This might sound more like a collection of somewhat related thoughts than a nicely written article, but please forgive me. Much of this was influenced by a Charles Staley seminar and Max Shank’s article “The 80% Rule”. I’ve been thinking more and more about these concepts recently so I’m just going to fire away. Maybe I’ll learn something, maybe you’ll learn something, who knows.
Efficient can be defined as “productive of desired effects” or “productive without waste” according to Merriam Webster. Not just doing it, but doing it well (yea LL Cool J!!). Now, we trainees, athletes, coaches, etc. want to be efficient in our training for several reasons. Certainly to produce desired effects, that’s obvious. Number two, time is limited. Most people (not all) have a life outside the gym. Third, because it means you are using good form, right? Well, yea, but there is also more to it.
In this case I’m thinking more along the lines of the neuromuscular system. The neuromuscular system can loosely be described as the nervous system and your muscles working together to create movement. As I’ve said before, just training to get tired or sore should not be the goal and using the 80% rule, as we like to call it at Ambition Athletics, is one way to ensure quality of reps and the capacity to repeat more after rest. Point being that we are not just training the muscles to burn and your body to sweat but rather the whole system to become a more finely tuned athletic machine capable of repeated bouts of strength and power. I’m speaking in general terms here, per usual, but most sports and life in general typically require this ability much more than something that resembles aerobic work.
According to strength coach Charles Staley, training these higher motor qualities, such as maximum strength and speed strength have a trickle down effect and will help improve such other qualities as speed strength endurance and aerobic capacity that are further down the chain. So, how is this done? Well, I think Staley’s answer is EDT (Escalating Density Training). What we do at Ambition Athletics is similar but not as specific. In my mind the important thing is to train with 8 reps or less most of the time and not to failure. Because of this rest can be kept relatively short as compared to an all out set where a longer rest period is required before the next set. Staley mentions this can help keep the nervous system activated. On a personal note I have experienced this within my own training but have not been smart enough to always take advantage of it. For example, many times I wait too long in between sets of heavy cleans. However, I can tell you that the last 3 occasions that I set a personal record in the clean I knew that I was working within in a short timeframe so I didn’t have a choice but to lift. I rested just enough time and my system stayed fired up. Certainly there are exceptions to all of this, and different specific goals for some people but I think it has its place for new trainees learning proper movement and even veteran lifters who are used to grinding out reps and frequently training to failure. In the very least, for me it’s a new mindset for working toward not only better movement quality but also the fun part, getting stronger! All of this being said, Staley suggests, and I agree, that the value of a workout should be based not on how much it hurts, but on how well the quality (strength, speed, movement) that you want to train is trained.
I believe these same rules apply in the speed and agility world as well. I can remember hearing Lee Taft, one of the premier coaches in the speed and agility world, say that people are surprised when they come to him and he spends 10 minutes or less on actual skills and then on to the next part of the training program (mostly plyo’s and strength). The agility drills that are performed last only a few seconds at a time and are followed by rest and then repeat. What does this mean to me? Learn how to do something correctly and practice doing it well. Try not to waste movement or energy and you are one step closer to your desired effect by not only training your muscles but your brain as well. Of course it always helps to have feedback.
Although I don’t think it’s definitive, I don’t see the world of conditioning exactly the same. The goal is to train a different system here. Neurological demand isn’t the same. I have seen people try and essentially do cardio with high skill and technical movements but it usually just gets sloppy, the opposite goal of the first part of the workout. That being said, I believe intervals such as shuttle runs, slideboard, Airdyne sprints, sled pushes, kettlebell swings and ropes are the way to go in this case.
– Mike Baltren