Are We Training Incorrectly?

A while back, on one of Joe Rogan’s podcasts, he had an MMA trainer on the show. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I remember the trainer commenting that something he does with his guys is that their everyday training is kept around 70 percent. The reason for that is so they can train every day.

He went on to criticize Crossfit for overtraining people by pushing for a maximal effort in each and every workout, which sparked Crossfitters on YouTube to lash out and a whole bunch of things like that.

But the comment itself stuck with me. It stuck with me because I thought about what I already knew about the evolution of man and some stuff I wrote about some time back.

The reason it stuck with me is that I think the guy is right and most of us have been and still are training incorrectly.

Now, let me start off by specifying what I mean by “training incorrectly.” For my purpose here, I mean it to mean training in manners that are less than ideal for long-term health, strength development, and conditioning purposes.

I say this as someone who lifts and does conditioning work four times per week in a somewhat orthodoxy manner.

But that 70 percent number sticks in my head.

It’s not there because I’m sure that’s the optimal percentage of physical exertion one should engage in on a daily basis, but because of the rationale behind it.

After all, this number is supposedly a percentage you can use to trainĀ every day.

You see, way back when, people didn’t take rest days from physical exertion. In the early days of man, we were hunter-gatherers. If people didn’t hunt or gather, there may not be enough food at some point for people to eat. That meant people were up and doing stuff every day.

What they weren’t doing, however, was maximal effort every time they went out.

Let’s take a look at a group of hunters. They’re out and most of the time, they’re getting small game like rabbits and squirrels. Those are easy enough to carry without much undo burden.

But then one day, they take a while boar. Hogs can be heavy bastards, so the hunters have to carry a lot more meat back to the village. Perhaps it’s more than they’ve ever carried. We can classify that as a maximal effort day.

So what do they do the next day? Do they kick back and chill? Do they cue up a little Netflix and crack open a cold beer, knowing they’ll hit it again the day after?

Of course not. That extra meat is a good thing, but they can’t rest on their laurels. They need to go and get more meat in case they hit a dry patch down the road.

There’s very little rest in a lifestyle like that.

But do you know what you don’t hear about happening in hunter-gatherer cultures? Overtraining.

It’s just not a thing. It doesn’t seem to impact these folks at all. Why?

Well, for one thing, they’re not training. They’re just trying to survive. But their bodies were built originally for that kind of lifestyle. Even creationists should agree with that. After all, what was the Garden of Eden but a hunter-gatherer smorgasbord?

When man first began agriculture, one thing he didn’t do was incorporate a lot of rest. Farming with hand tools is hard, laborious work. There were no machines to do it and while slavery was eventually introduced, it was rarely the exclusive trade of the slave. Plenty of people worked their own land with their own hands, with the occasional bit of animal power.

Even after the industrial revolution began and started changing how farming was done, there was still plenty of labor on the farm.

Ever hear the term, “farmboy strong?”

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, someone is farmboy strong if they are “naturally” strong despite never having trained for strength in their lives. It’s generally something that only happens with people on the farm, but can happen with anyone who engages in physical labor on a day-to-day basis.

Kind of like the people I wrote about in the above-linked post.

They engaged in effort each and every day and they were, apparently, superior physically to even some of our very best athletes. We’re simply not as badass as those guys were.

Which brings me back to that 70 percent number.

What if that trainer is right? What if we could maximize our gains if we trained at a lower intensity on a daily basis, occasionally spiking up our effort to get our body familiar with the concept of maximal exertion, but otherwise kept training as low intensity as possible?

Lower-intensity training would reduce much of the risk of injury we currently see. While weight training is pretty low risk anyway, it’s still not unusual to see people injure themselves. I’ve had more than my share of injuries over recent years. Clearly, I’d benefit from even less risk, right?

Here’s the problem, though. I’m sure this is a concept worth exploring, I don’t have a freaking clue how to program it.

I mean, I could do the big four lifts each day at 70 percent of my one rep max, throw in something like chin-ups to round things out a bit, throw in some farmer’s walks and sled drags and see what happens, but I somehow don’t think that’s really ideal either.

Frankly, this is something that’s going to take some research on my part to see if this has been looked at before.

However, there are a few principles I’m convinced need to be in place for something like this to work.

  • Deeply submaximal lifting (and never training even close to failure)
  • Exclusively involves compound movements (mostly due to time)
  • Conditioning work also needs to be at the 70 percent number
  • Not about hypertrophy (muscle growth) only strength and conditioning

For the time being, I like my routine and will keep going with that for a while. However, I think this is something for me to ponder on and research and see if anything has been done with this. If it has, I need to explore the literature. If not, I need to figure out if I want to be the guinea pig on this one.

Still, it might be an interesting way to revamp training. The question is, even if I’m right and it works better, will anyone even be willing to try it?

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

3 thoughts on “Are We Training Incorrectly?”

    1. It’s definitely similar to volume training programs, because there would be a lot of weekly volume, that’s for sure.

      The main difference is those programs are specific lifts on given days and I’m wondering if it might wiser to move to dividing all those sets up over seven days instead of just one.

      It probably isn’t, but it’s worth delving into.

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