“If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.” – Donald H. Rumsfeld
The link below is to a Suppversity post discussing: “Altering Loading Schemes in Every Session Accelerates the Strength Gains in 6-Week Study Involving 200 Experienced (5 Years+) Trainees.” I won’t break down the study here, as Adel does a fine job of doing just that in the post. Go check it out, then come back and we’ll rant and rail a bit.
Ok, so my first reaction to this study is “well, no effin shit Sherlock”. I mean, gawtdamn — we’ve only known this since (at least) the early 60s. In fact, we’ve known a hell of a lot more than this on this very subject since that time. In actuality, the “DCL” group in the study cited above simply performed a (very) muted version of “waving intensities and weaving modalities”. A DCL + Autoregulation group would have completely blown all other groups in this study away. And that’s just adding one additional step. Throwing in some very basic intensification schemes (Jreps, forced reps, for example) would have exploded the results even more.
How can I be so confident? Because I’ve seen it at play in the field.
It’ll be a very long time before we’ll ever see this play out in a study though. Because simply adding the extra Autoreg step would have made the study exponentially more difficult (and expensive) to pull off. And so what we’re left with here is a neutered attempt at proving (I assume?) a good-better-best progression in programming protocols.
And that’s a shame, because there is so much more that could be studied. So much more that could benefit from the reductionist protocols that true science requires.
And know that the “mix things up” idea isn’t just confined to the world of strength and hypertrophy. Louie Simmons and Westside have trumpeted this idea for years in the training of competitive powerlifters. This idea is also a mainstay track-and-field training practice. It makes sense, and produces real-world results.
So what’s the point of all this work? Has this study really shone light on anything new?
I find it funny that academics have forever pointed and chuckled at the bro’s old school “muscle confusion” idea (haha, stupid bodybuilder! Everyone knows muscle doesn’t have a brain *to* be confused!); meanwhile the bros kept getting bigger, and the athletes stronger and faster. They and their coaches may not know exactly why “waving intensities and weaving modalities” (my term) works, only that it *does work*. Combine that with Autoregulation, and you’ve got an unbeatable twosome. And that’s even before we start adding the next layer of intensification schemes. And there are *many* layers to add.
Now, try to formulate a study protocol (or even a step-by-step series of studies) around that. Good luck. Current Sports Science (at least in non-communist countries) isn’t built to tackle such issues. There are just too many practical and cultural roadblocks. What organizations *are* built for studying such things in a systematic, scientific way? Any entity that models the old East German system. And the closest we have of that today is the Chinese Olympic training organization. And I’ll tell you this much: they are *light years* beyond the basic “mix it up” question. *Light years*.
But then again, so is just about everyone else in the S&C arena.
In my mind, exercise science as we currently know it would be much better off sticking with studying the particulars, and leave the programming questions to coaches in the field. Science dabbling in the intricacies of programming is much like a physics lab attempting to teach a 7 year-old how to ride a bike via equations and peer-reviewed papers and such. It’s obviously a ridiculous notion; reverse engineering at its worst. A bad application of some very credible science and, quite frankly, a complete waste of valuable time on the part of science. Build a better bike with science, then let the kid figure out how to best ride it.
Again, I am ALL FOR PROPER SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, and deep-dives into the hows and whys of human physiology particulars. But science as we know it and perform it today is simply not built to study something so fluid and dynamic as the human complex (mind, body, spirit) under various intense training protocols. There are just too many moving, uncontrollable variables. And by necessity, science must be reductionist in nature when what is required here is whole-systems methodologies.
Coaching circles, by the way, are more than up to the task. At least in capitalistic societies (vis-a-vis Chinese-like communist model discussed above). Why? Because end performance is all that matters. In the competitive crucible, and over time and iteration, the cream rises. We don’t have to know every little nuance of “why” something works, only that, in total, it *does* work. And yes, we do draw from the applicable science-derived particulars to create a more complete whole. In other words, we, in the field, are that “whole systems” entity.
Note on that thought: I’ve been immersed in the book Superforcasting – The Art and Science of Prediction as of late. A superior work that I can’t recommend highly enough. At any rate, building a model of what abilities are required to be a superforcaster, and what qualities are required of individuals comprising superforcasting teams and the required dynamics/mechanics of such teams reminds me much of how good programs and schemes are ferreted. And that is to say that it requires a good blend of whole-systems logic and honest, after-the-fact reflection and number crunching. All good stuff.
All fine and well. But at the end of the day, why did the DCL group in the study excel? And, by extension, why does “wave and weave” + Autoregulation work so well? And in relation to this particular study, what exactly is it that we’ve known since the early 60s? Here’s the deal: if what we’re looking to better is hypertrophy or strength, or conditioning / general physical preparedness (GPP)… or *any* measurable athletic output, then the more intelligently-programmed work we can do, per span of time, that we can adequately recover from, the better and faster we will progress. Bottom line. We can do the”overtrained” vs “under recovered”semantics circle-jerk all we want, but the work/recovery balance is what it ultimately comes down to. I have zero interest in wasting time in the argument, though. In the end, what matters is how much smart work you can endure while still adequately recovering. The amount of said work being different for everyone. Which is why Autoregulation and “wave and weave” is such an important part of the puzzle.
In addition, the the human body (any organism, really) loathes top-down “command-and-control” and non-variance (for more on that, check out this post). This is the reason that, although ARXFit is the finest strength training equipment in the world, I still utilize barbells dumbbells, bodyweight work and sprints of various distances in addition to ARXFit work. This is why I continuously cycle exercises and variants of the same exercise (grip position, stance, etc.). And this is why variance is a HUGE part of how we program at Efficient Exercise. And this, too, is why I cycle my IDNutrition and, at times, veer from my normally clean, nutrient-dense diet, and why I sometimes dive headlong into periods of *really* pushing the redline on recovery.
And I don’t see reductionist science being able to quantify any of that anytime soon. And more to the point, it’s not within the purview of reductionist science to do anything of the sort. That’s best left to “whole systems” coaches.
The perfect answer? Less cold war, and more talk and collaboration between the field and the lab. Like the “bike riding kid” scenario above, science handing over to coaches “new tools” to play with would make for great lab-field synergy.
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –