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Less Can Be More

In a recent post, I shared the story of a 45 year old man who has made tremendous progress in less than two years of calisthenic training. He has already achieved several advanced movements and is not far from performing many others. Clearly, this man’s approach to exercise has worked well for him. He is obviously working hard and has been consistent with his efforts. The results are impossible to deny.

Ironically, since sharing his story, I noticed several comments that suggested the man would make faster progress if he was weight training as well. And while I don’t wish to call out anyone specifically, I believe the general assumption that more work leads to more results is worthy of a discussion.

One of the problems with the online era is that we have access to more information than we will ever need. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of exercise variations that can be found with a quick search of the web. Therefore, it is not difficult or unusual to find movements that could potentially be useful.

Acquiring such knowledge is not problematic by itself. Potential problems can arise however as many athletes are already training to maximum capacity. Athletes who are training to be the best do not budget in extra reserves just in case they find a new routine that could be useful. The athlete is already pushing himself to the max. To stack pieces on top of a puzzle that is already full does not add value. Successful additions often require subtractions. If it is not feasible to subtract from your current workload, additions must be made in very small doses. Anything more will likely hinder, not enhance, the existing routine.

For instance, the man seen in the previous entry has obviously worked hard to achieve such fast and significant results. If he was to add a weight training program on top of his existing routine, something would need to give. Once again, it is not as if this man has budgeted in extra time to not only perform an additional routine, but also to recover from it.

And I say this not to suggest that weight training isn’t useful or to suggest that all hard working athletes follow a perfect program. Often times, there are additions or modifications that can be made to benefit the athlete. Such additions must be made carefully however. Just because an exercise or routine is potentially beneficial does not mean it will make sense for an already busy athlete.

Athletes and trainers must recognize that there will always be useful exercises that do not make sense to perform at a given time. To drive home this point, I often relate exercise selection to clothes. Just because you own several nice shirts does not mean it makes sense to wear them all at once. And certain clothes may not match each other. Your favorite pair of pants may not match your favorite shirt. As much as you like both items, it doesn’t make sense to wear them together.

In many ways, the same logic can be applied to exercise. Over the years, I have worked with almost every imaginable training tool and style. I have worked with bodyweight exercise, free weights, odd objects, and more. There are quality movements that I have performed with each. I don’t work with everything at the same time though. I use the surplus of information to provide options in the future if and when necessary. If I attempted to include every useful exercise I’ve ever performed within a single routine, I would run myself into the ground.

In summary, there will always be useful exercises that don’t make sense for you to perform. If you wish to add something that is new, different, or intense, be sure to make the transition gradual. Do not force the body to take on more work than it can handle. If the addition truly is as valuable as you believe it to be, there is a good chance you will need to remove something to make room for it.

Less can be more.

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The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity. – Douglas Horton

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10 comments

10 Comments so far

  1. ChilcotinBuddha March 25th, 2014 7:18 am

    too often people forget to use the most important muscle we all possess..

    ..the one between our ears.
    ‘train HARD & train SMART’

  2. Marcelo March 25th, 2014 11:19 am

    i’m a 51 years old guy from brazil and have read your blog and bought some of your books. I have trained for the past 30 years with free weight. It has been a little more than a year now that I discovered a big tool to my training, the sandbag. For the last few months I have tried to incorporate the sandbag into my training. And have failed a lot of times.
    Less can be more is, along with simplicity, the name of the game.

    Thanks a lot!

  3. lopp March 25th, 2014 12:02 pm

    While capacity is an interesting point, it’s more a question of transfer to ones goals. Do they better transfer to your target activity? If not, but you like to do them, is the transfer at least on par with other training options you may dislike?

    THAT’s the relevant question. Because as with the frequency blog, Ross just asks the wrong questions. It’s not about ones CAPABILTY BUT PROGRESS, Ross.

  4. admin March 25th, 2014 12:35 pm

    If you can’t see the man’s progress, you are either blind or haven’t bothered to look. You will be hard pressed to find anyone his age who has made such progress with advanced bodyweight movements in less than 2 years. Throwing more work at a body that is clearly making tremendous gains in a short period of time is beyond unnecessary.

    Don’t waste time trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

  5. a.d. March 26th, 2014 1:14 am

    Hi,i am the guy in the previous article,Ross has hit the nail on the head here,a while back i had to make a decision regarding my goals and i bit off more than i could chew in my eagerness to get the results, on one level this was good, if you are going to aim for something aim high ( why would you aim low? ) but after the initial progress we all make quickly i had to pay the piper, elbow pain, messed up sleep etc. So i re-evaluated and chose what i could do 4-5 times a week and only added exercises that supplemented the main goals without adding intensity. you need to keep pushing the envelope, but incrementally, ie: train hard and SMART
    for what it’s worth this is my experience and opinion, many thanks
    A.D.

  6. marcus March 26th, 2014 6:03 am

    I first off want to say that I love the blog, and I’ve bought a good amount of your materials.

    I think the “two years and look what he’s done” in this particular case seems to go against the “consistency over time and expect realistic results” message.

    Only in that this gentleman *must* have done some other type of training before his two years of calisthenics. Surely you agree with that.

    It doesn’t take away from his accomplishments. I have done nothing near this man’s stuff. Nothing. But as I begin (again) my work out journey, I am sticking with the realistic expectations you consistently preach, Ross.

    I don’t expect to be superman in two years. It would be great, but I don’t expect it.

    Still love the blog and all of our insights.

  7. Steve Skinner March 26th, 2014 11:24 am

    You wrote: He is obviously working hard and has been consistent with his efforts.

    I think that is one of the main keys to making progress in fitness and in almost every other area of life. Work hard today. But not so hard that you can’t do anything tomorrow.

  8. Eric March 26th, 2014 2:27 pm

    Wasn’t that long ago that you lifted barbells and dumbbells and ran to get into shape. Now there is kettlebells, clubs, Bulgarian bags, sandbags, odd objects, tires, sledgehammers, bodyweight exercise, ab wheels, etc. There is no way in hell you will fit all that into one routine unless you’re a full time athlete. For anyone with a job or family responsibilties, forget it. No longer is it good enough to run a 5 minute mile or bench press 400lbs, now you have to do both. teehee. Good luck on accomplishing that at the same time. Kind of hard for someone relatively new to training to incorporate so many different methods of training. Wasn’t that long ago where popular items like ab wheels were laughed at and kettlebells and Indian/Persian clubs were looked at like antiques.

  9. dmitry March 26th, 2014 5:47 pm

    For anyone with a job or family responsibilities, forget it. No longer is it good enough to run a 5 minute mile or bench press 400lbs, now you have to do both. teehee. Good luck on accomplishing that at the same time.

    ^ Eric, you have to find out for your self.

    from: http://rosstraining.com/blog/2014/03/04/find-out-for-yourself/

    “When I first started the job, I remember walking into the boxing gym at night like a zombie. My body was worn out after laboring all day and now I had to train. For the first few weeks, I felt like my legs were stuck in the mud whenever I sparred. My trainer laughed about it. There was no sympathy. I had two options, either suck it up or get out of the gym.”

  10. Eric March 27th, 2014 11:55 am

    @dmitry, No longer perform the bench press but years ago I did eclipse 400lbs, but the 5 minute mile at 200 plus pounds ain’t happening, especially at 53. I remember reading a crossfit article where they stated that a lot of crossfitters were relatively “weak” in running. The article went on to state that the “prototype” cross-fit athlete would be able to deadlift 500-600lbs and be able to run a 5 minute mile. Pretty hard combination but who knows, there has to be someone capable of performing both.

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