The Inverted-U Curve and How it Applies to You

In Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, he dissects our commonly-held beliefs about advantages and disadvantages. The books centers around these two questions: Are what we usually perceive as advantages really advantages? And are what we see as disadvantages really disadvantages? This is one of the reasons why I love Gladwell’s writing; he challenges our thinking and changes the way we look at things. One of the concepts he uses to support his argument about advantages and disadvantages is the inverted-U curve.

Inverted U Curve

Gladwell uses the example of elementary and middle school class size to illustrate the theory of the inverted-U curve. Basically, if there are too many kids in a class, the learning environment is compromised, and their academic achievement will suffer. That much is not surprising. But, what is surprising, and almost counterintuitive, is that if there are too few students in a class, academic achievement will suffer as well.

Take a look at the graph above. As you can see, as class size decreases, academic achievement increases…to a point. If class size continues decreasing past that point, academic achievement will be negatively affected. Lots of research and anecdotal evidence supports this idea. In fact, the perfect number of students per class seems to be somewhere around 18. Deviate too far above or below this number, and you run the risk of hurting the academic performance of your students.

Mind Blown

What the inverted-U curve theory essentially proposes is that there is an optimal level, or “sweet spot” for many things. While this theory may not apply to everything, it certainly carries a lot of merit. Naturally, after I read about it in David and Goliath, I thought about how it applied to the world of strength and conditioning. Let’s look at a few simple examples.

Take mobility. I think most of us would agree that not having enough mobility in a certain area of the body isn’t good, and that if mobility in that area isn’t increased, injury risk goes up. However, if too much mobility is added, without the stability to control that new range of motion, that is not good, and injury risk goes up, too. Too much mobility isn’t a good thing.

Think about strength. Is it necessary for a professional football player to have a 1,000 pound squat? Not necessarily. You could argue that if they don’t have the ability to translate that strength into sport-specific and position-specific demands on the field, it could decrease their performance. Also, the inherent risk for injury increases as the weight on the bar increases. On the flipside, if a professional football player could only squat 135 pounds, we would probably agree that his performance on the field may suffer and his injury risk may be increased because he isn’t strong enough. Having high levels of strength isn’t always good, just as not having enough strength isn’t good, either.

How about physical stress? In order to make progress towards your fitness goals, you need to apply a certain amount of stress to your body. If too much stress is applied, you run the risk of overtraining; you won’t make progress, and even worse, you will drift farther away from your goals. If too little stress is applied, you still won’t make any progress, as the body is not being forced to adapt to anything. Beyond even just physical stress, there are also certain levels of general stress that are necessary for a happy and productive life. Again, too much is bad, and too little is also bad.

The inverted-U curve tells us that the answer to many things is “somewhere in the middle.” That may seem a bit vague, and rightfully so, because that answer is highly individualistic. How much mobility should you have? That is going to depend on many factors, and the answer will be different for everybody. How strong should you be? Again, it depends. How frequently and intensely should you train to achieve your goals? That, too, depends on the individual, as everybody responds differently to a physical stressor or stimulus.

You can think of the three examples I’ve provided as continuums: one for mobility, one for strength, and one for stress. Pick one of them and think about where you might fall on that continuum. Everyone will be at a different spot, and may need to eventually end up at a different spot depending on the definition of optimal performance and well-being. What we can say, and what the inverted-U curve has shown, is that it is not always beneficial to be at the extremes of a given spectrum. Many of you have probably heard the phrase, “More isn’t always better.” That’s very true, but less isn’t always better, either.

The inverted-U curve theory is certainly prevalent in our world, and can be applied in several areas of our lives, including training, nutrition, and supplementation. Take some time to examine some of the “spectrums” that are important to you and see where you stand. The key to your health, goals, or success may mean being somewhere in the middle.

The Supplement Goals Reference Guide

Yesterday was a big day for Sol Orwell and Kurtis Frank, the guys behind Examine.com, as they released their first product, The Supplement Goals Reference Guide. I was lucky enough to preview the product, and I wanted to let my readers know that it is MIND-BOTTLINGLY good.

Mind Bottling

This product simply lets you know which supplements work, and which supplements don’t work. It’s the best resource out there for unbiased information on supplementation to help you reach your health and fitness goals.

The information in this product is based on over 2,000 HUMAN studies, and covers over 300 supplements and 180 health goals. It’s as comprehensive and transparent as it gets.

What I like about this product is that it focuses on the health goal to supplement relationship. In other words, if your goal is to gain lean muscle or lose body fat, there are sections devoted towards breaking down the supplements that are most effective in helping you achieve those respective goals. It’s very user-friendly, and extremely easy to use.

I highly recommend that you add The Supplement Goals Reference Guide to your library. It’s on sale for this week only at a price of $29, which is a great deal for such an expansive product.

Click HERE to check it out!

 

Got Ups? A How-To on Box Jumps

Today I have a special treat for all of you. My good friend Miguel Aragoncillo was kind enough to prepare a guest post for my site on proper execution of the box jump. Miguel is an excellent strength and conditioning coach and a really bright guy, so I was happy to have him contribute this piece. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Take it away, Miguel!

First I’d like to thank Conor for allowing me to contribute to his blog. I first met him while completing my internship up in Massachusetts at Cressey Performance, and had lots of time to chat at a few seminars near my hometown in New Jersey.

In this post, I go over the implications for correct and incorrect box jump technique. While many coaches and trainers may use the box jump as a test, in reality this exercise is simply another tool that I use to teach athletes and clients to properly distribute force within the posterior chain in a safe manner.

One aspect to consider is that while in the video, I explain the jump in regards to a soft plyometric box, and many times this may be inaccessible for other facilities and trainers out there. If this is true in your case, please consider utilizing a height that enables an athlete or client to successfully jump with little to no apprehension in regards to falling or missing the jump. 

The soft plyometric box allows for a reasonable step outside of one’s comfort zone by reducing the impact of the landing significantly, as opposed to a metal or wooden box, commonly seen within traditional gym settings. I’d rather see a successful jump, as opposed to a missed jump and possible chance for injury.

You can read Miguel’s blog HERE and contact him at m.aragoncillo@gmail.com.

Technique Tuesday: 1-Arm DB Bench Press

Welcome to another edition of Technique Tuesday! I hope you all had a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Today’s exercise is the 1-Arm DB Bench Press. This is one of my favorite horizontal pressing variations, as when performed correctly, it is shoulder-friendly, provides more of a core challenge, and can help even out side-to-side strength imbalances. Above all, it’s simply a great exercise to “spice-up” your strength and conditioning program. Take a look at the video below and give the 1-Arm DB Bench Press a try!

 

 

 

Technique Tuesday: Barbell Rack Pull

In today’s edition of Technique Tuesday, Matt breaks down the Barbell Rack Pull. This is an effective exercise for grooving the hip hinge pattern, developing posterior chain strength, and helps to keep your athletes and clients out of any excessive extension. Watch as Matt coaches our good buddy and fresh college graduate “Nasty” Neil Baroody through this exercise!

 

Technique Tuesday: Goblet Squat

I apologize for the short hiatus, but Technique Tuesday is BACK, and today I’m going over the Goblet Squat. This exercise is a great early progression to begin grooving the squat pattern. As I mention in the video, a proper squat can be limited by mobility restrictions, but many times stability is the issue. Since the weight is held in front of the body at chest level in the Goblet Squat, the anterior core must really fire to keep the torso upright. This can significantly clean up squat technique for many people, and is one of the reasons I love the Goblet Squat. Check out the video and learn how to perform it correctly!

5 Things That Have Helped My Bench Press

Last summer, I wrote a blog about some things I’d been doing to try and improve my bench press (you can read that article HERE). If you know me or have read some of my posts, you know that the bench press is not my strongest lift. My best raw bench in competition is 310 lbs. and my best gym bench is 315 lbs. Certainly not numbers to brag about by any means, but I’m proud of them nonetheless as I’ve had to work hard to achieve them.

