You're at work and trying to focus on those files your boss sent through but you can't focus, it doesn't matter how many cups of coffee you're gulping down it's just not happening. Your co-worker sees that you're a bit off-centre and asks you what's wrong to which you reply that you haven't been sleeping well - Your co-worker has always been health-concerned and recommends you all these rituals and supplements to help with the sleep, to which you just nod because you know what's going on - You and your wife have been very distant lately and the thought of separating keeps you up at night.
What this little narrative clearly indicates to me is that there is a hierarchy to things, where more fundamental components of your life have a greater effect on you and more precise component have a lesser effect on you. Your relationship to your wife is more important than how well you are performing at work. Knowing this makes the approach to bettering yourself rather simple; start with the foundational first.
This principle can be used in virtually any situation but seeing as my area of focus is Strength & Conditioning we will relay the focus to the body; how the bottleneck and/or hierarchy principle applies to training.
Step one; What do you want to achieve?
The body is incredibly malleable and will adjust itself according to an aim, the clearer that aim is the better your biology will adapt - Be very straightforward in what you want and why, as biological adaptation is a costly process.
In order for you to get a better grasp of this principle in relationship to training I will divulge into an intent I have and what actions I have undertaken to move closer to this intent - My intent is to downregulate sympathetic markers on a nasal breath-only workout as well as speed-up the execution of the exercises.
The workout is; - 20 burpees - 30 sit-ups - 400 metre run x5 - The constraints are; that it must all be done whilst keeping the mouth closed and one inhale and exhale per burpee/sit-up
As mentioned before the intent is to downregulate the sympathetic markers whilst speeding up the the exercises, which is why I have to measure in a very specific manner whether I'm improving.
- My ability to take in my direct environment
- What muscular tension is being generated
- The level of physical discomfort that I'm experiencing
- My state of mind; am I calm, do I want to fight or run away
- Are my breaths full or hampered
- How fast am I running
- How fluid are the movements
- How quickly do I recover after the burpees
- How tense is my body
What systems are being targeted and might hamper the training
First and foremost, all systems are always being targeted during any training, we are merely talking about their level of importance in relation the the workout - The body is divergent and not convergent.
The primary systems that are being worked are; your respiratory system (the gas exchange and muscles involved), your vascular system (transport of metabolites and gasses via the blood), your cardiac nervous system (contraction of the heart and coherence of the body), your central nervous system (your response to stressors), metabolic systems (lipolysis; breakdown of fatty into energy) and your muscular system (primarily your internal torque chain and slow twitch fibres)
What steps can we take to strengthen these systems
Word of caution; as stated before, nearly any action you take will affect every system in your body - We are once again talking about a hierarchy.
Breathwork like Wim Hof can be an effective tool, swimming can be effective (especially sprints and underwater swimming)
The vascular system responds to nearly everything but to really stress out the vascular system you can try; cold exposure, very challenging breath-holds and going into the sauna
This one is a bit tricky to explain as coherence of an organism is an incredibly important effect the heart can have, I will divulge into this at a later stage
To improve the physical properties of the cardiac system you can; engage in all-out sprints for less than 60 seconds, endurance tension for an extended period and expose yourself to intensity peaks with a short bout of recovery.
The primary role of the nervous system is to make predictions about the future based on incoming data and recommending actions - This makes training your CNS very complex but not impossible.
What I do is exposing myself to a myriad of stressors during the same workout as well as during my everyday life to strengthen that feeling of safety - No specifics this time
You have several metabolic system but for now we are talking about lipolysis; the breakdown of stored fat into readily useful energy.
My recommendation is to keep your level of certain minerals high (potassium/magnesium/calcium/zinc/selenium/iron) through organ meats, nuts and certain vegetables
Other than that you can play around with periods of fasting with extended exercise.
Seeing as we're concerned with the body, we're dealing with an incredibly complex situation - I will try to give you a narrative but don't expect to be able to put this into concrete actions right away.
The muscles work in a chain and the force production can and will be hampered if certain areas are weaker than others, which is why balancing the body is a good strategy.
What I also recommend is to get better at the movement and/or similar movements so that your body learns to be more efficient.
The last thing I will mention is that both your hands and feet are two very potent sites for force production, if you do not actively use your hands and feet during these movements you're leaving gains on the table.
Let's pull it back to the governing principle
In order to improve I need to focus on the main system that's holding me back, and sometimes this might be an unknown unknown (completely unknown to you) - This is why exploration is incredibly important when it comes to any progress.