Skip to main content

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

Popular posts from this blog

Next Level

So, there are those of us who work out regularly to look and feel better and improve our general health.  There are those of us who just like to lead active lives and enjoy nature and the occasional physical activity.  And then there are those of us who like to challenge themselves to push past our perceived physical limitations and see how far down the rabbit hole we can go.  While this last one is certainly an admirable pursuit, as are the other two, I must say it is the one I most commonly see go sideways.

If you are contemplating taking things to the next level with your training, you must first sit down and realistically assess what you are about to take on.  Next level training is not just about pushing yourself in the gym, but also managing your personal life, your recovery, and your expectations.  It also means knowing when to go low and slow and when to go hard.  The most common mistake a lot of people make is that they think next level means going harder all the time.  But,…

Let's Talk About Context . . .

Powerlifters shouldn't do cardio.Long distance runners should avoid heavy lifting.All explosive athletes should be doing plyometrics, snatches, and cleans.To get fit in all areas of fitness, you should train by doing everything.

Most of us know that the above statements are bombastic nonsense.  However, depending on where you are in the training cycle they can be partly true (which is why a lot of people believe them).  But, for the most part, as general statements about these activities as a whole, they are overwhelmingly false.

I encourage my powerlifters to do cardio.  It increases their work capacity during training sessions and helps recovery, not to mention general health.  How much and how often?  Well, its generally not a lot unless they have a concurrent endurance training goal (which we know will mean they will need a lot more time and managed expectations).  Go for a short jog, a walk, or a bike ride a few times a week, don't sit all day, and don't eat like you&…

The Highland Games

Last summer, I became intrigued by the idea of learning how to throw heavy things.  As a weightlifting coach with unfortunate limb ratios for competitive weightlifting and a few friends who compete in Highland Games (and blather on incessantly about how awesome it is), I was excited to see if throwing might be a good outlet for my training.  I'm relatively strong, can produce a good amount of power, and have long limbs.  However, I am also relatively small compared to most throwers and therefore do not have a mass advantage.  That leaves me with mostly strength and technique as my assets.  Not yet knowing how to throw and not having a coach other than you-tube was going to make the technique part a bit of a challenge.

I didn't really intend to compete in the Highland Games, just use the throws to keep my training fun and set some backyard PRs, but then a friend of mine in Texas decided to host a Highlander.  A Highlander is a hybrid Highland Games and Strongman competition a…