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  • Athletic Spectrum and Training Sensitivity

    In the programming podcasts, the argument has been made that the more athletic somebody is on the athletic spectrum (male, broad-shouldered, young, etc), the more they respond to a particular dose of training, and vice-versa.

    I'd like to give some examples about why I'm not sure this is true, and why I think that base strength seems like a far more important concept than training sensitivity.

    Let's take a 21yo athletic broad-shouldered male novice who walks into the gym on day 1 to start their LP. If pushed (which they won't be), their bench 1RM is already 150 lbs, and their deadlift 1RM is 250 lbs. The numbers aren't terribly important, but I'd estimate this puts them quite far towards the top of the athletic spectrum, but not freakishly so.

    Let's apply the Starting Strength LP as the dose, and measure the response. Will they be able to bench 300 and deadlift 500 by the end? Unlikely. For this person who, by the theory in the podcasts, should be highly sensitive - the MOST sensitive - the SSLP isn't even going to double their lifts. So everybody else should be doing far worse, right?

    But does this really represent a much bigger response than somebody further down the athletic spectrum would get in response to the SSLP? In the podcasts, it's often mentioned that somebody who ends their LP with a very high squat must be highly training sensitive. But isn't it more accurate to say that this person started with a very high squat when untrained, and then responded with a similar improvement to everybody else? My impression is that you're not looking at responses in a relative way; e.g. a 45 lbs -> 90 lbs squat vs 250 lb -> 375 lbs.

    As another example, I know a male whose first bench press stall on the LP was at 85 lbs, and their first deload (and microloading) was required to get past 90. Since then, they've doubled their bench. Is their bench now good? No, and you would probably refer to them as not being training sensitive. However, given the exact same stress, would somebody whose first stall was at 260 lbs have since doubled it to 520?

    So clearly, the further up the athletic spectrum, the higher your strength on day 1. And the higher your strength on day 1, the higher your strength at day X. But are you really getting a better relative strength gain over that time? If anything, the opposite seems to be true. And this is important because it's central to your point around which populations need more volume.

    Cheers

  • #2
    We would not agree.

    In particular, we would dispute your assumption that the individual starting out with a higher base level of strength will also be higher on the athletic spectrum and thus more training sensitive. We've discussed before how people can be generally categorized into one of four groups:

    High initial strength / High responsiveness to training
    Low initial strength / High responsiveness to training

    High initial strength / Low responsiveness to training
    Low initial strength / Low responsiveness to training

    We've coached many people who came in with surprisingly good numbers to start their LP with, but ultimately did not prove themselves to be freak responders to training and achieve very high levels of strength.

    Conversely, we've also coached many people with low base levels of strength who responded remarkably to the training over time, and ultimately did achieve very high levels of strength.

    As well as individuals falling in either of the alternative categories, too.
    Last edited by Austin Baraki; 04-12-2018, 08:12 PM.
    IG / YT

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Austin Baraki View Post
      We would not agree.

      In particular, we would dispute your assumption that the individual starting out with a higher base level of strength will also be higher on the athletic spectrum and thus more training sensitive. We've discussed before how people can be generally categorized into one of four groups:

      High initial strength / High responsiveness to training
      Low initial strength / High responsiveness to training

      High initial strength / Low responsiveness to training
      Low initial strength / Low responsiveness to training

      We've coached many people who came in with surprisingly good numbers to start their LP with, but ultimately did not prove themselves to be freak responders to training and achieve very high levels of strength.

      Conversely, we've also coached many people with low base levels of strength who responded remarkably to the training over time, and ultimately did achieve very high levels of strength.

      As well as individuals falling in either of the alternative categories, too.
      Interesting, thanks Austin. I've listened to every podcast but don't remember hearing about these categories. It does clear up your point. Having said that, I'm still not sure this is an accurate model. Without taking up too much of your time, can I give this one more go?

      Let's take a male and a female. Which are we most confident about - who is strongest on day 1, or who will gain the highest % during the SSLP? If we take a broad-shouldered male and a narrow-shouldered male, which are we most confident about - initial strength or % gain during SSLP?

      I know there will be outliers, but it seems to me that the parameters you've described (especially sex and "male-ness") are much better predictors of strength on day 1 than they are predictors of response to a given stress. It seems highly unlikely that the female is going to be stronger on day 1, but reasonable to think that the male is going to go from (theoretical squat 1RM) 185 lbs -> 335 lbs, whereas the female might go from 60 lbs -> 120 lbs, thus getting a better response to the given stress.