I’ve employed many methods over the last year or so to increase my bench and have been able to make some progress. Yesterday, I had a great heavy bench session, so I thought I’d share some things that I feel have been helping my bench press. They’re in no particular order, but it’s my hope that you might be able to use some of these strategies to get your bench numbers to budge, too!

1) Strengthening My Triceps

After catching the powerlifting bug after my first meet in December 2011, I enlisted the coaching and programming services of Tony Gentilcore. One thing Tony noticed was that, if I wanted to bench more weight, I needed to get my triceps stronger. Since working with Tony, I’ve made it a priority to increase the strength of my triceps, and I feel it’s paid great dividends in my bench press performance.

In all of my current programs, I always include some form of direct triceps work. While some may poo-poo on isolation exercises, they definitely have their place, and highly depend on your goals, strength levels, and training age, among other things. I’ve been performing a lot of band pressdowns, some skullcrushers here and there, TRX extensions, and close-grip bench and pushup variations. Including these exercises in my program, and utilizing various set/rep schemes, has helped me increase my triceps strength and hypertrophy.

Horseshoe

Gotta get those horseshoes!

2)      Changing My Grip Width

Building on my last point, I’ve also slightly narrowed my grip on the bench press to get my triceps more involved. I used to set my grip way out by the rings, which is the farthest acceptable grip width in powerlifting. I’ve brought my hands in about ½ an inch to an inch, and it’s allowed me to use the strength I’ve been developing in my triceps, and my press has felt stronger.

Grip width is a highly individual thing and you have to play around with it and choose what’s right for YOU. The primary reason I used to set my grip so wide was that the bar wouldn’t have to travel as far. However, as time has gone on and I’ve played around a bit, I’ve found that this might not be the best option for me, and have made a change for the better.

3)      Strengthening My “Pull”

I absolutely love most horizontal pulling exercises. Why? Because I want a back the size of Bane’s, obviously.

Bane

“You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.” BADASS!

Kidding (not really) aside, I particularly love dumbbell rows and their variations; Kroc Rows (heavy, high-rep dumbbell rows) are one of my favorite exercises to perform in the gym. I’ve been crushing pulling exercises in my training lately, and just finished 6 weeks of Kroc Rows (both with and without straps). To my delight, I’ve felt progressively stronger in all of my pulling exercises, and my bench press has felt stronger as well.

It’s not a huge secret that the stronger your pull, the stronger your press. A relatively equal strength ratio of pulling:pushing is important for bench press performance, but also for structural balance. For example, if you can bench press 315 lbs., ideally you should be able to perform a chin-up with about 315 lbs. of resistance, as well (bodyweight + external load).

As I mentioned, I’ve been performing Kroc Rows for the past 6 weeks, and I’ve also been including a fair share of TRX inverted row variations, TRX Y’s, reverse flyes, and some chin-ups. Just yesterday, I tried out some Meadows Rows, and am excited to do those for the next 6 weeks!

4)      Continuing to Learn

Talking to experienced coaches, powerlifters, and seeking out good information on the internet and in books has been integral to my progress. Also, being able to have several training partners has made a big difference for me. Having someone there to watch my technique, give me feedback, and make suggestions on the spot has been extremely valuable.

5)      Showing Up

Movie director Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Arguably the most important reason for my progress on the bench, or for progress towards any goal for that matter, is simply showing up and being consistent. I make my training sessions a priority and am sure to get all of my lifts in every week. There are days when I just don’t “have it,” when I don’t feel like benching, and I’ve gone through periods of time where my bench numbers stagnate. Remember: getting stronger is a process and it takes time. Progress isn’t always linear. Learn to embrace the process, and most importantly, show up!

I hope you can apply some of these tips to your training and see some improvements over time. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!