Minimal Effective Load – This is the point where you will get the most benefit from your training without overtraining or undertraining.
This is a term that describes at which point you are getting the maximum performance and results from your training. I like to describe this as the “sweet spot” right in between not training enough and training too hard. You can think of it as a bell curve (pictured below). At the bottom of the curve is where you would have found me a few years ago when I wasn’t working out at all. There is no effort or activity and the results are non-existent. Going up a little on the curve you’ll see that the activity goes up and so do the results, but there is still room for improvement. At the peak of the curve is the “sweet spot” I spoke about! This is where you are putting in the perfect amount of effort and load to achieve the maximum return in results. If you can achieve this balance you are in a good spot and you are most likely a trained athlete, have a really good trainer or you are a magician… This “Sweet Spot” is where most athletes and pros work with their training and that’s why they are so good at what they do, of course they have many years of practice and skill but most of us aren’t professional athletes but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t train like them.
So let’s look at the other side of the curve, as you see, there is a decline in the slope and what happens here is called diminishing returns. There is a point at which your training goes too far and there are no more results or performance to be obtained. What happens is you over work your body to a point at which you break down. The goal with achieving the minimal effective load is finding that “Sweet Spot.” The “Sweet Spot” will be different for every person depending on your current fitness level but here are a few tips and how I am finding my “sweet spot,” that sounds dirty but I swear it’s not.
1st – No Pain No Gain – This is the oldest tip I remember hearing about and being told that if I want results I have to feel the burn! When training the more advanced you get the more you realize that training doesn’t always have to be grueling to have the desired outcome. Pain is actually not a good way to judge result and performance and I have actually achieved better results with less work and less “burn.” So when I am hitting the gym and getting in my reps I focus on controlled movements and when I feel the “burn,” I only do a few more reps keeping strict to my form, when my form starts to decline I call it quits for that set. I haven’t been super sore in a very long time and again, I’m getting great results. If you’re super sore the next day, you know the sore where you walk funny and avoid stairs a all costs even if it means sleeping on the couch, that is a sign you are over training and are on the wrong side of the curve. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard but when you start to fatigue and your form starts to suffer you’re probably done.
2nd – Performance – I judge this by a combination of how hard it feels and how easy the weight moves. Somedays the weights feel heavier than others and that goes back to other factors like rest, recovery and nutrition and since all of these things change constantly, so do my expectations for the gym. I don’t always shoot for lifting the same weight for the same amount of reps but I shoot for the same feeling or sensation. I always have a goal of the amount of reps I’d like to do but if it gets to challenging or my form starts to fail I call it quits and move on to the next exercise or take a break. So, the question I ask while I’m training is; “How easy are the weights to move and how do I feel doing it?” If the weights are moving easily and I feel great! Then I keep going until my form starts to fail, I hit the desired number of reps or I feel fatigued. This is something that takes practice and self-awareness but you can start by using a scale from 1-10, 1 being very easy and light. To 10 being the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
3rd – Fatigue – This is a great way to judge when I’m done and need to quit. I used to quit when I finished all of my reps but I realized that the reps where just an arbitrary number I came up with and don’t really have a rhyme or reason. Instead of counting reps and trying to win the rep war I take note on how fatigued I feel and If I think I can do another rep with good form I keep going, but when I start to lose my good form I quit and take a break.
This is something that I have been trying recently and I have found that it really works for me and I feel more motivated to work out because my body is recovering faster and I’m not always in recovery mode. I will continue to monitor my progress and hopefully give you an update in the future!
Now this hasn’t just worked for me! This has worked for a friend and official dietician of Under Ten Fitness, Suzanne Himka. Now Suzanne, as you know, is very athletic and tends to overdo it! If you don’t know, I’ll just say she loves to work out and the word intervention comes to mind. She has seen some amazing results from Minimal Effective Load training and put those results to work during her most recent race in Canada for an Obstacle Course Race. She did very well and was surprised that she trained less than she did in the past and did better because of it.
Suzanne’s daughter, Miriah, also competes in obstacle course racing and at the age of 17 she is proving to be very competitive and has won races in her age division using the minimal effective load training method. I personally believe Miriah has a great advantage in learning about this at a young age, along with having the drive to compete, that if she continues she will probably do very well for a long-time injury free. Because in the end all that matters is that you can do the sports and activities you love and do them pain free.
I would like to thank Dr. Grove Higgins, Suzanne Himka and her daughter Miriah for joining the show to share their stories and give some great tips. Please listen to the podcast if you would like to know more about Minimal Effective Load plus more great tips! We even talk a little bit about diet and lifestyle tips to maximize your efforts in the gym.
Get more diet tips from Suzanne here: http://www.suzannehimka.com/
Get more performance tips from Dr. Grove here: http://www.cshpr.com/
And as always remember – Stay Motivated!