      So my point is that even though responsiveness to training varies, I don't think it's determined by position on the athletic spectrum that you've given, which seems to be a much better indicator of initial strength. And the fact that there's a correlation from high athletic spectrum -> high initial strength -> high end strength is what might fool us into thinking these people were training sensitive.

      Comment


      • #4
        I really like how you've made that clear. Really interesting. Too bad I'm on the low / low end.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Awk1993 View Post

          I know there will be outliers, but it seems to me that the parameters you've described (especially sex and "male-ness") are much better predictors of strength on day 1 than they are predictors of response to a given stress. It seems highly unlikely that the female is going to be stronger on day 1, but reasonable to think that the male is going to go from (theoretical squat 1RM) 185 lbs -> 335 lbs, whereas the female might go from 60 lbs -> 120 lbs, thus getting a better response to the given stress.
          I'm not Austin, but right out of the gates I'm not sure I agree with your use of a simple multiplier or percentage as a good metric for responsiveness to training. You'd need to argue why we shouldn't care about simple poundage added over percentage gained or why we shouldn't use some clever mixture of the two. For example, I feel like a male that goes from 185-385 pounds on his squat has responded more robustly than a female that went from 60-120. Even though the female doubled her squat and the male did not, she still only added 60 pounds. The male added 200 pounds, which is arguably a more robust response even though he didn't double it. It requires running an LP and responding to the volume and intensity that it offers for a greater length of time to go from 185-385 than it does to go from 60-120.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Austin Baraki View Post

            In particular, we would dispute your assumption that the individual starting out with a higher base level of strength will also be higher on the athletic spectrum and thus more training sensitive. We've discussed before how people can be generally categorized into one of four groups:
            I have a tangential, scientific question. Is there any evidence that gross physical characteristics like shoulder breadth and wrist size correlate in a practically significant way to responsiveness to training?

            Because, while I loved the podcast overall, I'm a lanky, thin-wristed guy myself, and I felt that your discussion of this topic might leave similar listeners with a huge dose of nocebo. You listed a bunch of characteristics I have and then said people with these characteristics typically get poor results! (See, for example, the comment "Too bad I'm on the low / low end" above.)

            Comment


            • #7
              There's some anthropometric evidence for how well someone can respond based on muscle mass that can be carried, yes.

              We also didn't say that people get poor results, rather that there are implications for training management. Furthermore, if we go by percentage improvement in strength- we typically see a greater improvement in those with lower levels of initial strength than those with higher levels of initial strength.
              Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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              • PatrickD
                PatrickD commented
                Editing a comment
                Thanks for clarifying! That's really interesting.

            • #8
              Originally posted by PatrickD View Post

              I have a tangential, scientific question. Is there any evidence that gross physical characteristics like shoulder breadth and wrist size correlate in a practically significant way to responsiveness to training?

              Because, while I loved the podcast overall, I'm a lanky, thin-wristed guy myself, and I felt that your discussion of this topic might leave similar listeners with a huge dose of nocebo. You listed a bunch of characteristics I have and then said people with these characteristics typically get poor results! (See, for example, the comment "Too bad I'm on the low / low end" above.)
              That was obviously not our intention, and I hope it was clear that our point was that these individuals will likely need more training to achieve a given level of strength -- which I think you'd agree with (and, since you described yourself and I know your lifting numbers, likely applies to you).

              So yeah, it is "too bad" for those people -- but the question becomes whether or not they're willing to do what's necessary in training to achieve that level of strength. There are plenty of people who've had to train much less than I have to achieve a 600 lb squat. Conversely, there are others who will have to train much more than I have to achieve that same 600 squat -- many of whom had a higher level of "baseline strength" than I did at the start. This is the spectrum we're referring to.

              It's a tricky topic to discuss -- we get asked questions all the time like "Do you think that anyone can achieve a 700 lb deadlift?" To which the answer is no. We don't want to "nocebo" people, but we also don't want to tell them they can all deadlift 1000 lbs if they just believe in themselves. Additionally, I'd argue the effect of suggesting that people "should" be achieving a 375 x 5 squat on the novice program does far more harm.
              Last edited by Austin Baraki; 04-13-2018, 08:31 PM.
              IG / YT

              Comment


              • Eric Mark
                Eric Mark commented
                Editing a comment
                Last sentence for the win. Unrealistic LP expectations did more harm to my training career than anything else.

