It’s a great day to be grateful that it’s the first day of a new month, it’s Monday, and it’s guest post day. Woot, woot!
I’m ecstatic to share this piece on why more is NOT better for athletes, as it’s a statement I truly believe.
More often than not, team coaches and parents believe athletes should always be going balls-to-the-wall-extreme with everything. The other day, I had a dad observing an in-season lift, and overheard him say to his daughter at the end, “You’re not sweating. Did you even work out???”
What irks me about this is 1) sweating does NOT equate to a tough work out 2) in-season lifts should be strength maintenance ONLY with little to no muscle soreness and 3) helicopter parents rarely produce long-term successful athletes.
Oops, I said it.
Anyway, before I get in trouble, enjoy this guest post by strength coach Justin Ochoa.
5 Instances Where More Is NOT Better For Athletes
If you turn on the TV right now, I guarantee within 10 minutes you’ll see a fast food commercial advertising a new product that can be best described somewhere between I would totally eat that if I’m drunk at 3am and I may vomit if I don’t change the channel.
We’ve got Taco Bell literally combining tacos and burritos into one “thing,” pizza places making cookie cakes the size of a large deep dish pizza and Starbucks wanting to line your intestines with glitter thanks to a Unicorn-themed beverage with more grams of sugar in it than I’ve had since 2013.
I’m not sure where you’re reading from, but in the good ol’ USA, bigger is better! More is better! That’s just how we roll, apparently.
Aside from frankenfood items, cars, boats, bank accounts and houses, I’ve noticed a lot of people in the gym wanting to go big or go home. Opting for more of something, even when it can be a detriment to their health.
Despite the cliché stereotype jokes like the ones mentioned above, this is becoming an issue in training. People are pushing themselves to get better, bigger, stronger, faster, etc., which is great to see, but a lot of the execution is poor and counterproductive.
Here are some examples of when more is not better when it comes to your training and nutrition.
1. Forced Squat Depth
I really hate to speak in absolutes, but I think I have to here. You have to squat. There are maybe a handful of reasons not to be squatting regularly and most of them I can think of involve insanely adverse and unfortunate circumstances that I will not even attempt to make light of.
It doesn’t have to be with a barbell, or even with external loading, but in some way you need to find a squat for you. In other words, you should probably force the squat into your programming. Here are 101 ways to do that. What you should NOT force is your squat depth.
If you’re not getting judged in a competition, there is no real reason to go uncomfortably out of your normal range of motion to achieve a certain squat depth – whether it’s ass-to-grass or even just parallel.
What is the appropriate squat depth? Well, that’s a conversation for another day. But let’s just keep it simple here. Ideally, you can squat with pristine form, loaded or not, to a parallel depth at minimum. That’s perfect. Do that.
Now, if things get shaky past that depth, do not force it just because some hypermobile freak on the internet said ATG squats are the only way to go. If you can still go lower with that same flawless technique, test it out, and maybe it works for you.
The bottom line is more is not better with forced squat depth. Everyone has different structural anatomy that may prevent or enhance their squat technique and depth. Everyone has injuries – new or old – that can come into the equation too. You should squat to the depth that allow you to achieve the greatest training effect in the safest way possible. And then continuously work on ways to improve.
2. Prolonged Soreness Post-Workout
Excessive soreness is not an indicator how effective a training session is. It’s not even really an indicator of how hard you worked. Yet people still chase muscle soreness like it’s some kind of badge of honor. You don’t get bonus gainz because your recovery is poor. Sorry.
Sure, you can train effectively and still experience some soreness but the 2-3 day stints of soreness that leaves you unable to function regularly is absolutely not okay, and should not be a goal.
If you find yourself getting abnormally sore like this, you may want to look into your recovery techniques including sleep and nutrition. Also, take a look at your training schedule and programming – and think about journaling your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to correlate your energy expenditure with muscle soreness you experience.
You may be able to find some answers with those simple tips. Tweaking one of more of those factors to give you a better chance at full recovery is going to pay huge dividends in the end.
You never want to go into a training session feeling like crap. If you do, your session will be crap. Over the weeks, months and years you’re going to accumulate a lot of crappy training sessions which leads to minimal results and maximal fatigue. Eventually, you’ll fatigue to the point where your form gets sloppy and you end up injured.
Guaranteed. It’s science?
3. Chasing Macros with Unhealthy Food
Speaking of science. Let’s talk about some BRO science here. Macros. IIFYM. Flexible dieting. Whatever you want to call it. If you’re into that kind of nutritional plan, that is awesome, but please do not make this common mistake.
