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Sometimes, Simplicity is King

I tend to over complicate things.

I don’t know if you do either but often times I find myself overthinking problems that have easy solutions. Folks with advanced degrees might even be more prone to this type of thinking.

Typically, the internal monologue goes something like this: “I’ve gone to school (for 4, 6, 7, 8, 12 years or anywhere in between) for this and to solve my problem, I took those four classes that taught these six principles and I can include them here, here and here…so on and so forth”.

I do this when beginning a new program for an athlete. I identify the problems the athlete is facing, draw on my education and come up with a workout that includes 12-15 movement patterns with specific prescribed weights, reps, cues, etc. The workout ends up highly specific and individualized to the athlete.

What’s the drawback, then? This magnificent workout will take an hour and half, double the time I have allotted for the athlete. So what happens? I cut things out, manipulate volume and maybe even rush technical application to fit time.

During the first year of my career, I think the above picture was the norm, rather the exception. Now I’m starting to realize that sometimes, simplicity is king.

Instead now I try to address an athlete’s specific needs in pre-work, during their warm up. I select 4-6 movement patterns that are fundamental to the sport and athlete, then we hammer down correct form and this allows us to push the intensity further, faster than if I sacrificed form just to get in ‘more’.

Let me highlight my own training program as an example. My main goal this year has been to increase my strength in the powerlifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. I’ve done everything from the 5/3/1 program to hip thrusts to unilateral work to soviet style complexes. All in effort to increase the weight I can move in those 3 lifts.

I’ve been pretty successful. My squat has increased from 210 to 300 (42% increase), bench from 165 to 205 (24%) and deadlift from 225 to 425 (86%). However, technique is still questionable and progress has slowed quite a bit. Searching for a new way to get stronger, quickly, I had an epiphany:

“If I want to get stronger at squat, bench and deadlift, I think I’ll squat, bench and deadlift.”

Revolutionary, right?

Previously, I would squat once a week and filling my other workouts with accessory movements that focused on anterior chain strength development (lunges, Bulgarian squats, front squats, etc). Now I squat three times per week. Beyond common sense, research supports this move. Two studies I want to specifically highlight:

First, Marshall et. al. looked at the difference between performing one, four or eight sets of squats within a workout. Guess who showed improvement at every time point measured? 8 set folks.

Second, Shoenfeld et. al. reviewed hypertrophy literature and concluded that there is a dose-response relationship between resistance training volume and muscle hypertrophy. 10 sets per muscle group, per week benefited individuals more than 5-9 sets or <5 sets. Is this where I insert the cliché, “practice makes perfect”? So, streamlining all this information into one concise point: If you want to do something and do it well, don’t overthink it. Don’t get too consumed with fluff. I don’t know what job you may hold or what your workout goals are but I know that every now and again, simplifying problems and identifying only a few key points can be refreshing and invigorating. I encourage you to try this approach. Thanks, Alex Burtch   References

Marshall (2011)

Shoenfeld (2016)


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