            • #9
              Do you think how well someone responds to training in the novice phase is a good predictor of how well they will respond through the rest of their training career (given appropriate programming)? Lets say someone runs a legitimate LP for four months and ends up on the high end of the bell curve for early post-novice strength levels, but then makes very little progress over the next year or so of training. Assuming they are eating and recovering appropriately, would you be able to point out bad programming as the cause? Or is there variance in how *long* someone can respond to training in addition to how rapidly? Do some people just ramp up quickly, hit their genetic ceiling, and that's it? Or if someone is a high responder does that mean they should be able to keep making good progress for many years (obviously not at the same absolute rate though)?

              Comment


              • #10
                Originally posted by Austin Baraki View Post
                It's a tricky topic to discuss -- we get asked questions all the time like "Do you think that anyone can achieve a 700 lb deadlift?" To which the answer is no. We don't want to "nocebo" people, but we also don't want to tell them they can all deadlift 1000 lbs if they just believe in themselves. Additionally, I'd argue the effect of suggesting that people "should" be achieving a 375 x 5 squat on the novice program does far more harm.
                Yeah! I certainly do not envy the expository position you find yourself in. I think Jordan put it very nicely in his post, emphasizing the implications for management and the fact that a weaker starting point gives you more potential to see growth, while downplaying the issue of genetic limits. It doesn't bother that me that I'll never deadlift 700, but I also don't think it helps my training to dwell on this fact. While I agree it is important to have a conversation about realistic expectations (especially given the prevalence of steroid use and stories about people LPing their squat to 405 by eating sheet cake every day), I'm not sure that needs to be packaged with the programming advice for smaller, lighter lifters. Indeed, the advice you give for such lifters -- relatively more volume at relatively less intensity -- appears to apply to even the genetically elite. I recall Nuckols wrote somewhere that he asked the coach of the Chinese weightlifting team how he trained his female lifters, and the coach replied, "just like the men, but with 10% more volume." Sheiko says similar things about lighter male lifters. Instead of saying, "if you have these characteristics, you should train this way, and also you're probably not going to get results as good as other people," why not cut out that last part? On the other hand, if the theoretical justification for this advice involves responsiveness to training, then maybe you can't decouple the two. I don't know. It's tricky, as you said.

                I suppose what I'd really like to see is the following framing emphasized: barring truly exceptional cases (missing limbs, some weird genetic stuff, whatever), even the skinny nerds among us possess a great amount of strength potential, and hard work and tailoring their programming to their phenotype can help them achieve that potential. As you pointed out, I'm a skinny nerd with unimpressive numbers, and while that's true, at the same time I'm thrilled with the results implementing the "more volume, less intensity" strategy has gotten me. The first time I ever deadlifted, it was 135, and it felt really heavy. It took me quite a while to get to even 200, adding 5 pounds every workout. If you asked me for a lifetime goal, I would have said I'd be more than happy to pull 315. And now I'd tell you that (barring a major injury, etc.) I'm confident I can nail 405 at 170 by the end of the year. It may not be 700, but so what?

                In contrast, the gestalt impression I got from your podcast was something along the lines of: there's a spectrum of athleticism, lifters at the more athletic end of the spectrum are going to get better results from lifting than those at the other end, and while the nonathletic types can compensate somewhat by changing their programming strategy, they're never going to catch the athletic bros. (My apologies if I'm misrepresenting what you said. This is very possible. My memory is unreliable.) While this may be true, again, it's not the most motivating message. The nerds aren't going to podium at USAPL nationals, but again, so what? I'd much rather the focus be on what they *can* do.

                In any case, I want to reiterate that I thought the podcast was excellent and I appreciate that this is a delicate point. Thanks for listening to my (hopefully constructive?) ramblings.

                Comment


                • #11
                  I'm a pure specimen of masculinity yet my genetic makeup and years of life cause me to adapt to stress so efficiently that I didn't get very strong in my NLP.
                  Doubting my masculinity? Watch me swordfight the highlander https://youtu.be/hcaf52X9hi8 (you will first see me at 49 seconds in).
                  Ultimately although I gave responded very well to lots of volume and using my newfound BBM RX. I'm perhaps not that "strong" by the standards of hyperbolic internet standards but I am stronger than almost everyone I meet in real life.
                  Also, strength is all relative anyway. Maybe you can squat more than me, but I might just be that other guy that is always tougher.
                  You want strength? Watch a woman deliver a freaking baby...

                  Cheers
                  Keep Getting Stronger!