Don’t habitually use unhealthy foods to fill out your macronutrient requirements. It’s imperative you avoid this sneaky trap. You will get fat and weak. Okay, that’s not guaranteed, I just wanted to be dramatic.
Nutrition is really simple. Eat a lot of whole foods with dense nutrition. Eat when you’re hungry, until you’re satisfied. Drink a lot of water. At the end of the day, we can break it down to those key elements. If you are a person who meticulously measures every gram, ounce and cup of food to meet certain macros (me) those rules should still apply.
For example, if you have uneaten carbs every night and decide to fill that void with brownies, pizza, cookies and other generally unhealthy food (people actually do this!), your plan will backfire. Of course, in moderation these treats won’t make long-lasting negative effects on your goals, I’m just telling you to be very cognizant of how often you do this and with what foods you do.
Sure, you may have reached your allotted carbs for the day but you picked them up by way of sugary junk. And if you do that just twice a week for a year, that’s over 100 times you slip up and introduce crap food into your diet. A carb is a carb? Nah. Not in my world at least. Food quality matters, in my opinion.
Health trumps performance. I can’t stress this enough. Food has the power to reduce inflammation, improve rest & recovery, enhance the immune system, improve intestinal & organ function and much more. Eating food simply to complete a math equation isn’t your best bet. No, it’s not wrong… but I believe that if we eat to be healthy first and foremost, the performance piece will fall into place.
4. Range of Motion in Row Variations
Just as we discussed with forcing squat depth, opting for more range of motion when you row can become problematic as well. Rows, just like squats, are a foundational pillar of fitness promoting posture and performance.
When you perform a row variation, try not to get too greedy on your range of motion. The further you row does not equate to more benefits, in fact, that excessive row pattern probably causes more issues than anything.
Everyone will have a different ending point on their row. Some people have a greater degree of thoracic extension, some have crazy long arms, others have really short arms… the list goes on and on. What’s important is finding the range of motion that allows you to maximally work your targeted muscles without irritating the anterior shoulder or your scapula(s).
Many times, when someone “over-rows” they continue to drive the elbow past the body. During this situation, your elbows are overtaking scapular movement. When you retract the scaps as much as you can and squeeze those targeted back muscles, that’s the end of the row. However, when the scaps stop retracting and the elbow continues to move backwards, the body is forced into an anterior humeral compensation pattern.
The shoulder is one of the most, if not the most, mobile joint in the human body. So, it totally feels normal when you over row. It may not even hurt. Until it does.
Eventually, you’ll start to wear out that shoulder and feel some discomfort on the front delt. You may even get some stress on the biceps tendon. Over time, you’ll accumulate some wear and tear on that delicate shoulder of yours that could lead to some deeper issues.
Bottom line is, more ROM is not the key to rowing more efficiently. Your best bet to improve your rows may be to first enhance your T-Spine mobility, and then play around with row variations (especially angles) to find the ones that hit your back the most.
5. Flexibility in Strength Training
Last on the list of when more is better goes wrong is all about flexibility. I think this is a very misunderstood aspect of health – often times talked about as mobility – and something that people really unnecessarily strive for in their training.
Personally, I have a lot of joint laxity. I’m “flexible,” whatever than means. I am convinced that this is responsible for nearly every injury of my training career. Sometimes a little protective tightness of the muscles can be extremely beneficial. If you are constantly striving for more extra mobility, more range of motion and more flexibility, you may be actually headed in the wrong direction if you already have the flexibility you need.
If you can get into a loaded position and own it, you are mobile enough.
If you have trouble with certain movements or get pain due to lack of mobility, that’s another story. There are definitely improvements to be made if that is the case.
What I’ve found is that if you truly start an exercise at the correct progression/regression for you and honestly progress yourself through the variations via mastery, you won’t run into the issues of flexibility or lack thereof. On the contrary, if you jump in to a training program or exercise that you aren’t capable of flawlessly crushing, you may wind up feeling like you need to improve your mobility. Most times that happens, you’re simply just not strong enough for whatever you’re trying to do.
It happens. I hate it when it happens to me, but it’s a great feedback tool for you to use to truly make progress in your training. So there, now you don’t have to mindlessly foam roll your IT Band (HA!) for 30 minutes before you train. That wasn’t going to work anyway.
Justin Ochoa is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach and the Co-Owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, IN. He enjoys working with a wide variety of clients ranging from high-level athletes to rehabilitation patients. No matter the goal or experience level, Justin’s coaching philosophy is that everyone is an athlete. His focus is helping his athletes bring out the absolute best of their mental and physical potential, and then continuing to raise the bar for continued success and results.