Training like elite athletes

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Mangosteen, Mar 20, 2014.

  1. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    Just a little rant.

    We all have favourite athletes that we idolise.
    Idolising them is great.
    But mimicking their training is stupid.

    In all sports; martial arts, rugby, swimming and even weightlifting, we see the elite athletes training at insane frequency and volumes.

    Pro rugby teams have at least one skill session a day and one fitness session.
    Swimmers like Michael Phelps spend 8 hours in the pool and some have never touched weights in their lives.
    Bulgarian weight lifters trained twice a day at 90% of their maxes doing only their competition lifts and front squats.

    And martial artists are worse.
    Martial arts have been intertwined with myth from day 1.

    We hear stuff about Mas Oyama jumping over a seed 100 times a day till it grew into a tree and decide to try the same thing (there are threads on this).

    We hear about thai kids kicking banana trees in their gardens for conditioning and decide to do the same on an oak tree (there are threads on this).

    We hear about Bruce Lee practicing one punch 1000 times a day and decide that we should also practice one punch 1000 times a day (there are threads on this).

    We hear about GSP saying that he doesn't believe in strength and conditioning and think it's unnecessary. He is the best right? So we should toooootally listen to him

    But we miss the point of these obvious hyperboles.

    Let's look at some of the obvious fallacies involved.

    Pros weren't always Pro
    Most of them were little skinny kids. GSP got bullied for his shrimpy-ness.
    Most started training once or twice a week.
    After about 5 or 6 years they began training a little more often, slowly increasing the amount of training they were doing.
    By the time they were 20, they had more training time and experience than most of us recreational athletes starting at 20 or later not to mention the advantage of learning skills when they were young and had the best skill learning potential of their life time.

    Survivorship bias
    The elite are highly publicised in media, but what about all the dropouts?
    How many people didn't make it to that level?

    There are thousands of kids in Thailand right now going through muay thai training, how many will drop out? There will only be one winner in each competition so many of the kids, even in the same training program, won't make it to fighting in national championships.

    Why is that?
    It's because training programs with the elite while they're young are often used to weed out who responds best to that program. These programs aren't meant for train people to get to elite levels (although they might make people better), they're made for the selection of who stands the best chance at becoming elite.

    So following the program of someone who has been through rigorous selection and deemed the best is silly because it's likely you weren't selected as the best and therefore that elite athlete's program is, frankly, too tough for you.

    Even in an MMA or BJJ class, sparring is just a selection process. Those who spar best will likely compete the best and you will find that in your club they are often put forward for competitions. Despite you both going to the same classes, someone is better than you when it comes to selection.

    Some people are just better than you no matter what they do
    GSP taught himself wrestling and is considered the best wrestler in MMA by his opponents.
    No matter what he would have done, he is freakishly gifted.
    He doesn't need to lift (outside of vanity work) because he's a genetic strength monster. It's likely that you are not a genetic strength monster.
    If he did aikido, he would still be one of the top MMA players right now.

    Statistics wise it's called "normal distribution", where we have a bell curve.
    In the middle are normal people, who are average in terms of potential as an athlete. On the left are the few people who have little athletic potential.
    But GSP and many of the elite are on the on the far right of this bell curve where the population of people who have high athletic potential is very small and similar levels of eliteness will never be achieved by those of us in the middle or left of the bell curve.

    The lessons to be learned
    What can we learn from the elite in any sport?
    • From Mas Oyama's jumping story we learn that small but progressive increases (overload) in difficulty in any movement will lead to a stronger movement and a stronger you.
    • From the thai kids kicking trees we learn that we can train with minimal equipment but we need the right tools.
    • From Bruce Lee's story we learn that we should always strive for perfection in our skills.
    • From GSP we learn that strength and conditioning is second to good skills.

    Even from other sports:
    Bulgarian weightlifters show us that that its about training hard and putting the effort into the skills you want to perfect.
    Michael Phelps shows us dedication to the sport.
    Rugby players show us that a well rounded athlete with both skills as well as strength and conditioning is a better athlete.

    So don't train like the elite - because you're not, you're basically only a child in training terms.
    The only Elite on this site is Van Zandt :p
    But we can all be better, even fractionally better is still better. Don't strive for elite, strive for better because even the elite strive for better.
  2. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    I understand your point, but you need to think about your examples a bit.

