Peak Performance, Less is More, and the true value of learning

On the weekly insistence of a friend and colleague, for like the last million weeks, I finally got myself a copy of Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.  But, being the eternally busy and distracted person I am, I never had a chance to sit down and read it while also being awake and intellectually curious.  Yesterday, however, I did the most brilliant thing:  I downloaded the audio book.

Now, if you don’t know who Steve Magness is, let me sum it up in a few sentences:  Steve Magness is to physical training what Carl Sagan is to Cosmos.  He understands more about training and performance in all aspects of fitness than most coaches can remember what’s in their gym bag.

And, I wasn’t disappointed.  This is not a book specifically about running, or strength training, or even playing the violin (although he brings it up), it is about understanding how to optimize performance of the human body through the same principles that work for all learning.  Ie, knowing when to test the limits of performance, when to practice perfect technique, how to balance all of that with recovery, and how to use stress as an advantage.

One of my favorite sports scientists of all time was referenced in this book as well, Stephen Seiler. He’s my favorite not just because he is an expert in endurance training and high intensity interval training, but he understand how and why different training tools work and how these concepts transcend training runners and rowers and cross country skiiers.  Ultimately, most amateur exercisers and coaches tend to think that these methods simply produce physiological changes in VO2 max that are somehow magic.  What is actually happening is much more complex interplay of strength, fatigue, and most importantly, learning.  Learning to maintain proper posture and biomechanics at race pace, learning to move faster and more efficiently, and learning what level of discomfort one can manage without breaking down.  By the time we are learning these lessons, its all about strength, not VO2 max.  And so many of these concepts translate easily into the weight room.

Anyway, enough hero worship and geekery.  I had a friend down in my basement the other day and she was wondering if she could join in with the morning crew, but seemed a bit apprehensive.  I reassured her that I am not going to put her under heavy weight and scream at her.  I’m not going to force her to do burpees just for the sake of making her out of breath.  And I’m certainly not going to do anything to make her scared, hurt, or uncomfortable.

What I do is teach.  I teach good technique in everything I train.  And then we practice it.  And by practicing it, we develop strength, endurance, flexibility, and general fitness.  Sometimes we practice it at high intensities, sometimes at low intensities, but ultimately the goal is for perfect practice.  Perfect practice enables learning.  And learning is how I produce results in my gym.  And so far, its been a very successful approach.

Recently, I had a great opportunity to participate in a podcast with Eric Malzone on The Fitness Blitz to talk about my training history and philosophy.  So, if you want to hear a little bit more about me and how I train in my own words, take a listen:

Less is More: Sara Fleming

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi

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