Quality Vs Quantity

Quality vs quantity, the great debate in just about everything you can imagine. What about fitness and athletic conditioning? There seems to be this more is better mentality in the western world. If you do 30 sprints instead of just 10 then maybe you’ll get a better result. Or maybe 10 sets of bench press will increase your strength more than five. This is incorrect for a number of reasons.

Ok, lets look at this from a very basic, layman’s scientific point of view. You want to get better 100m sprint times. So naturally you do various types of training to achieve that. Some options are heavy compound weight training movements, plyometrics and actual sprint training outdoors on a track or sports field. First off lets look at a squat session, something that should be in every sprinter’s training regime. You perform five sets of low-rep squats at a heavy weight. Then at set number six you notice you can’t lift as much weight for as many reps. This is where the session needs to be terminated. The reason being that you’re not working towards an extreme volume of training, you’re working on being able to build maximum strength in order to develop explosive power for a 100m sprint. It’s the quality sets that are doing the work and improving your strength, not the number of sets.

The same applies for the sprints on the track. You’re flogging a dead horse if you just keep cranking out sprints when they have ceased to be of maximum effectiveness. Quality vs quantity, remember? Your sprinting speed will only respond positively to the efforts that are performed fresh. The ones that are done under fatigue become a hindrance.

Quality training is what gets results, and that almost always points to intensity. Intensity is the one variable that determines the result at the other end, the adaptation. Using our sprinting example, if you were to simply run at a moderate pace you would not be increasing sprinting ability, it just becomes jogging. Doing more and more of those jogs will take you further away from your goal of sprinting 100m in a certain time. It is easy to see in this example that simply doing more of what isn’t working will not produce the desired result. But what about a regular gym routine for the general population????

Many people fall short of understanding the quality vs quantity debate when it comes to lifting weights and burning fat in a health club setting. People believe that if three sets of bench press will build a bigger chest then six sets must be even better. Then there’s intervals on the cardio equipment. A full hour of intervals to some people is seen as more effective simply because they did more of them. This is the mentality that halts results in the general populace.

It is the correct intensity that gets the desired result. If you’re looking to run 400m in a fast time then near-maximal intensity is what will produce the necessary adaptations. If it’s a marathon then the intensity needs to be set at an aerobic level and maintained for the appropriate volume. Your body will respond to how hard it is working for the amount of time it’s doing that for. To get the required result then you only need to do the work for the period of time where it is most effective. Keep sprinting when you’re fatigued and you change the output, the sprints get slower and hence the training result is an adaptation to running slower. The same goes for building a bicep muscle. It will respond to the stimulus. If that stimulus is reduced due to fatigue then you will start forming adaptations to the new level of output., which is not the intention.

Lets look at this quality vs quantity thing one last time through another example. Lets take skill development. Take a look at a professional golf swing. The golfer builds that swing over many years then drills the pattern into their nervous system until it gets better and better, all the while making small changes along the way until it is as perfect as possible. Then there’s the weekend golfer, the guy that’s been playing regularly for many years. He practices his swing obsessively, yet he still can’t seem to reach anything near the quality of the pro. Why is this so? Lets take a look….

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The pro has spent time building his swing. He practices over and over, but what he is practicing is a quality swing. He is making minor adjustments constantly. He is drilling a quality pattern into his nervous system. The weekend golfer may even practice his swing the same number of times as the pro. So what’s the difference? The difference is that the weekend golfer is not practicing a built swing, he is practicing the same mistakes over and over. So the many many times he does it just further installs the poor pattern into his nervous system, regardless of the quantity of times it’s been done.

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So what’s the point of this? Practice does not make perfect. Perfect pr4actice makes perfect. Strength and fitness is a skill, so it needs to be trained the same way. Curling a barbell that is 20% lower than your potential simply due to fatigue is counter-productive. If you want to be strong then you need to lift weights that are in the upper limits of your current ability. If you want to row a fast 500m on the erg then only the full efforts count, not all the ones done under fatigue.

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What you do translates pretty accurately to the end result. Make your training count, don’t just go through the motions for countless hours of sloppy and sub-par training. Remember, quality vs quantity, that’s what I am all about and that’s what I teach, quality training.

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quality vs quantity

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