When Less is More

The pendulum has swung too far for today’s youth and there’s no one to blame but yourselves.

Reading Time: 15:00

Summary: Players and coaches need to be more responsible for performance by planning for theyear through an understanding of 4 Must Know principles. But you are not immune as parents that want to get fit. These apply to your programming as well.

  1. Specific Adaptations to Impose Demands – you need to train the elements that make up the quality result that you want. 
  2. General Adaptation Syndrome – in order to reap the results of the training you put in, you must plan the recovery process. 
  3. Minimum Dose Response – the only way to know if you are training too little or too much, is to monitor and assess. 
  4. Work to Stay Hungry – periodic recovery periods have a psychological effect that can be a multiplier in the competitive season. 

If you only have 2 minutes: Scroll down to Principle #3 – Minimum Dose Response

I won’t beat around the bush and make you read a half dozen intro paragraphs to an editorial piece that really needs you to pay attention to the meat and potatoes of this article. But let me intro with just a few words and then give you practical solutions.

I used to be so excited for the summer because of the off season opportunity to work with players separate of the endless commitments to their team. The chance to finally work on the most important aspects of their game without the distraction or pressures of competition…developing the foundation for further success.

Fact: youth club soccer players are competing in more games and competitions through the year than many professional teams. Add in summer competitive teams, ID camps, and endless personal training and the volume of work on a young developing athlete. Local u12 club players are competing in over 70 games in 1 calendar year…over twice that of professional league games.

Here’s the point. It’s not smart.

In technical terms, it is inappropriate and irresponsible periodization for maximizing physical quality development over the course of an annual microcycle in order to reap peak performance at the most opportune moments of the year and subsequent years thereafter.

That’s the first and last time we will get that technical.

I get it. You want to get better. You feel that more work equals more success.

BUT…It’s not true. Neither is Santa or the Easter Bunny. Whoever told you this, hopefully, had your best interest in mind but did not consider nor control your entire year and understand physiological principles of work and fatigue.

Success is made through SMART work not MORE work.

There are simple physiological principles (truths) that exist within the function of our body and it’s systems that we must understand and live by, if we expect to progress in any sporting endeavor. If you want to ensure your long term success and enjoyment in the game, get to know the principles and put them into your practice.

FYI: THESE ARE THE SAME PRINCIPLES YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND FOR ANY TRAINING PROGRAM. EVEN IF YOUR GOAL IS GENERAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS.

Understand these 4 principles & train smarter

TRUTH #1: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands

Otherwise known as the SAIDs principle. When you want to expand any physical ability beyond its current capacity, you must train that ability specifically. This means training the specific muscles, in the specific direction, using even the specific energy system that will be utilized in the demands of competition.

The caveat is that you have to train that quality with minimal interference so that the body is given the chance to allocate recovery processes to adapt to the desired quality. Simply put, if you want to get faster. Train speed. Not a combination of speed, strength, conditioning, technical, futsal, golf, basketball, ODP, yatayatayatayata…all at once.

I will be the one that goes against the grain, on this statement, but YOU DO NOT ACHIEVE THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF FITNESS, SPEED, AND STRENGTH BY PLAYING THE GAME. The competitive matches dictate the speed, the amount of running, the frequency of changes in direction, and so forth. Because of this variability or lack there of, the game forces you to have much more of a tendency to never truly work hard enough to increase specific portions of fitness, you never run fast enough to develop a higher level of speed, and certainly do not give yourself the opportunities to change your movement flaws when you are worried about the competitive aspects.

Fortunately, our body’s are smart and we don’t have to choose one physical quality to train at a time. It does mean that if you do isolate that 1 quality, though, you will effectively and efficiently get better at that one quality, but where you gain in one you lose in another. So, on one hand you can’t isolate because you will lose and on the other hand you can’t combine too many qualities into a training phase because you will interfere. Your body tends to get confused when you throw too much “stuff” at once and ends up spreading its energy to adapt to all of it, which usually leads to effectively adapting to none of it.

So how do we know how much is enough but not too much? Glad you asked…

TRUTH #2: The General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS.

