I posted this story on the SS Facebook page today and some members convinced me to share here.
I am four weeks in to a case of Bell's Palsy, which is basically a form of nerve damage resulting in temporary facial paralysis on one side of the face. At the time of diagnosis, I had full paralysis - worst-case scenario for this condition - couldn't even blink one eye. Recovery involves the nerve repairing itself, which can take 2 weeks to one year depending on severity and other factors. I am now very far along in recovery, much faster than anticipated by two doctors I dealt with.
This morning, a nurse was examining me at a local clinic for strep throat and took notice of my rate of recovery from the Bell's Palsy in four weeks. I explained that I continued to train with weights (interested in her reaction) with the assumption that the growth and recovery (both neuro and physical) from heavy training would also help with the recovery from my nerve damage -system as a whole, high tide floats all ships sort of thing.
I was amazed when she replied that she thought I was right but my hypothesis would only be true if I was lifting really heavy and squatting and deadlifting. She went on to explain some neurology stuff that was above my pay grade, and told me how she is a lifter and Olympic lifter. She also told me to eat a lot of protein today and get back to training tomorrow; it will help my strep feel better.
I thought Rip would appreciate this story. I really think training helped with recovery, even if it didn't at least it helped mentally.
An excellent clinic. Hang on to that nurse.
I own and have read through Starting Strength, Practical Programming, and Strong Enough? and have benefitted immensely from your accumulated wisdom. I followed the Texas Method for six months this year and added 50 lbs to my squat, 60 lbs to my deadlift and 10 lbs to my strict press, surpassing bodyweight on the last for the first time.
I was reading your article on T Nation posted yesterday and this thought has been building in me for awhile. Strength is obviously important, but you often see very, very strong athletes struggle to do low weight for reps. Consider Kendrick Farris doing Isabel in 3:21. He's obviously much, much stronger than say Austin Malleolo, as evidenced by Kendrick's max snatch of 357lbs. Austin has a max snatch of 255 but did Isabel at the CrossFit games in 2012 in 1:54. And he came in 11th.
So I guess the question is, why wouldn't we suspect that "work capacity" defined as average power output is a trait that responds to consistent, measured progressive overload training in the same way that strength does? If so, why discount the promise of this trait that we can train for in a logical, progressive and measurable manner? Of course if your sport operates in very short time domains, you don't need work capacity. Shot putters are never going to be out of breath. But for most team sports, the ones that have some of the widest participation, this is a very realistic scenario. Linemen in a two minute drill need their performance to remain as consistent as possible. No one gives a shit what their 1RM squat is if they can't maintain 90% max effort into the fourth quarter.
This is the theory that I've been operating under, using Texas method and welding on some pretty standard CrossFit metabolic conditioning workouts and I'd like to think the results have been positive. I'm certainly not as genetically gifted as I could be, but I've seen improvement and I've been doing it for a few years. As a concession I would have to suspect also that the intensity of the METCON sessions is going to rob some of the intensity from your strength-focused sessions. But this is the tradeoff for being multidimensional. Definitely hear your criticisms of "functional training" too.
So, ought we consider work capacity a trait that can be trained for that's only roughly correlated for strength? I'm asking you to consider it. It just stands to reason for me when I see a guy snatching 52.9% of his max blow the doors off another guy snatching 37.8% of his max for the same amount of reps.
To give this idea a further theoretical basis, I would combine two ideas you go over at good length in Practical Programming. First, we can force adaptation to almost anything. You give the example of getting a suntan. If you only get 10 minutes of sun every day, your skin will adapt to that level of exposure and happily quit. You have to overload the adaptive system, little by little, in small enough increments that you don't damage the system, but in large enough increments to force adaptation. I propose that metabolic conditioning, which underpins work capacity, is one of these traits. Second, I would look at the idea of an intensity day within the Texas method. You point out that the problem with trying to deadlift quickly is that the intensity is governed by the force of will of the athlete. This is a damn difficult thing to measure. Similarly, when it comes to metabolic conditioning meant to improve work capacity, how are we supposed to walk this fine line between not enough stimulus and too much? How are we to have any idea how intense a session of metabolic conditioning is for an athlete?
I think this problem is one of the reasons you don't trust it. I also suspect, largely based on my experience, that CrossFit methodology roughly approximates the best possible approach here. It seems very difficult to overload the system to such a degree that it cannot recover, although it does happen (i.e. rhabdomyolysis or doing 100 shitty 225lb deadlifts super fast until you herniate a disk). There is significant danger that people are going to underexert and therefore fail to drive progress quickly, but that's pretty standard when you're dealing with a population that is mostly not elite athletes.
Still, if we were to agree that work capacity was a thing worth training for in addition to strength for most sports, how would we construct a program that does this better? Having benchmark workouts that represent the same amount of work capacity each time and testing to see if you've improved at them periodically ought to give you the answer. It remains in question whether the training that you've been doing in the meantime was the best way to get there, but you can certainly measure whether or not you did. If not work capacity then why? If not CrossFit then what?
The question is not whether work capacity is trainable – it obviously is. The question is how long it takes to convert a very high strength base to work capacity, and how efficiently a lower strength base could be converted to that same work capacity. If Kendrick stopped training for 1RM and devoted his already-developed strength to "Isabel," how long would it take him to beat Malleolo? IOW, what is the most efficient way to train for Isabel: doing Isabel every week, or getting your snatch up to the point where Isabel (as RXed, of course) is a smaller percentage of your absolute strength? IOOW, if you want a high-volume submax effort, is it better to make the effort even more submaximal, or to train for more work at the same level of submaximality?
I think you know which has worked better.
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