    1000 repetitions of a punch a day is not that many. If you box, how many punches do you throw in an average practice? 1,000 swings with a sword is a bit more difficult, but if you train in a sword art, why wouldn't you? These things sound like huge numbers to the uninitiated, but that is exactly why you should train like elite athletes. If you train to be average, you will be average. If you train like an elite athlete, you might not become one but you will get a lot closer to an ideal stage than if you just train to be average.

    They got their elite status often because they go that extra mile in training. Does this mean that you should mimic them right of the bat? Of course not, but that is just commonsense. If you are a beginner, you have to train like a beginner and work your way up to a certain level over time. You won't be able to speak fluent French in your first day of French class, but over a few years, you should be able to converse and read French literature.

    There often is hyperbole in the stories repeated, but there are also feats that anyone can do if they put the time and effort into getting to that stage.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
  3. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Valued Member MAP 2017 Gold Award

    Training one punch 1000 times won't do much. You want to train combinations in a few punches.
  4. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Performing 1000 repetitions of a particular movement is for muscular endurance more than anything else.

  5. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    and you want to actually pay attention to what you're doing when you punch or you just ingrain bad habits. i would say that much better results can be obtained with 100 punches than with 1000, if one simply focuses on doing them right, which has the added benefit of taking less than half the time that mindlessly repeating 1k punches would, leaving the rest for other types of training.
  6. Christianson

    Christianson Valued Member

    I specifically tell new students not to do this. Their goal should be to do a single cut well. In the beginning, this is impossible for them. Nor is it possible for them to figure it out by themselves: they need supervision to tell them what they have done wrong and what they should do instead. Once they can do a single cut well, then they should work on doing two in a row well, which turns out to be quite difficult. By the time they can do 15-30 cuts in a row well, they are usually at the point where they can notice when they are not doing the cut properly, and this is the point at which they need to be reminded that they need to stop once they start cutting poorly.

    Of course, not everyone listens. It is often easy to spot these people: they are the people who come to every practice in slightly worse condition than they were at the end of the last practice. Of the thousand cuts a day they've done, perhaps nine hundred each day didn't have correct form. In other words, mostly what they have been practicing is how to be bad. To be productive, to be good practice, all of those thousand cuts needed to be correct, and that's not something a beginner can do.

    Which is, as I understand it, part of Zaad's point (and Fish of Doom's as well; I took too long to type this up). The training regimen of pros/experts/senior practitioners are appropriate to their skill level. Unless the skill in question is fairly trivial, you need to build up to that level of practice.
  7. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    Lord Zaad: Crusher of dreams, and curler of the squat rack. No man has ever been so diabolical.
  8. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    I think you are both missing my point, which is that 1000 punches isn't much. I wasn't suggesting you should do 1000 mindless repetitions of any movement. Nobody said he didn't break them up over the day or describe how it was performed.

    If you did 1000 punches ten times in a day, that's still 1000.:rolleyes:

  9. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    I'm not sure if you read my entire post.
    I've mentioned progressive overload and the fact that training to be elite is different from training like the elite especially when most of us are children in terms of training age (also drop out rate).

    Really - did you read my post beyond the hyperboles?

    Knowing HOW to throw a punch is only half the equation. Knowing WHEN to throw it is the other half.

    Practicing 1000 punches in isolation is an unnecessary expenditure limited of energy and training time when you could be spending it on other things like padwork, drills, putting together combos, footwork, bobbing and weaving.

    Plus in terms of progressive overload, its likely that for a beginner, the first 100 punches will be good and the following 900 will be crap, ingraining bad motor patterns. So its better to do 100 perfect punches and then build on that work capacity slowly.

    Training like the elite who have built better skills, work capacity and have to handle more volume doesn't make sense for the average unprepared body.
    Instead they need a plan to slowly build towards this.

    The hyperbole repeated are frankly impossible for the majority of the population. Jumping over a fully grown tree 100 times?
    Becoming the best pro-MMA fighter without weight training is impossible for most of the population?

    the elite only give something to strive for. that something is being better than you are now.
  10. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    better explanation than me!
    my coaches in any activity ive ever participated in have always said: finish on a good one then leave it there.
  11. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Sure I read it. Did you read my entire post(edited for better clarity btw)?

    1000 punches in a day isn't hyperbole. Now you are changing it to 1000 punches trained improperly with bad form. Is anybody suggesting that is what Bruce Lee did?:rolleyes: I didn't say you should perform 1000 punches a day or that you should do a 1000 repetitions of some task, just that such training is more for muscular endurance.

    I wouldn't suggest you go out and do a 100 man kumite as a beginner or even advanced practitioner either, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some benefit to be gained by doing so.

