Don't Overcomplicate Strength Training: Find the Elegant Solution!

Posted on 18 Mar 2014 14:07

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You know, we often hear that we should "keep it simple." That is good advice. It really is. As you read this post, it may seem to come down to a fancy way of saying keep it simple. Well, many of today's "simple" strength training programs have sort of scooted past simple and sat down hard on simplistic. So, I want to say before I even begin, that elegant solutions, which I am talking about here, are not the same thing as simplistic solutions! We're trying to take out the complications, not to prove how very simple it all is.

Physicists often talk about "elegant theories." What is an elegant theory? It is often defined as a theory that contains the least number of basic concepts but still "works." It has been compared to a computer program: The most elegant program is the one that contains the least bits, but still produces the desired output.

Although we certainly couldn't and don't need to ever know for sure our "theories" are elegant, we should learn from this concept. The more basic concepts you need to bring into the "equation" to help someone with fat loss, strength training, etc. the less elegant it becomes. If, instead, all these other related concepts can be said to be important only in how they relate to this…this may be unclear…let me try to illustrate:

What if I you had a problem in your deadlift and I gave you a long set of instructions to correct this? Every one of these instructions is designed to address a certain distinct (seeming) problem or concept and correct it. Would this be of help to you? What if the problem was a simple-seeming problem with your deadlift set-up or execution? And so, to solve this, I gave you a complex set of instructions. Let's call these instructions a program that, when executed by you, should produce the desired output. With me? Usually, these programs contain lists of things not only TO do but also things NOT to do. That program is very long and contains a lot of information. It is much MORE information than is necessary and thus makes solving your problem by running this program a very inefficient process.

What should I have done? I should have sought a more elegant solution. The elegant solution would contain very little instruction. A very clear and easily executed, simple, program. But when this was done, all the seemingly separate problems would iron themselves out (theoretically, haha).

Randy Gruezo, who inspired this post by some comments he made to me, gave me an example of a very simple and elegant "program" that he might use to help with squats: "I say I can't see the emblem on your shirt. Pretend you have a mirror in front of you and you want to see the emblem."

I cannot attest to how well this program works, simply because it is not one of my programs, and I can only attest to what I have seen at work (this is called intellectual honesty, if you want to know), but what he is doing is giving the simplest cue he can to provide the biggest output possible. THIS, is good strength training instruction. This is how coaching really works.

Often we see fitness or strength articles that start with a very simple question or problem and move ever outwards towards more and more complexity. The best information tends to take the other direction. Start with the problem, examine all the complexities (and discuss them, hopefully), and move towards the simplest, and therefore most elegant, solution.