by Mark McAuley
“Mmmm! That chocolate bar tasted good, real good. I’ll think I’ll have another one. If the first one was that good, the next one will be just as good if not better.”
“Ok, that was nice, but not so great towards the end.
“Now I feel sick”
In Economics – this is called ‘The law of Diminishing marginal returns’ – All other things being equal the more of something you consume the less satisfaction you gain from that extra piece consumed. In the above example – chocolate bars.
Just because something is good for you does not mean that more of it will equal an
equivalent increase in satisfaction gained. The same principle can be applied to your training – Some exercises are more beneficial than others and give you a greater bang for your buck. So does just doing more of that really good exercise mean that I’ll get a greater increase in benefit? According to our above principle, NO.
This is in fact true – There comes a point when increasing the volume of an exercise
Take for example our deadlift – one of the best posterior loading (and total body)
exercises for strength and muscle development out there. If I incorporate it into my
workout one day and it’s that beneficial, why not just deadlift every day and It will be 7 times more beneficial to me.
It’s a great exercise, but like every exercise there is a “TIPPING POINT” where the
exercise becomes detrimental as opposed to beneficial. The body releases cortisol (a
catabolic hormone) that causes the body to store fat and you end up overstressing your
CNS (central nervous system) due to what we call overtraining. The CNS is where the
strength gains from lifting weights are made and with this fried you can kiss the next
training sessions goodbye.
Overreaching to make gains is fine and can be hugely beneficial, but overtraining is not and can be hugely detrimental to your training. It can result in you having to break from your training from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Not only that, who wants to be in the gym every day lifting weights for a couple of hours.
There is life outside the gym, and personally I like to live it. So, there is a tipping point where the training becomes detrimental, but there is also a tipping point where the benefits gained from extra work are so small that it’s pointless.
Therefore, before you even step inside the gym you need to figure out “WHY ARE YOU GOING THERE?”
What’s the goal? If you want to see results, you must have a goal.
If you leave the house in the morning with no idea of your final destination, you can be sure you won’t get anywhere. Sure you might see lots of nice stuff while you’re driving around in circles, but ultimately you won’t get anywhere.
When you leave in the morning for work (your destination/your goal) you go the most
direct way you can, to get you there the quickest. It’s the same with your training. You must have a specific goal before you enter the gym. Once you have that specific goal, you can plot the shortest, most direct route (workout plan) to get there.
An ancient Chinese proverb says “He with no direction, goes nowhere”, or maybe that is something I just made up. Ha! Sounds good and applies to your training, so take heed.
What’s your goal?
● fat loss
● muscle gain
● increasing Vo2max
● improvement in core strength
Maybe it’s a combination of a few. Still get even more specific. Results depend on
specificity. I want to gain 8 lbs of muscle in 8 weeks (so 1 lb a week). I want to lose
10lbs in a month (2lbs a week). I want to be able to hold a plank for a minute. Now that you have a specific goal, you can chart the best path to get you there and measure
accordingly as you go along to make sure you stay on target.
Once you have the goal, you need to figure out which exercises are the ones that are
the most beneficial to attaining this goal, Strip away those exercises that aren’t giving
you bang for your buck. Time is the one commodity in the world that you can’t get back and that you want more of it. So don’t throw it away doing pointless exercises. If the exercise doesn’t contribute to you getting your goal get rid of it.
Now that you have your core exercises, what’s next?
If lift this weight for so many reps and so many sets I will get stronger, therefore if I just do more of it I’ll get twice as strong – “WRONG” – there is also a ‘tipping point’ with reps and sets where it becomes counterproductive.
There is a point where the gains become so marginal, that it makes little or no sense
doing extra work. If I get the majority of my gains from 10 reps and 3 sets then I’m not going to do any more. Why would I? It makes no sense.
Think of yourself as an empty pint glass, and your training as water you are pouring into the glass. When you reach a certain point, the glass will be full. However, if you keep pouring water into the glass beyond that point it will just overflow, and you will still only have the same amount of water in the glass as before. You have gone past the ‘tipping point’. The extra water will not fill the glass up further as it’s already full.
Therefore, if you can get the bulk or your gains made in 45 minutes to an hour, why
spend extra time in the gym busting your ass for minimal gains and probably creating a counter productive environment in your body (remember our old friend cortisol)?
Research has shown that intense training for longer than an hour can result in this
negative state. “Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body that promotes the release of myostatin, a protein that breaks down muscle…Cortisol has an inverse relationship with all anabolic hormones, including testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin. When cortisol is elevated, these other anabolic hormones are depressed, and vice versa.” – Jerry Brainum
‘Thus, cortisol’s role in overtraining, detraining, or injury may be critical when muscle tissue atrophy and decrease in force production are observed’ – NSCA
What are the signs of overtraining –
● psychological effects: decreased desire to train, decreased joy from training
● acute epinephrine and norepinephrine increases beyond normal exerciseinduced levels (sympathetic overtraining syndrome)
● performance decrements, failure to complete workouts
● maintaining fat levels despite increased exercise – providing diet is still good
● restless, excitable and inability to sleep
● constantly tired and unable to recover from training sessions
● falling ill more often than usual
● feeling ill after workout for the following few hours and days on a regular basis
(Now, just because you don’t feel like training or are a little tired, it doesn’t mean that
you are in a state of overtraining. You are just looking for excuses, so get your ass into the gym.)
What does this then mean with regards your training?
Overreaching, or short term overtraining, can be beneficial when cycled in to your
training properly, and can result in great benefits – but it needs to be monitored closely
and often followed by a period of detraining/unloading.
You do not need to be going to the well with regards your training every time in order to get results, you just need to train ‘SMART’(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time).
Yes, you need to train with intensity, proper progression and overload to cause change
within your body and to reach your ultimate goals, but there is a point where too much intensity can cause more harm than good.
Hammering out tons of exercises with tons of volume might seem like a good idea,
but maybe the level to cause the desired change was reached way before. All you’re
achieving now is a negative stress on your body and wasting time.
Training has its basis in science and should be treated as such. Mystically coming up
with reps and sets of exercises is stupid and can lead to injury. Mindless training for
hours can be pointless and can result in overuse injuries. Don’t exercise for the sake of exercising. Do it with a specific goal and you will see real results and will be able to monitor it properly and effectively gauge whether what you are doing is working or not.
Pick the exercises that are going to give you the most bang for your buck and give you the gains that you are searching for. Throw away those extra pointless exercises. Only do what is necessary to get the results. Time is money baby, and it’s quickly running out.
● Figure out your goals before you go into the gym and then make a plan to
achieve these goals.
● Be specific with your exercise selection, reps and set selection. Only do what is
necessary to achieve those results and put all that extra time you have to good
● Only use exercises that are going to get you these goals. If not, then don’t waste
your time doing it. Your body will thank you for it. Throw away those exercises
that are superficial and the gain is only minimal.
● Use your time as productively as you can in the gym.
● Train with intensity, not stupidity.
This is not an excuse to train with less intensity or less often, but rather to train smarter and more specifically. You still need to reach the ‘tipping point’ before you make the gains and it will require a level of intensity to achieve this.
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
― William Penn
Mark McAuley is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association(NSCA), and is also a certified NCEHS personal trainer through NTC (National Training Center), Dublin, Ireland. Phone: 087-2608012
© Mark McAuley
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