“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.”
If you do not heed this insight from Messrs. Fried and Hansson in your training, you are doomed for decades of frustration.
Do You Understand What You Believe?
Consider the three leading powerlifting systems: Gallagher’s, Simmons’, and Sheyko’s. All three operate on different sets of principles and take advantage of different physiological phenomena.
Sheyko has you squat four times a week using very moderate weights, high volume, and stopping far from failure. Gallagher has you squat once a week for an all-out or nearly all-out one set.
Sheyko’s system is an organized approach to “greasing the groove.” Frequent submaximal practice turns the motor nerves into “superconductors,” tops off the creatine phosphate stores in the muscle, and supposedly stimulates release of growth factor IGF-1.
Gallagher’s system, in its obstinate denial of light days and higher volume, dooms the muscle to low levels of CP, or fuel for intense contractions. Yet recent Russian research shows how this apparent liability turns out to be an asset for a powerlifter. It turns out a muscle with a smaller “tank” is easier to expose to the type of microtrauma that stimulates growth. In addition, training hard and then doing nothing makes the “undecided” muscle fibers convert into a faster subtype.
A typical gym rat, arrogantly convinced he is smarter than Gallagher and Sheyko, will go out of his way to create a “better” hybrid of the two. Immediately, the Russian system will be ruined by pushing the lifter into overtraining with intensity he is used to saving for the competition day. The American system will sputter, the very mechanisms responsible for its success disrupted by an addition of light days. “Drives like a boat and swims like a car,” as they used to say about the car-boat hybrid several decades ago.
Don’t Be So Open-Minded
Such an experiment would never occur to either Coach Team USA or Coach Team Russia. Both have drawn very clear borders defining their systems and they are too smart to cross them. Wise men know that failing to limit one’s options makes decisions impossible. In the words of Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster, “A point of view is that quintessential human solution to information overload, an intuitive process of reducing things to an essential relevant and manageable minimum.”
It does not mean one cannot learn from other systems; only that such learning has to be limited to the lessons that are not going to disrupt the DNA of one’s own system. For instance, Boris Sheyko has incorporated some assistance exercises from Louie Simmons’ arsenal, such as board presses, but it would never occur to him to add a “max effort day” and a “dynamic effort day.”
Your grandmother has said it best: “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”