Less is More for Athletes

Less is More

I recently posted a short video to Instagram where I explained how many athletes make the mistake of focusing too much time on exercise, and not enough on their actual sport. As a follow up to that post, it is also important to remind athletes that they cannot perform every useful exercise that is available to them. In other words, do not spread yourself too thin. Trying to include every useful movement within a single program is a recipe for failure. From a supplemental exercise standpoint, less can be more.

Sport First, Everything Else Second

Before expanding on the subject, I’ll first share the previously referenced video. It’s only a minute, so have a quick listen.

Information Overload

At first glance, it is common sense to suggest that an athlete cannot perform every exercise known to man. Unfortunately, common sense does not always apply to the individual. Athletes are naturally competitive, so it is not unusual for them to seek out new ways to improve. All it takes is a few minutes of googling to find an endless list of exercise variations. Therefore, it is not difficult or unusual to find movements that could be useful. And what’s wrong with an athlete looking for new or different ways to improve?

Seeking knowledge is not problematic by itself. Problems can arise however as many athletes are already training to maximum capacity. An athlete who’s training to be the best does not budget in extra reserves just in case he finds something new. 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 small doses. Anything more may hinder, not enhance, the existing routine.

The Training “Wardrobe”

Athletes 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, it can be useful to relate exercise selection to a training wardrobe. For example, you may own several nice shirts, but you can’t wear them all at once. And certain clothes may not match each other. Your favorite pair of pants may not match your favorite shirt. Thus, as much as you enjoy both items, you wouldn’t 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 when necessary. If I included every useful exercise I’ve ever performed within a routine, I would run myself into the ground.

Final Thoughts

Athletes must remember that their primary responsibility is to improve at their sport. The best way to improve at your sport is by practicing it. And often times, sport practice is quite demanding. Speaking as a boxing coach, the boxing workouts that my fighters perform are more demanding than anything else we do. I’m not training them to become exercise masters. I’m training them to become better fighters.

To conclude, athletes must accept that there will always be useful exercises that don’t make sense to perform. Adding an intense workload on top of an intense practice schedule can be counterproductive. An athlete will need considerable work capacity to handle such volume. And building such work capacity does not happen in weeks or months. It can take years. Thus, if you wish to add something new, be sure that the transition is gradual. Do not force the body to take on more work than it can handle.

Less can be more, and slow and steady often wins the race.

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“One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.” – Francis Jourdain

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9 comments:

  1. You mention that this also applies to excesize enthusiasts not only specialized athletes how can one apply this knowledge as somebody that is into training not for a sportspecific goal?

    1. You must have atleast a goal even if its just to get in shape for summer?? You may not have a demanding sport but you may have a physically demanding job or stressful life, all these things sapp energy, you have to balance things out. The idea is though if something is working eg pullups for back, then why add something in just for the sake of it as an extra, say rows or pulldown. Get the job done in the minamalist way, save energy, recover quicker, progress quicker.

    2. The concept is even easier to apply for those who aren’t training for a sport-specific goal. For example, imagine if it was common for every person in the world to regularly perform pushups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and an exercise or two for the core (ex. plank variations, rollouts, etc.). Suppose everyone performed such movements every other day. On the other days, they went outside to run, walk, cycle, or swim. I’m guessing “exercise programs” wouldn’t be nearly as marketable. There would be no need.

      And while we may never live in such a world, that’s really all that the bulk of the population needs to be fit, healthy, and active in the world today. Keep it simple, be consistent with movement, and you’ll be light years ahead of most.

      1. This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic of fitness. So true and well put. Now that I’m in my mid 40s,I get it.

  2. I saw your video and I agree with you. On the past I have problem with overloading exercises and now I focused on one goal and I started see real effects. Thanks

  3. I wish I had read this years ago before I burned out lifting too much and training too hard. In hindsight I would have been fine with just one or the other but doing both at the same time was too much for me to handle. Thanks for the article, Ross.

  4. Hey Ross,
    Your older training videos and current ones are interesting and motivational to watch. I really want to see one of you working with all out power and speed on the heavy bag because I’ve read your stuff for a while (since you sold ‘The Boxers Guide To Performance Enhancement’) and like seeing how elite fitness enthusiasts who motivate and inspire me train.
    Thanks,
    Jeff

  5. Great message, Ross. Still working on combining a bit of supplemental work with BJJ. Trying to clean up my diet a bit too. Before BJJ, I followed the basic workout that you mentioned: simple strength training, and some movement on other days (jogging, sprinting, swimming, etc.).

    I’d like to do more of those things, but BJJ keeps me pretty busy and takes up most of my time. Right now, I fit in two or three bodyweight sessions a week, as well as some kettlebell swings and Turkish getups.

    I’ve scaled by BJJ from six to five days, for both mental and physical recovery, and I usually do some sprinting or a 30 minute stair routine at home.

    This seems to work for me. The last piece is better food choices. I’m not horrible, but I need to make better decisions.

  6. Good article.

    I use to think that every variation of push up, every variation of pull up, every variation of squat, etc, was required in every area-specific workout to hit every part of the muscle. This often resulted in lengthy workouts.

    Now I have found that all of these variations can be used but in different workouts, sets, etc.

    For example, (chest only as an example) I might do Push Ups as such:
    1st set: Standard
    2nd set: Wide
    3rd set: Close
    4th set: Robot

    Or

    First workout: Standard Push Ups only
    Second workout: Wide Push Ups only
    Third workout: Close Push Ups only

    You still hit the muscle in various ways, just not all crammed together.

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