Coach Caleb’s Corner
It’s already another mid January, but this time we’re kicking off a whole new decade, and gyms across the fruited plain are filled to bursting with avid “New Year’s Resolutioners” hitting it hard. There’s likely a lot of sweating, some swearing and soon to be burn out going on, that will likely turn those same gyms into ghost towns next month. I’m not sure why humans, especially in this town, seem to favor an “all-or-nothing” approach, but when it comes to fitness and nutrition this often leads to a “started-out-as-all-and-now-is-nothing” result.
The grandest plans for seven training days per week look like the fast track to success, but they are rarely sustainable, and unfortunately, they are also rarely reduced to a more realistic (and more successful) three day schedule. Too often the seven day plan just becomes a no day plan. In times like these, I’m reminded of why we’ve been able to sustain a regular training schedule so effectively for well over a decade now, and much of it is due to StrongFirst’s fabled three “F”s. The three… “F”s? Why yes, those are “Frequent, Fresh and Flawless,” of course… what were you thinking the “F”s stood for?
At Breakthrough we favor a simple approach to help you avoid injury or burn-out while making consistent progress in your training. So what do those three “F”s actually have to do with lifting weights? They are an easy, concise reminder of how to approach your training. The idea is; train your strength often (Frequent), when you are feeling rested enough (Fresh), striving to perform with perfect technique (Flawlesss). Reps pushed to failure, or burpees to the point of exhaustion need not apply for time on your regular training calendar. Every training day is not a fitness testing day.
Considering the prevalence of FOMO tactics (fear of missing out) that are leveraged by the fitness industry, you’d think you need to run obstacle course races, compete in weightlifting competitions and train like a commando at boot camp every week to get anything close to fit and strong. You don’t. By practicing a few skills that carry over to a large number of athletic endeavors, we can achieve amazing things and avoid the high risk of injury or wasting many hours in the gym on junk reps. Owning your exercise program is like owning a car. Regular maintenance and mindful care are the basis for longevity. (It’s much nicer to have a well-maintained, fresh and flawless ride, right?) We don’t want to treat training sessions like rental cars that we abuse for a short term and then turn back in to be someone else’s problem!
Frequent maintenance, or continuity of the training process in our case, is the first and most important of the “F”s. If you practice something often, with a high attention to proper technical performance, you will become more skilled at that thing. That’s why we prefer to “practice our physical skills” as opposed to “doing workouts.” Learning how to create more tension in a muscle, for example, is one of the keys to gaining strength. A muscle capable of more intense contractions is more resilient, performs better, and looks better too! By practicing how to squeeze energy out of a multitude of neighboring accessory muscles and channeling it to the prime movers for an exercise, we enable greater and safer expressions of strength in our training. We call this irradiation. It’s one of the skills we like to practice “frequently.”
When it comes to creating all this muscle tension, we also have to shake that tension out periodically and be sure to get enough rest between sets and between sessions. We are only able to squeeze our muscles so tightly because we’re usually “fresh” enough to have the energy to do it. A muscle that is “smoked” is not the safest muscle to wield heavy poundage with; better to wait until that muscle is fresh enough to handle the workload. As such, the performance of mentally focused athletic drills or lifts, while rested enough to execute a few near perfect repetitions is your best bet. This paradigm also leads us to the “Flawless” technique component in our practice.
Preferably, the reps performed in a regular training session are almost never close to the point of failure, with a perceived rate of exertion of only about seven out of ten. This helps us keep them flawless (or as close to flawless as we can get). But how can that be challenging enough to get us the big results we want? Well, the benefits of lower repetition, moderate intensity practice are well documented. Soviet researchers discovered that as their weightlifters became stronger using these protocols, the same degree of tension generated by their muscles was accompanied by lower electrical activity. In other words, it took less and less effort to lift the same weight! They stayed very fresh and it helped them perform flawlessly.
Furthermore, moderately intense (not high intensity) stimulation of nerve cells commanding the muscles (motorneurons) increases the strength of synaptic connections, and such motor activity promotes the wrapping of nerves with myelin, a neural insulator. This reduces any “leakage” of the nerve force, turning the wiring responsible for an exercise into a superconductor. With practice, you’ll find that the same level of effort can eventually produce harder and harder muscle contractions. Congratulations! You just got stronger.
So if you’re workouts are starting to feel too hard and you’re getting worn out too much of the time, consider changing things up in favor of practicing three “F”s. Frequent, Fresh and Flawless practice for a fabulous New Year!