It appears that the “Ask Dave” category is kicking arse. You comment, email and stop me in the gym to ask me to write about some of the best topics.
And I like that.
From time to time I get completely stumped by a question, which means I’m guaranteed to hit the books and scour the internet to fill that knowledge gap.
From time to time I get asked a question that stops me dead in my tracks, something that is asked in a way that I’ve not come across, or is searching deeper than the norm. I love these as it shows a genuine interest in fitness and training.
And from time to time I get questions like below, where people are asking how they can do a little extra to improve themselves, and that I love.
The following question comes from the US and a woman who says she came to fitness late in life, she’s in her 40′s, and from what I see, she’s killing it! We’ve chatted over facebook a few times and I’m blown away by her attitude, so when she asks something I do my best to answer.
I’ve a feeling this’ll be a long post, but first, here’s the question.
Shannon talks about her journey into fitness in the My Mad Methods magazine
“May be a topic to write about?? How does one increase their capacity for work?
I have my regular work in my 6AM class and yet I still want to improve other fitness skills. Dan John talks about “greasing the groove” and if you want to be better at a skill, do it daily.
I found when I did an additional workout over lunch or after work for a period of time, that I got a little “wonky” in my brain… more tired, more whiney, more grumpy, too serious about it all. I backed off the add’l work and things improved mentally as well as physically in my AM class.
Tho’ it seems to me bodies can be conditioned to do more… people train for so many endurance events and do such demanding things all the time with life in general vs. an hour workout a day.
What are your thoughts about your clients doing more on their personal time and improving thier skill base? Curious.
So, work capacity and skill building. Two things close to my heart.
Lets start with the part on “Grease the Groove”
Grease the groove is a concept that has garnered popularity through Pavel Tstasouline. Dan John does a lot of work with Pavel and is a giant in the industry. If Dan gets behind and idea, then its a good idea.
But what is Grease the Groove?
Simply put, it’s practice. It’s taking a skill that you want to develop and practicing it as frequently as possible, but never to fatigue.
If we take strength and look at it as the skill of activating our muscle fibres in the right sequence, at the right time to create powerful movement, then we can see how frequent practice can be useful.
Any skill requires practice, if you want to get that perfect triangle choke, you practice it at every opportunity.
If you want to kick a ball like Johnny Wilkinson, you kick at every opportunity.
If you want to get good at pull ups, you need to hit them at every opportunity.
If you want to play guitar like Mark Knopfler, you pluck the strings at every opportunity.
But you must always, always ALWAYS prioritise quality over quantity. Always.
So when it comes to fitness related goals, we must avoid the one thing that most people actively seek in the gym, fatigue.
You must not approach this with the “workout” mindset, we’re not looking for the pump, we can’t afford to take a set to failure and we certainly don’t want to induce DOMS. Hell, we should barely break sweat.
So pick your lift. I mentioned pull ups and that’s the one that comes up the most in my gym, and pull ups actually do reward frequent training. But it could also be deadlifts, clean & press, maybe you’re learning the olympic lifts.
A basic start point to work with is to work at 50% of your training max. But even less is fine.
If I can do ten perfect pull ups and want to get better, then I’ll do sets of 5 over the course of the day.
If I can press that 32kg bell for 3, but want to do it for reps, lift it once, maybe twice in a set but do it frequently over the day.
Never go to failure, avoid fatigue at all costs. The more tired you become, the less total work you’ll be able to achieve, which is detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve.
So that’s Grease the Groove in a nutshell. It means practice.
My old karate instructor, Jack Parker, the man who bears much of the responsibility for who I am today, used a similar idea, but he told it differently.
Jack gave me the following nuggets of advice:
- Everytime you go through your bedroom door, do some push ups.
- Practice wherever and whenever you can, if your brushing your teeth, punch with the other hand, if you’re sat on the toilet, visualise your kata, while you wait for the kettle to boil, practice your stances.
They’re not his exact words, but you get the drift. He espoused grease the groove, before grease the groove was even heard of.
It is Jack’s teachings that form the foundation of many of my training beliefs and principles, add to that the research and reading from many other coaches. There is no doubt in my mind that people should practice outside of their training sessions and that greasing the groove is probably the best way to do so.
Next then is overall work capacity.
This is a deeper question for several reasons, no less so as Shannon is a touch over 21 years old.
We’ll start with a nutshell, a soundbite that is easy to understand and pretty well on the button:
You can only train as much as you can recover from
Now here’s the catch, as we age, we recover more slowly.
The harder we train, the longer it takes to recover.
Duration can take longer to recover from than intensity.
The more we do, the more fuel we need, so our calorie intake must go up accordingly. This simple fact seems to be the most often overlooked element when people up their training load.
There are too many nutrition programs out there to follow, and the main ones work. However I strongly advocate listening to your body before listening to any Guru.
It took me a long time to realise that I do well on a high fat intake but still need a good amount of carbs. Too few carbs and I’m not a nice man, too many and I’m sluggish and lethargic. Get it just so and I’m the duracell bunny!
Like I said, it took a good bit of experimentation to figure this out. You must do the same.
Livestrong.com have a nice food tracker, it’ll tell you your macronutrient breakdown. See what you do best on and stick with it.
Overall, we can adapt to anything, so if you want to train every day, even twice per day, it is possible. Just be sure that you have the recovery protocols in place, that means, stretching, eating, hydration and sleep.
We must also build slowly, gradually ramp up the work load, don’t just jump in with both feet.
If this means cutting your regular training back a touch while you add in an extra workout, do it. Once this is working, start upping it again.
Slow and steady wins the race on this one. Shannon doesn’t state how she trains or her training goals, so I can’t be too precise with advice here.
The next question that must be addressed is kind of the elephant in the room.
Is increasing my training volume going to work to my advantage or detriment?
Chatting to James Fennelly, Irelands strongest man and recent Worlds Strongest Man competitor. These strongman guys know a thing or two about work capacity. James’ specialty is the deadlift, yet he only trains the lift every two weeks.
355kg for 11 reps, gotta be the socks!
Recently I dropped my training from 4 days per week to three with an optional fourth. As soon as I dropped a day everything improved.
My energy on the floor coaching went up, my overall productivity increased and I hit a PR pretty much every week while my injuries and well and truley in check.
So overall, it’s a plus.
Prior to this I was training 5 days per week in a competitive cycle, after that I started a 4 day strength program. I have in the past trained up to 20 hours in a week, but right now, with my other commitments, 3 hours is plenty.
Well three hours plus some playing and a bit of grease the groove and a 4 mile cycle to & from work each day….
So, we’re almost at 1500 words and I’ve probably created more questions than I’ve answered.
Lets see if we can round it up with a summary of some sort:
- You can adapt to anything, just do it slowly.
- You can only train as much as you can recover from, so prioritise this.
- Get your calories. “There’s no such thing as overtraining, only undereating” – A bodybuilding maxim that holds a fair bit of truth.
- Ask the hard question, “will added work hinder or help?”
- No seriously, ask the question and give an honest answer.
- Set your goals, then arrange your training to get you there, not the other way around.
- Little and often is usually good advice.
Now, if that makes sense to you or leaves you completely confused, leave me a comment or hit the share buttons.