During the morning hours we train outdoors at Bondi Beach, which is normally great weather and calm conditions. Using the favourable conditions to spread the training out seems like a good thing as it allows for greater variation of exercises. Most people – when talking up a gym or trainer – note how the said gym or trainer, “Always mixes up the training so they don’t get bored.” That’s if you believe gym testimonials, or any testimonial ever?
So today, the weather turned fiercely – as it tends to do on the coastline – and we were trapped in a vortex of wind and rain and flying sand. Huddled under a small rotunda like the good old days in New Farm Park we were forced to train in close proximity. Shoulder-to-shoulder. And the high wind meant – no mats and no markers so not mush chance to “mix it up” – as they say.
How limiting this was. I usually think I’m creative in the sense of experimenting with new and varied exercises keep my charges from getting bored or burning out. Now I couldn’t do that and my creative flair was bing sabotaged by external forces, in the words of Terry Hill, “I was stressin’.” But what can you do?
You can’t cancel a session. (I’ve cancelled one session due to weather, ever). Between the dumbbells, they don’t blow away and the focus pads (boxing) we went back and forth. Just two stations of workout, and close together. High repetition, minimal experiment.
After just 20 minutes the boys were struggling. Physically. I couldn’t believe it. These guys usually get through an hour of training on their ear. The great thing is: these guys were honest to say that they weren’t suffering pre-conceived fatigue but just not able to stand up to today’s work.
“My arms, Coach.” “All the weights, Coach.” I was confused. We do weights as an alternative exercise every week. But never this much of the one thing. Weights are typically interspersed with shuttle runs, skipping and bodyweight drills. Moreover, we spread the training out, geographically. Not by far but those few seconds it takes to change exercise, then get to and start the next would be significant. Today proved it.
Another interesting factor about today’s session was, because of the limited range of exercises we crammed more sets (of the same thing) into the hour, allowing the working muscles less reprieve. Additionally, our time between sets was less and there was less guess work within the drills, also mitigating time wasting and spells of rest.
All told we found some significant fitness deficiencies under the increased pressure of ‘repeat sets.’ And less time to be confused and then spend time learning the next drill, meant a more productive, and harder workout. The old, “I thought we were doing these ones…” Yeah mate. Not only did we learn our weaknesses – in the arms for example – but we also discovered, by necessity, a new way to train which is variant to our usual varied workout. Repetition, a variation to the old way.
To unpack that:
We always train a so-called: ‘varied workout,’ with numerous exercises that can take time for discovery and exploration, meaning rest and less work.
Today, training a repetitive, back-and-forth, “get this into ya” style which is different and varied to our usual routine.
So we’ve now learnt that repetition works as well. Like most things, it works for different reasons than the aforementioned varied sessions, those reason I’ve touched on. But before you go jumping ship into the ‘ram-it-down-your-throat’ repetition, remember the law of diminishing returns. And the athletic body and mind.
Post-session I mused that, “We should do that more.” Train in those environments where the athletes don’t have to wonder about what to do or where they should be, just get on the basics and jam on the intensity and repeat, repeat, repeat. It will increase fitness gains, most definitely. I closed however, by saying, “In phases.”
What we should and will likely do, going forward, is “mix up the training” because everyone loves that. Remember my testimonial chat? But we will mix training by not just always mixing it up, but having days where it’s less mixed and the agenda is firmly set. Days when, “You’re not here to think or ask questions, this is time to work.”
And you need both.
There’s a recent shift in coaching to allow training to become more experiential and game-like where the idea is for players to develop problem solving skills applicable to their competition. Soccer comes to mind. And not being a soccer-head but it’s easy for my untrained eye to see the differences in approach between Germany and Argentina, let’s say. Like the equivalent of Russia boxing against Cuba. Certain cultures are much more structured to repetitive drill-like action where others are attuned to just play, and work it out as they play.
Whatever approach you use and to whatever extent you use it, means that you will for that period of time sacrifice the other. Hence why I say, to practice it in phases. Hopefully over time the two will combine subconsciously and add value to your final outcome. Like a touch football player practicing shuttle runs independently of a static passing drill. You would, over time, integrate the two into game-style scenarios and when benefit from the fundamental foundation drills during the latter.
In our case, this morning for example, it simply wouldn’t work if we always trained high repetition, the boys would be bored and broken before long, and would not have learnt any new skills. Yet conversely – as leant this morning – if we continue down the laissez faire route the boys fundamentals and base fitness will not be adequate enough to support invested efforts of the integrated skills.
If you’re training one way or another, I urge you to switch, from the open circuit where you might do 10 exercises cyclically for 10 minutes (a minute each, for example), to just two exercises over the same duration.
That is, change from:
Method 1 (circuit): a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j. (Just one of each exercise in ten minutes.)
Method 2 (repeat sets): a, b, a, b, a, b, a, b, a, b. (Five of each exercise in ten minutes.)
See what happens to your heart rate and fatigue levels.
Remember the Law of Diminishing Returns (my favourite law, also fun to say) and if you train one way for too long, you will – over time – adapt to it. So it’s best to, “Structure up,” and do a month of Method 1 and then a month of Method 2, let’s say. Therein lies your variation. Your gains will follow.
Tips from the coach:
- Time is a wastin’. (Don’t fluff around between sets).’
- Bad weather is a good thing.
- There’s no bad weather, just soft people.
- Don’t skip training, unless it’s going to impinge on future training.
- “Get ya breathin’ right” – Garry Green (Valley PCYC circa the 1990s).
I’m Sean Bowes, 2:26 marathon runner and sub 70 minute half marathoner. An Athletics Australia accredited coach, I coach runners in distances from 5km to marathon, either personally, online or in my Sydney-based training squad. My squad members have had success in:
- New York Marathon
- London Marathon
- Los Angeles Marathon
- Gold Coast Marathon and Half
- Hong Kong Half Marathon
- Melbourne Marathon
- Canberra Marathon and Half
- Sydney Marathon
- Parkrun USA, UK and Australia
I draw on years of experience in competing and coaching to give informative advice and tell interesting yarns about colourful characters and unusual situations to keep training entertaining and a learning experience. My flagship introductory offering is my FREE ‘30 Days to 10k’ Training Program, click here to get your copy.