Another interesting thing that I picked up at Steve Maxwell’s recent Fundamentals of Human Movement certification course (December 2012), was the concept of diminishing returns in exercise programming.
More specifically, Steve referred to a physical standards test developed to assess the capacities of candidates for Russian Special Operations fighters (spetznaz), developed by Anatoly Taras. This list of 10 exercises contains an entry level ‘pass’ score, then a secondary number of repetitions for the same exercise for which he felt there was a point of diminishing returns for that exercise – for which any time/energy spent furthering the exercise was, for all intents and purposes, redundant.
The baseline entry scores for the standards test are pretty intense, and are decent goals for experienced people to work towards. A few examples are:
• 25 rock bottom one legged squats (as the entry level – diminishing returns over 50 reps!)
• 25 one-arm snatches (with a 16kg bell for people under 80kg; 24kg for above 80kg) entry; 50 diminishing returns point.
• Underwater swim – 25 metres entry with 50 metres being the diminishing returns point.
Now obviously this concept doesn’t work so well if your goal is to improve at a given strength-sport, or to maximize conditioning exercise for its own sake, ad infinitum. If you want to be as strong or powerful as possible as your primary goal//sport (Powerlifting; Olympic lifting; Strongman; etc), or have quantitative strength goals then that’s totally cool.
When this concept comes more into play, is when your goal is improving you bodies performance for a given sport or activity, where you need to keep most of the quanta of your energy for the specific conditioning and movement patterning of said activity; or improving health as well as strength & conditioning; working at functional longevity; and/or you have limited time/energy for physical training.
For myself, I like working on strength, flexibility, mobility (less so general conditioning – which I do mainly via walking) and specific movement patterning – within the parameters that I want my training to enhance my immune system function and my soft tissue health & quality (balanced myofascial tonus; relaxed strength; healthy and springy connective tissue system).
I like to explore different movement systems, for their fun enhancing and life enriching capacity – martial arts; Parkour/Free-running; dance; etc., but I also like physical training and strength & conditioning exercise for its own sake. Learning new movement patterns also has a healthy, neuro-plastic element to it.
Trying to do everything at once doesn’t work so well for most humans, so you really have to ask that question – what do you want? Then you plan a progressive and realistic way of getting there (if your goals are realistic for you, with your current resources, in the first place).
Using the concept of diminishing returns can be quite helpful with this process. I keep up strength & flexibility training all year round, as a foundational physical conditioning, resilience (injury proofing) and rejuvenation (soft tissue health) practice. Any conditioning I do, beyond walking (of which I do a lot), is specific to whatever movement activity I am exploring at the time.
In no way am I saying this is the best way to go about things, it is simply the way I go about things. I find I can continually make strength improvements month to month, year to year; though the rate of improvement is obviously slower than if I spent more time on strength (usual at the moment is 40 – 80 minutes per week, which is less than a lot of peoples’ workouts in one day). I am making strength gains at the same time as reducing the amount of old injuries in my body, without creating new ones.
I am a patient man, and moreover I am planning to be stronger, healthier and have better movement pattern quality and a larger movement lexicon in a decades’ time – so no rush!