The Most Controllable Exercise


One of my favourite things about strength training is the control you have. Over gravity, I suppose. But what I really mean is the control you have over the process. There’s nothing quite like it. You can stop, start, slow down, speed up, load, lighten, or change depending on what you need in a given moment.

Competition is a different story.

As an example, imagine that you’re rehabbing an injury. Here’s the hierarchy I use to evaluate training options:

  1. Range of motion (ROM): do we have to truncate it to avoid pain?
  2. Loading: once ROM is reestablished, can we load some of it? All of it?
  3. Velocity: once we can load throughout an adequate ROM, we can begin to develop speed
  4. Chaos: once we can load and/or speed through a full ROM, we can begin to integrate it into complex, situations with significant levels of fatigue and unpredictability

There’s some interplay here. But if you don’t do things in roughly this order, you’re likely to have a bad time. Imagine a volleyball player with a serious shoulder injury. A highly competitive match is too much to ask for at this point. At least if they’re serious about keeping their arm attached to their body.

To me, the same player will be best served by restoring ROM and movement patterning in a structured, patient way. The right exercise choices will let them disengage anytime something hurts. This is essential. Once they’ve got the ROM, they can support it structurally through resistance training. From there, speed can be added—while still keeping things impeccable. Ideally, I’d get them drilling volleyball-specific movements around this time—always with very high standards for execution. Actual gameplay comes a bit further down the road. Never mind high-stakes competition.

You progress best by moving from order to chaos—not by getting airdropped into it. That’s why I’m not a fan of workouts that default to chaos and fatigue. Creating these conditions is required for mastery—but not all the damn time. Maybe 10%. If 90% of your workouts are an absolute whirlwind, then you might have accidentally enrolled in an extreme sport.

The irony here is that athletes in high-contact sports (ex. football, rugby), X-games, and even CrossFit athletes all require highly controlled strength training outside of their sports to thrive. Nobody just plays high-level football, for example, and expects to stay healthy. Ironically, it’s the same deal with highly ballistic, unpredictable bootcamp-style workouts. Really, anything where the person running it is basing success on how exhausted you look. If this is what you’re doing, you need a workout for your workout.

It’s ok to periodically exceed what your body can handle. If you’re not going over your limits from time to time, you’ll never know where they are. The trick here is to only exceed those limits by a little bit. Think of this as the shoulder of the highway or a rumble strip. You will periodically go off the road a bit—maybe just by half a tire-width. That translates into a mild strain or perhaps extreme soreness. This is fixable. You will recover well. Going further is risky but not catastrophic if you guide yourself back onto the road. This is, in and of itself, a skillset to be practiced. But your ability to continue practicing ends when you go over the cliff.

Keep it (mostly) between the lines, Friend. We want to see you healthy moving forward.

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