    I didn't mention the jumping over a seed(digging a hole and jumping out is much more poetic), or the other examples you gave for a reason. Some of them were obvious examples of exaggeration.

    Of course training like an elite athlete as a beginner doesn't make sense, there is no disagreement there(again though, that is commonsense). They represent different things to different people, but often elite athletes got to where they are because they trained harder and smarter than the average Joe. There can be a thin line between going hard and overtraining, but that is another gamble that the elite athlete takes and oftentimes it doesn't payoff but sometimes it does.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
  12. holyheadjch

    holyheadjch Valued Member

    Really? Because there are a lot of threads on this board that are made by people who don't agree.
    Elite athletes got where they are because they were genetically gifted, determined enough to turn those gifts into talents and lucky enough to find an environment where they could take those raw talents and turn them into sporting success.

    Hard work is just one requirement.
  13. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    I didn't read but the first couple lines in Zaad's post. I didn't have to because I have enough confidence in the majority of his posts on health/fitness stuff, and it was forming up to be the same argument I've read over a million times when it comes to training (especially in the weight room).

    To the bolded . . . . common sense is not too common. Since there are many more gym goers than martial artists, you would be surprised to see how many new-intermediate guys will try and do a body building routine they read in FLEX magazine which interviews professional body builders. Dudes doing 50x50 for one muscle in a session (exaggerated, but only a little), it gets ridiculous.

    The world needs more dream crushers like Zaad, curling in the squat rack, making everyone all depressed and stuff. :p
  14. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    training smarter is exactly what im advocating.
    an elite like bruce lee (yeah weirdly i just called him elite) may have got in 1000 good reps in a day and would have done it in a variety of ways and split up the training load so it wasnt an endurance task.

    But my point was many a beginner (plenty of threads asking about this) will read about Lee and want to train 1000 punches a day without knowing what they're doings or why they're doing it. i doubt the average beginner can put out 1000 good reps and probably dont have the facilities or experience Lee had to correct themselves and work in tactics to make that punch applicable.

    muscular endurance can be trained in smarter ways than 1000 punches though and varied training has often proven to enhance strength qualities.
  15. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Doing things like suburi are also good ways to build the correct musculature and conditioning needed in sword arts, but it is something that has to be built up, not just jumped into recklessly. However, there is a difference between students who do use it and those who don't.

    Again, I'm not disagreeing that things need to be built up over time, especially when you are a beginner.
  16. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    I think you'll find that each person had a mixture of different things. Some didn't have great genes and had to make up for that in other areas. Hard work is one role, as is heart and finding someone to help mold the raw material into greatness.

    One shouldn't look up at elite athletes and assume that oneself could never get to that level, or else they would impose limitations on themselves unnecessarily. Even if one can't reach the same level, assuming one can't from the beginning just results in them achieving little in life.

    If Cassius Clay had just sucked it up that his bike was stolen and there wasn't anything he could do about it, his story never would've been brought to anybody's attention. If you listen to enough stories about elite athletes, you will find that their drive to achieve was triggered by some event and they vowed to be more or do more than just get by.

    We all have to start somewhere, but it is up to us where we'll finish.

  17. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    Yup agreed.

    It's why there aren't many decent asian sprinters no matter how hard they work or how much dedication they have - the rs1815739 mutation of ACTN3 is a massive disadvantage in sprint performance.
    But im sure non of them think that they cant be better than they are now.

    And considering skill learning is also determined at on one level by genetics, then people who have trouble learning skills are unlikely (not impossible) to reach elite levels even with enough training and dedication.
    but you can still progress.

    But i wonder if it's assumptions or just good planning with realism - if you inherently suck at one thing, work on it till you're better or find other tactics.
  18. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Valued Member MAP 2017 Gold Award

    On the "mixture that makes success", I think there are varying degrees of it.

    Forrest Griffin was talented, but won his bigger fights on heart.

    Chuck Liddell had everything. He had the right circumstances, good fortune and athleticism.

    Randy Couture had everything, he just showed up to the party late :p
  19. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    What's the point in combining punches you can't perform properly?

    Even in slow motion, 1000 punches will only take around 20 minutes.

    You will only lose form and ingrain bad habits if you lose intent, but you should never do anything without intent because it will always lead to bad form.

    If you do 1000 punches at speed or to a bag, then you will learn a good lesson in economy because by the end, if you can keep your intent, you will have to perform them in an effective but economical manner due to your muscles screaming at you if you do not.