Back in the 1930s, a German scientist by the name of Hans Selye discovered that our body went through stages of the healing process before it is able to develop an adapted response to a given stress. Although Selye was studying the general population under stresses other than exercise, the Russians picked up his work and adapted it to the athletic development world and gave us a roadmap as to how we create more robustness to stress from physical training.

Selye originally created the stages of stress by observing many different people in many different stressful situations…but the outcome was always the same. Alarm, Resistance, Exhaustion. If we put it in more relvant terms for sports performance, we would describe it in another way.

When a training stress is introduced, the initial response, or alarm phase, reduces performance capacity as a result of accumulated fatigue, soreness, stiffness, and a reduction in energy stores. The alarm phase initiates the adaptive responses that are central to the resistance phase of the GAS. If the training stressors are not excessive and are planned appropriately, the adaptive responses will occur during the resistance phase. Performance will be either returned to baseline or elevated to new higher levels (supercompensation). Conversely, if the training stress is excessive, performance will be further reduced in response to the athlete’s inability to adapt to the training stress, resulting in what is considered to be an overtraining response (20). From the standpoint of training response, it is important to realize that all stressors are additive and that factors external to the training program (e.g., interpersonal relationships, nutrition, and career stress) can affect the athlete’s ability to adapt to the stressors introduced by the training program.

TRUTH #3: Minimum Dose Response.

Wikipedia Definition: The dose–response relationship, or exposure–response relationship, describes the change in effect on an organism caused by differing levels of exposure (or doses) to a stressor (usually a chemical) after a certain exposure time, or to a food.[1] This may apply to individuals (e.g.: a small amount has no significant effect, a large amount is fatal), or to populations (e.g.: how many people or organisms are affected at different levels of exposure).

So, my 16 month old child has been teething lately and when he is in pain and fever is spiking, we have resorted to infrequent bouts of Motrin in order to calm the pain and the fever. Now, I don’t randomly know off the top of my head, how much a baby boy should take in order to ease the pain. So, clearly I consult the back of the bottle. Once I scan the weight range that my son fits within, I match the dosage and wait the allotted time until it is needed again.

This is a familiar story, but one that gives a clear understanding for the dose-response relationship. Would I take the same amount of Motrin as my 27lb son? Of course not. Would I expect that doubling his dosage would give him better effects or longer lasting relief? No. In fact, giving him too much may cause irreversible damage or even overdose.

Replace this story with one that I see every week. Athletes running distances that replicate adult prescriptions. Continuous participation in training sessions multiple times per day. Jumping from one competitive team to the next. Would these be the same thing as giving a child a dosage fit for an adult?

Although this definition is clearly in the context of pharmacology, the relationship is easily transcribed to training physical qualities. Let’s simplify the dose-response relationship to the relevance of this article and replace the language as “the change in effect on an athlete caused by differing levels of exposure to a stressor (specific physical demand).” Now we can begin to ask relevant questions based on how much is enough and how much is too much?

The question that lies within the dose-response relationship that we will explore will take two parts. In these questions, I have replaced “dose/dosage” for training.

  1. What is the minimum training that it takes to produce a desired physical adaptation (fitter/stronger/faster)?
  2. If the training continues, at what point does this become detrimental?

I could go on for days about the detail and science behind the answers to these two extremely important questions, but the answers lie in a very simple solution.

Assess and Monitor.

1st – Clearly define the qualities that you want to develop. 2nd – Choose an assessment/screen/test that effectively depicts the current state of that quality. 3rd – reassess consistently and frequently to determine the effectiveness of the training.

Why work twice as hard when half as much time/energy gets you better and longer lasting results?

TRUTH #4: Stay Hungry.

It can’t be stated enough. More young players are burned out of competitive sports by age 16 due to the highly competitive and isolated nature of club soccer. This develops a dangerous identity secularism that does not encourage and, actually, discourages the sampling of other outlets in life that make us more well rounded (i.e. music, writing, social development, academic success, etc…). We have become a culture of following the leaders that continue to prove blind in the process. Just one sheep following the other off the cliff.

My encouragement to you is to break the mold. Trust the principles and walk away when you still have a bit left in the tank. That freshness will come back 10 fold to reward you with supra-maximal results on the physical side and a desire that will not wane when things get tough.

I welcome your comments and questions.

-John