Efficient can be defined as “productive of desired effects” or “productive without waste” according to Merriam Webster. Not just doing it, but doing it well (gimmie some LL!!). Now, we as trainees, athletes, coaches, etc. want to be efficient in our training for several reasons. Certainly to produce desired effects, that’s obvious. But also, time is limited. Most people (not all of us) have a life outside the gym. Third, because it means you are using good form, right? Well, yea, but there is also more to it.
In this case I’m thinking more along the lines of the neuromuscular system. The neuromuscular system can loosely be described as the nervous system and your muscles working together to create movement. As I’ve said before, just training to get tired or sore should not be the goal and using the 80% Rule, as we like to call it at Ambition Athletics, is one way to ensure quality of reps and the capacity to repeat more after rest. Point being that we are not just training the muscles to “feel the burn” and your body to sweat, but rather the whole system to become a more finely tuned athletic machine capable of repeated bouts of strength and power. Aka, efficient. I’m speaking in general terms here, per usual, but most sports and life in general typically require this ability much more than something that resembles aerobic work.
According to strength coach Charles Staley, training these higher motor qualities, such as maximum strength and speed strength have a trickle down effect and will help improve such other qualities as speed strength endurance and aerobic capacity that are further down the chain. So, how is this done? Well, Staley’s answer is EDT (Escalating Density Training). What we do at Ambition Athletics is similar but not as specific. In my mind the important thing is to train with 8 reps or less most of the time and not to failure. By doing this rest can be kept relatively short as compared to an all out set where a longer rest period is required prior to the next set, be it of a different exercise or the same . Staley mentions this can help keep the nervous system activated. On a personal note I have experienced this within my own training but have not been smart enough to always take advantage of it. For example, often I wait too long in between sets of heavy cleans (See Here). However, I can tell you that the last 3 occasions that I set a personal record in the clean I knew that I was working within in a short timeframe so I didn’t have a choice but to lift. I rested just enough time and my system stayed fired up. Certainly there are exceptions to all of this, but I think it has its place for new trainees learning proper movement and even veteran lifters who are used to grinding out reps and frequently training to failure. In the very least, it’s a new mindset for working toward not only better efficiency and movement quality but also the fun part, getting stronger! All of this being said, Staley suggests, and I agree, that the value of a workout should be based not on how much it hurts, but on how well the quality (strength, speed, movement) that you want to train, is trained.
I believe these same rules apply in the speed and agility world as well. I can remember hearing Lee Taft, one of the premier coaches in the speed and agility world, say that people are surprised when they come to him and he spends 10 minutes or less on actual skills and then on to the next part of the training program (mostly plyo’s and strength). The agility drills that are performed last only a few seconds at a time and are followed by rest and then repeat. What does this mean to me? Learn how to do something correctly and practice doing it well. Try not to waste movement or energy and you are one step closer to your desired effect by not only training your muscles but your brain as well. And of course it always helps to have feedback.
Although I don’t think it’s definitive, I don’t see the world of general conditioning exactly the same. The goal is to train a different system here. Neurological demand isn’t the same unless you are practicing a specific sport, in which case it’s different. I have seen people try and essentially do cardio with high skill and technical movements but it usually just gets sloppy, the opposite goal of the first part of the workout. That being said, I believe intervals such as shuttle runs, slideboard, Airdyne sprints, sled pushes, kettlebell swings and ropes are the way to go in this case.
– Mike Baltren