How Einstein changed my training philosophy

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein

It’s easy to over complicate things and get seduced by the idea that “different” means “better.” I think at times, getting lost in novelty makes it easier to ignore the fact that the path to achievement is often tedious, difficult, and at times just plain boring.

When it comes to training, the preoccupation with snazzy new exercises and tools is what I call "the entertainment factor." As trainers, we sometimes get bored prescribing the same old things, and our athletes often get bored of doing them. To compensate, we come up with "new stuff" for them to do in order to give ourselves something interesting to teach and for clients to feel like they're doing something better.

It's the strength and conditioning equivalent of changing the channel.

Now before I go on, I do believe there is real value in having variety built into a training program. The body needs carefully planned change in order to stimulate new adaptation. But when variety and entertainment become the driving forces in creating a program, we have a problem.

The real struggle, in my opinion, is to revisit the fundamentals over and over again until you achieve mastery over them. Only when that strategy stops yielding results should you look to make a significant change to your approach. But this is a really hard idea to accept because it requires putting your ego on the shelf and taking a hard look in the mirror. The truth is most people are not advanced enough to warrant a unique approach. They need to pass kindergarten first.

A few years ago, I fell into the habit of rotating too many exercises in and out of my athletes' programs. Every three or four weeks would bring a host of new exercises for them to learn and work on. Just looking at squats alone, there would be front squats, box squats, back squats, squats with chains added, and squats with varying stance widths and tempos. Although they got to learn a ton of exercises, progress was marginal at best.

The problem was that I didn’t give anyone an opportunity to get better at any particular squat variation. I simply rotated in something new for the sake of variety. Once they got the feel for something, it was immediately taken away and they never got a chance to really develop it. It was only when I started to NOT make changes and give the athletes a significant amount of time to train something that results started going through the roof.

This is not to say that the programs didn't change. Volume and intensity were fluctuated appropriately, and some exercises were still rotated in and out. But the changes were more subtle and the progressions to new exercises built on each other in a more logical way.

This concept this carries over into a lot of areas, whether it's developing a specific sport skill, changing your body composition, or even learning to play an instrument:

  • So you're working on your backhand toe drag...how's your snapshot?

  • So you're struggling to lose body fat...have you trained at least 75 times in the past 6 months?

  • So you're learning Beethoven's 5th...how well can you play Chopsticks?

At times it may be boring. But I think the real secret to making improvement is sinking your teeth into the core fundamentals until you've truly mastered them. It’s about making things as simple as possible and becoming extraordinary at the basics.

My advice is to young athletes or anyone looking to make a change is to do the mind-numbing work that no one else is interested in doing. Because you know what never gets boring? Improving.

Originally posted on NLPT's blog.

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