town. Need to develop coordinated explosive power?- Focus on mastering one power tool that seems to carry over, whether it is snatching, jumping, or throwing….pick one and work it. Don’t try to develop a repertoire of half ass movements. Pick the one that suits you and work the hell out of it.
This kind of three step thinking is probably at its peak with trainees whose goals are aesthetic (bodybuilding) or esoteric (all around fitness competitors). The prevailing assumption with this group is that in order to achieve a general goal, they need to do everything in general. This leads to some of the most nonsensical and unproductive kitchen-sink “programming.” Remember our example from Part 1?
Focus on core modalities that widely transfer to the sport. This is true whether you are a self-trained athlete or a coach. If you pull any training program off the web or out of a book you should be able to develop an opinion within minutes whether the program works or doesn’t. If upon reading it you have any question as to Why a given movement is included, it’s probably a wasted movement.
Economical training programs are simple and elegant. They focus energy on the most essential elements that contribute to performance. They also minimize or eliminate the minor pieces that are at best a distractions at worst, derail progress entirely. Think of training your body in the same way you might think of investing your life savings.