Fuzzy Fitness

No, I'm not talking about cuddly toys doing tabata's! 

Good strength and conditioning is underpinned by science but anyone that has been coaching for a while will know that it's not always black and white and there's a significant amount of 'art' in what we do. Hunches, gut feelings, blurring of lines and grey areas are all part of being a strength and conditioning coach. Not that you would think it when you read and listen to some of the self proclaimed 'guru's' that are only too quick to tell you that there is a right or wrong way to lift, or that you should follow their training paradigm to exclusion of everything else (usually because they are selling some sort of certification!)

It also concerns me when so called experts give 'black and white' advice and it's daft when you see two coaches arguing the toss over a particular training method. I can think of two established coaches that seem to have continuing gripes with each other over matters which I think they probably agree on more than they disagree! Much of what we do as coaches will depend on the athlete and situation that we are faced with. It's not a simple case of black and white. As the late Mel Siff puts it, we are operating in the world of 'Fuzzy Fitness'. 

If you you've not got a copy of Supertraining by Mel Siff, then I strongly recommend that you grab a copy sharpish. It's a tough read (you'll need to take a break and sit in a dark room after 2-3 pages) but it's a constant source of information. Just when I think I've stumbled across a revolutionary training concept I flick through the pages of Supertraining, only to find out that Mel had been writing about it more than a decade ago!  

Rather than try to rehash what Mel says I'm going to share with you some excerpts of the book to illustrate the point.

"However modern and exciting the world of modern exercise science may appear to be, it still tends to be dominated by a type of thinking which is revered and promulgated by the ancient Grecians, especially Aristotle and Plato. This thinking model is based on the concept that everything may be polarised into categories of light or dark, all or none, positive or negative, odd or even, on or off, strong or weak, right or wrong, good or evil, white or black, left or right, up or down, hot or cold and so forth. Everything belongs either to one category (set) or to another, but not to both concurrently. 

In the world of fitness training, we find a host of these polarities, such as aerobic vs anaerobic training, cardiovascular vs strength training, fit vs unfit, slow twitch vs fast twitch muscles, static vs dynamic, mobilisers vs stabilisers, and physical vs mental... ...Cardiovascular training is regarded as purely cardiovascular, heart-lung process which involves no anaerobic metabolism. Flexibility is best developed by static, slow stretches. Muscle hypertrophy is best developed by 8-12 repetitions of resistance training, strength by 3-5 repetitions, power by 1-3 repetitions. One specific contraindicated exercise causes a specific injury"

When you actually start to read this information the light bulb goes on and you realise just how daft it all sounds. Of course it can't be a simple case of black of white. Back in the mid 70's researchers started to apply 'fuzzy logic'. 

 "...fuzzy logic is a logical system based on the recognition that everything is a matter or degree...fuzzy logic, as discussed earlier is a system that allows us to deal with the shades of grey and vagueness that typify many aspects of life."

I'm often asked how I would programme for particular athletes, what exercises I would use, how many repetitions, what equipment etc etc. My reply is nearly always "it depends". This is not a cop out, it's a genuine answer. A coach I used to work with told me "Nick, you can only do the best given the circumstances you are faced with". Whilst I have an underpinning training philosophy, there will be times that I will be faced with a situation or athlete that means I have to draw on a different approach. I've had male gymnasts that have increased muscle mass working in the 5-8 rep range (that shouldn't happen, in fact it's exactly what I didn't want to happen). However, if you subscribe to fuzzy logic you will realise that the years of training may mean they adapt to training stimulus differently to others and need to change your approach. 

The world of strength and conditioning is fast moving. We back what we do as coaches with science. however, don't forget the importance of "fuzzy logic", it's not always black or white, there's a whole lot of grey. 

(Supertraining, pages 466-468, Mel C Siff)