                  Comment


                  • #12
                    Originally posted by PatrickD View Post

                    Yeah! I certainly do not envy the expository position you find yourself in. I think Jordan put it very nicely in his post, emphasizing the implications for management and the fact that a weaker starting point gives you more potential to see growth, while downplaying the issue of genetic limits. It doesn't bother that me that I'll never deadlift 700, but I also don't think it helps my training to dwell on this fact. While I agree it is important to have a conversation about realistic expectations (especially given the prevalence of steroid use and stories about people LPing their squat to 405 by eating sheet cake every day), I'm not sure that needs to be packaged with the programming advice for smaller, lighter lifters. Indeed, the advice you give for such lifters -- relatively more volume at relatively less intensity -- appears to apply to even the genetically elite. I recall Nuckols wrote somewhere that he asked the coach of the Chinese weightlifting team how he trained his female lifters, and the coach replied, "just like the men, but with 10% more volume." Sheiko says similar things about lighter male lifters. Instead of saying, "if you have these characteristics, you should train this way, and also you're probably not going to get results as good as other people," why not cut out that last part? On the other hand, if the theoretical justification for this advice involves responsiveness to training, then maybe you can't decouple the two. I don't know. It's tricky, as you said.

                    I suppose what I'd really like to see is the following framing emphasized: barring truly exceptional cases (missing limbs, some weird genetic stuff, whatever), even the skinny nerds among us possess a great amount of strength potential, and hard work and tailoring their programming to their phenotype can help them achieve that potential. As you pointed out, I'm a skinny nerd with unimpressive numbers, and while that's true, at the same time I'm thrilled with the results implementing the "more volume, less intensity" strategy has gotten me. The first time I ever deadlifted, it was 135, and it felt really heavy. It took me quite a while to get to even 200, adding 5 pounds every workout. If you asked me for a lifetime goal, I would have said I'd be more than happy to pull 315. And now I'd tell you that (barring a major injury, etc.) I'm confident I can nail 405 at 170 by the end of the year. It may not be 700, but so what?

                    In contrast, the gestalt impression I got from your podcast was something along the lines of: there's a spectrum of athleticism, lifters at the more athletic end of the spectrum are going to get better results from lifting than those at the other end, and while the nonathletic types can compensate somewhat by changing their programming strategy, they're never going to catch the athletic bros. (My apologies if I'm misrepresenting what you said. This is very possible. My memory is unreliable.) While this may be true, again, it's not the most motivating message. The nerds aren't going to podium at USAPL nationals, but again, so what? I'd much rather the focus be on what they *can* do.

                    In any case, I want to reiterate that I thought the podcast was excellent and I appreciate that this is a delicate point. Thanks for listening to my (hopefully constructive?) ramblings.
                    Yeah, I really feel like that is the point we're trying to make, rather than dwell on "expected outcomes" ... but people are always going to interpret things in the context of their own perceived situation. Hopefully it becomes even more clear in part 3 when we try to tie it all together.

                    For example, I wouldn't even tell you "Patrick, you're never going to deadlift 700" ... because who the hell knows what you will be able to accomplish over the next 10-15 years of consistent training? Certainly not me. Similar to your anecdote, when I was a 155 lb novice I remember watching a dude front squat 315 and thought "holy SHIT, I doubt I'll ever be able to do that!" The point, however, is as Jordan noted - the implications for management of training.
                    IG / YT

                    Comment


                    • #13
                      Originally posted by Tim K View Post
                      Do you think how well someone responds to training in the novice phase is a good predictor of how well they will respond through the rest of their training career (given appropriate programming)? Lets say someone runs a legitimate LP for four months and ends up on the high end of the bell curve for early post-novice strength levels, but then makes very little progress over the next year or so of training. Assuming they are eating and recovering appropriately, would you be able to point out bad programming as the cause? Or is there variance in how *long* someone can respond to training in addition to how rapidly? Do some people just ramp up quickly, hit their genetic ceiling, and that's it? Or if someone is a high responder does that mean they should be able to keep making good progress for many years (obviously not at the same absolute rate though)?
                      If you have someone who has identified themselves as a "high responder" to training, this trait does not suddenly "vanish" -- so stalled progress, assuming recovery factors are adequately addressed, would likely reflect a programming issue.

