Who Let the Dogs Out? Limitations with Regressions and Exercise Libraries.

Lets say you have the best dogs, the best sled, the best driver but your ropes break. To win the race your dogs need to go at an average speed of 8mph, which they can handle no problem, but your ropes are going to break if you go over 6mph. This is either because there is something wrong with the rope, or how it is being used. So what would you change? Pretty obvious when you put it like that, isn’t it? But that isn’t the approach taken in many athletic development programs. 

For a long time there has been a list of best exercises that coaches would get their athletes to do. These were the only exercises, the king of lifts, the best indicators of athletic potential, had the best transfer to sport etc., etc.. Some athletes simply didn’t have the anthropometry or physical capacities to do them well, or to do them at all. For a long time many coaches confused physical capacities with movement skill, and thought if they got the athlete to do their confirmation bias lift, they would develop the skill. The lift might have been a good lift, but it was never a tool for developing that physical capacity. So along come exercise libraries, with regressions for every lift. Athletes who couldn’t do the classic lift comfortably, or at all, now had something to do. This of course was an improvement in the sense that they were no longer being forced to do an exercise that wasn’t for them, or being judged harshly because they couldn’t get good numbers with it. 

So where is the problem? The problem is twofold. Firstly, a true regression exercise usually doesn’t identify, or train, the limiting factor. There probably will be a limiting factor if you need to use a regression exercise in the first place. Secondly, a regression, by definition, probably puts a lower ceiling on adaptation for the simple reason that it is a lesser stimulus. If the purpose of the exercise is to elicit a particular adaptation or prepare an athlete for the demand of a particular sport, there is a good chance that the regression doesn’t do as good a job. Lets say we regress our dogs to running at 6mph so the ropes don’t break. That’s an effective regression. But it isn’t an effective strategy for winning the race. You haven’t changed the condition of the ropes, so if they try to hit 8mph in the race, the ropes will break. Because they have been training at 6mph, they might no longer be able to run at that speed anyway.

So what is the solution? Understand the mechanism which produces the need for the regression but be realistic about what the regression can achieve. Let them do a regression, because they still need some stimulus, but identify the limiting factor and train that. After a while they will be doing progressions because they have ropes that don’t break. 

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