Optimal vs Maximal

“The real reason I can guarantee my clients results? It’s the walking homework.”

Your clients might be working too hard.

In our pursuit of high-level fitness, we tend to program hard workouts almost every day. Even though we fully understand Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome, we usually hammer our clients when they’re in front of us, and leave the “supercompensation” part to nature.

The problem is that all of the progress happens during “supercompensation”. And when we drill people into the ground too often, that supercompensation never really happens. Clients stay in a state of ‘alarm’ too long, and their fitness actually decreases.

used with a Creative Commons license
Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome. Used under Creative Commons license.

You see that dip in the curve above? That’s a body’s acute response to stress. Only when stress is REMOVED does the body supercompensate. More stress just drives that alarm response deeper. The “stage of resistance” doesn’t always happen; and when it does, it’s not always greater than the “alarm” dip. So over time, clients’ fitness can actually get WORSE with too much intensity!

In the graphic, that “stage of exhaustion” point seems to occur after a period of supercompensation. That’s misleading. It actually occurs after too much time in the “alarm” stage.

Intensity is a great thing. Intensity provokes a fast response. But you can’t drive a car at full speed all the time. Sometimes you need to cruise.

The fastest way to get meaningful results isn’t to provoke MAXIMAL alarm-state in your client. It’s not to deliver your workouts with MAXIMAL intensity. The fastest way is to program and deliver OPTIMAL intensity to create results.

How do you know what’s optimal?

You measure your client’s results against their goals.

If a client is training in your general group program, you measure the group’s progress.

You can set up “testing week”. You can count how many clients improved their deadlift this week. You can track “Fran” trends over time. You can look at their progress on the Level Method map. You can even just ask each client if they’re hitting their goals! But however you set it up, you MUST measure the progress of your clients before you can dictate what’s next.

When you do, you might find that your clients are training too hard to make progress.

Of course, this is easier in a 1:1 setting than in a group. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it in a group. Pick some metrics and measure progress, then change your group programming accordingly.

Some general rules:

1 – beginners can actually lose weight just by walking. Adding 15 mins of walking to their rest days will help them lose weight faster;

2 – nutrition is more important than exercise for at least 70% of our clients. If you want them to get results, have them practice portion control before they practice the snatch.

3 – Track metrics that are meaningful to your clients. “Our gym lost 325 pounds of fat and gained 116 pounds of muscle last quarter!” is fantastic. “Our members added 22,000lbs to their deadlifts last quarter!” is also great.

4 – You can program sleep and nutrition for groups. We call this the SEMM model.

5 – “Active recovery” is actually exercise, and adds to training load for most people.

6 – Stretching doesn’t undo overtraining.

I can’t tell you if you’re overtraining your clients. You might be–but that’s my point. Unless you measure, you don’t know if your programming is optimal…or just really hard for the sake of making YOU look smart.

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