                      But in real world practice, I think there are probably too many confounding factors to confidently use the LP as a predictive tool for someone's entire training career - for example, what would my own LP outcomes have told me about my long-term strength potential?
                      IG / YT

                      Comment


                      • #14
                        Originally posted by PatrickD View Post

                        Yeah! I certainly do not envy the expository position you find yourself in. I think Jordan put it very nicely in his post, emphasizing the implications for management and the fact that a weaker starting point gives you more potential to see growth, while downplaying the issue of genetic limits. It doesn't bother that me that I'll never deadlift 700, but I also don't think it helps my training to dwell on this fact. While I agree it is important to have a conversation about realistic expectations (especially given the prevalence of steroid use and stories about people LPing their squat to 405 by eating sheet cake every day), I'm not sure that needs to be packaged with the programming advice for smaller, lighter lifters. Indeed, the advice you give for such lifters -- relatively more volume at relatively less intensity -- appears to apply to even the genetically elite. I recall Nuckols wrote somewhere that he asked the coach of the Chinese weightlifting team how he trained his female lifters, and the coach replied, "just like the men, but with 10% more volume." Sheiko says similar things about lighter male lifters. Instead of saying, "if you have these characteristics, you should train this way, and also you're probably not going to get results as good as other people," why not cut out that last part? On the other hand, if the theoretical justification for this advice involves responsiveness to training, then maybe you can't decouple the two. I don't know. It's tricky, as you said.

                        I suppose what I'd really like to see is the following framing emphasized: barring truly exceptional cases (missing limbs, some weird genetic stuff, whatever), even the skinny nerds among us possess a great amount of strength potential, and hard work and tailoring their programming to their phenotype can help them achieve that potential. As you pointed out, I'm a skinny nerd with unimpressive numbers, and while that's true, at the same time I'm thrilled with the results implementing the "more volume, less intensity" strategy has gotten me. The first time I ever deadlifted, it was 135, and it felt really heavy. It took me quite a while to get to even 200, adding 5 pounds every workout. If you asked me for a lifetime goal, I would have said I'd be more than happy to pull 315. And now I'd tell you that (barring a major injury, etc.) I'm confident I can nail 405 at 170 by the end of the year. It may not be 700, but so what?

                        In contrast, the gestalt impression I got from your podcast was something along the lines of: there's a spectrum of athleticism, lifters at the more athletic end of the spectrum are going to get better results from lifting than those at the other end, and while the nonathletic types can compensate somewhat by changing their programming strategy, they're never going to catch the athletic bros. (My apologies if I'm misrepresenting what you said. This is very possible. My memory is unreliable.) While this may be true, again, it's not the most motivating message. The nerds aren't going to podium at USAPL nationals, but again, so what? I'd much rather the focus be on what they *can* do.

                        In any case, I want to reiterate that I thought the podcast was excellent and I appreciate that this is a delicate point. Thanks for listening to my (hopefully constructive?) ramblings.
                        I can understand this, and I think it's important to have this conversation from many fronts. Some of these podcasts are a bit "behind the scenes" or big idea discussions, not coaching talks. So for us listening to them, it can be a challenge at times to remember this. I think I'm an example of how the coaching is actually handled from BBM. When I started training, I had no athletic background, no indication at all that I would do anything more than just train to get into better shape. Jordan and I have talked about the years of coaching and progress, and now he'll admit that he never would have imagined that I'd be lifting and competing at the level I am now. I certainly didn't see it. So he never "pre-determined" my athleticism and then told me this was what to expect or where I would go. It was always about doing what I could to improve, be my best, etc. The rub is this athletic spectrum does exists. I can medal at Worlds, yet I can still get frustrated that I don't pull like Kimberly Walford or bench like Jen Thompson. They have apparently got something that I don't have. Haha.

                        The emphasis was never on what my genetics are, where I might be on the scale, or how far I may and may not get. These are helpful things to know and a coach should be thinking about these things as related to programming and progress, yet when it comes down to it, we all just need to keep moving forward, whether or not there's a podium in sight. I think the proof is in the pudding, and while we have these big picture discussion, we also operate day in and day out in coaching people to be better, to get stronger, to be healthier, whatever that might be for them.

                        Comment


                        • #15
                          Originally posted by PatrickD View Post

                          I have a tangential, scientific question. Is there any evidence that gross physical characteristics like shoulder breadth and wrist size correlate in a practically significant way to responsiveness to training?

                          Because, while I loved the podcast overall, I'm a lanky, thin-wristed guy myself, and I felt that your discussion of this topic might leave similar listeners with a huge dose of nocebo. You listed a bunch of characteristics I have and then said people with these characteristics typically get poor results! (See, for example, the comment "Too bad I'm on the low / low end" above.)
                          No worries man, I don't get noceboed that easily

                          Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post
                          There's some anthropometric evidence for how well someone can respond based on muscle mass that can be carried, yes.

                          We also didn't say that people get poor results, rather that there are implications for training management. Furthermore, if we go by percentage improvement in strength- we typically see a greater improvement in those with lower levels of initial strength than those with higher levels of initial strength.
                          When you say broad shoulders, is that related to bone structure or rather the amount of muscle already present on an individual's upper body making the shoulders broad?

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