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Training Smart - Why you may be doing it wrong

Welcome to the first UTS Blog Post!

The aim of this blog is to put out some interesting, thought-provoking information without boring you to death with too much science that takes a lot of digesting. I try to actively avoid coming across as some kind of preacher and this will hopefully continue with the blog posts so at no point will I be claiming that what I believe is right and everything else is wrong! If one person can learn something from the content of this blog then I feel it’s worth my time.

This first blog post is going to be based around the commonly used term “train smarter, not harder”. I put out a post related to this on my Instagram story a while back and a few people suggested this would be an interesting topic to start with so here we are!

So…… Whether you’re an average gym goer looking to get in better shape or an elite athlete trying to maximise your potential, training (“working out” if you’re American) is an essential component in providing a stimulus by which your body can adapt. Your body will adapt to what it is exposed to and the principle of progressive overload dictates that in order for adaptation to continue, the stimulus must be gradually increased or changed to encourage further adaptation. If the body adapts to a stimulus and it is not progressed, further adaptation will not occur because it is simply not required as the body can tolerate what it is being exposed to. The human body is incredibly efficient and will only do what is necessary!

The principle of progressive overload is extremely simple but when applied correctly it’s incredibly effective. In extreme cases, this has lead to individuals targeting a never-ending increase in both volume & intensity to ensure adequate stress is given for continued adaptation. However, while this may seem sound in theory, there comes a time when this is not optimal once other factors are considered. In order for the body to adapt there must be adequate periods of rest. If you continue to pile up volume and intensity to levels beyond which you can recover, you dramatically increase the risk of injury and illness while also limiting progress.

At the other end of the scale, you have those who place a huge emphasis on recovery and often claim to “train smarter” than the rest. The most extreme advocates of this approach may only let their athletes train with meaningful intensity if they’re in a state of almost full recovery/readiness and will label coaches who push their athletes to work hard or grind out sessions as “old school”. From what I’ve seen, in recent years, it appears to have become attractive to attach yourself to the “train smart” camp in an attempt to show you’re a forward thinking and a modern coach.

So which camp is better? Neither. Every athlete or client is different and should be treated as such. When applied correctly, “training smart” will be different for everyone. Some individuals who are robust and have huge capacity can not only tolerate high workloads but may actually need them in order to maintain what they have or progress further. On the other hand, you’ll likely come across individuals who simply can’t tolerate any volume of work in general or can’t survive regular exposure to certain stimuli. This is where experimentation and past experience come into play. No textbook will tell you how to deal with each and every individual so you have to try and figure out how to balance the equations for yourself. And here’s the great news……once you think you’ve figured someone out, there will likely be some variables which change and then you’re back to the drawing board trying to figure out an ever-changing puzzle. As a young coach this is something I’m still getting to grips with and I hope my ability to decide what is required for a particular athlete/client at a specific time will continue to improve with more years in the game.

The main point of this post was to get you thinking about the limiting factor(s) for you or those athletes/clients you work with and to ask yourself if these are really being considered when putting together training programmes. Only once you’ve taken the time to do this can you truly claim to be making purposeful and individualised programming decisions. For me, this is what “training smart” really means. For some individuals, this will indeed mean placing more emphasis on recovery. However, from what I’ve seen, too many who have bought into the “training smart” idea have become obsessed with rest and have inadvertently become lazy; losing sight of the fact that the smartest thing for them to do is often just to train harder!

I could go on but I don’t want to bore you and I have pizza dough to make.…..maybe this will be something to come back to and expand on in the future.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the first UTS Blog! If you have any suggestions for future topics let me know.


Pizza Connoisseur

Founder of Ultimate Training Systems

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