    This is very true, except the assumption that 100 is "mindful" and 1000 is "mindless". It all depends entirely on the focus of the individual.

    Once you lose intent, you should stop. Do things properly, or not at all. This applies to all things in life.

    I've never taught sword, but this is opposite to my experience teaching empty hand.

    I would say that this is indicative of people being shown skills beyond their current ability, which almost always results in a step backwards in terms of effectiveness. Maybe they should be taught preparatory skills in advance of picking up a sword; "never give a sword to a man who can't dance" and all that.

    Anyroad, to the OP:

    I feel that cultivating self-awareness is key to improvement. Zaad is totally right that you should not train like other people just because it works for them. Start gently, be nice to yourself, get the lay of the land in terms of your own abilities, then push yourself and learn your limits, then use your own judgement and growing experience to forge your own path to betterment. Take advice from those you trust, but always give yourself the power of veto.

    A student is their best instructor.
  20. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Aw shucks, man. You sure know how to make a girl blush. :D

    But a great post that touches on some excellent points. I don't consider myself elite but I do what I do full-time, so I'll share my perspective on your points raised (not because I'm a badass, but because it's the story I know best).

    I'd be delighted if I grew as big as a shrimp. I "peaked" (lol) at 5'4 in my teens so I'm looking forward to growing up to be a dwarf. I've always had below average testosterone (a blood test in my early 20s showed I had levels around 400-450ng/dl; low end of the scale but not enough for treatment), which accounts for my stature and inability to grow facial hair (seriously, I'm 30 and a pane of glass has more stubble than me). That inevitably led to a lot of bullying.

    I started TKD at 4 (but I actually started kicking much earlier thanks to a magazine with Bill Wallace on the front cover). Classes were a once a week thing for a few years because money was tight, but picked up to 2-3 times a week when I was around 10. Started training seriously when I was 12, going to class 6 nights a week with additional competition training on Saturday mornings. My training has never really slowed down since then except for injury. I've always done kicking workouts at home but in my late teens/early 20s I was probably doing over 5000 (good) kicks a day. This probably sounds big headed (isn't meant to be) but the techniques are so ingrained in my muscle memory that I really struggle to demonstrate bad technique (which sucks if I'm coaching and want to show someone how NOT to do something).

    I consider myself part of this group. Sure, I've won gold medals at world level in TKD and karate (now this REALLY sounds like I'm boasting :bang: ) but Olympian is what I'd call elite. Did I have Olympic potential? Possibly. I was training regularly with the British team leading up to the 2004 Games but this was back in the days when funding was very tight. The selectors were ruthless. I got passed over for selection (to go to qualifying events) because my height and high probability for injury were seen as a liability. My early start had given me remarkable flexibility and sharp kicks, but improper training methods on part of my instructors before the age of 12 had caused irreversible deformation of some joints and ligaments, which left me predisposed to injury more than other people in the team. It's like a double edged sword: the early start gave me the love for kicking and technical skill I possess today, however, there is every chance I could have gone to Athens or Beijing had I started a bit later on. I remember going to closed trials for the European Championships and there were close to 80 players in my weight category alone, all of whom had put in just as many (if not more) hours of training than me. A lot of success in sport comes down to luck on the day and unfortunately people are recognised only for the results they achieve, not the work they put in beforehand. It's a bitter pill to swallow when society considers you a dropout even though you keep on training and trying. :p

    I started training because of Bill Wallace and I trained like him because I wanted to be as good as him. I was lucky that I had instructors who taught me the value of easing into things and the importance of progressive development. My "secret" to developing proper kicking technique was taking Bill's instructional tapes to them and saying "I want to do that." They showed me how to break down each kick piece by piece and drill them carefully so correct motor skills were developed over a period of time. I've been lucky to have Bill himself make the finishing touches, to the point I can look at myself and Bill in his prime and be happy with the similarity (albeit on opposite legs because Bill's a lefty and I'm a righty :D ). Was my success on the mats because of hard work? Sure, partly. But most of it was down to my coaches and the methods they used to make me a better fighter. I sometimes get asked by adult coloured belts, "How do you train to kick like that?" I don't tell them I do 3000 kicks a day because: a) I kick so much because I enjoy it, b) I don't have to worry about bad habits, and c) I don't want them to arbitrarily doing a gazillion kicks a day due to it being the worst thing they could do if they don't have proper form.

    "Every time you kick ugly, a kitten dies." :p

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