“Train as much as necessary, not as much as possible”
– Henk Kraaijenhof, in: Timothy Ferriss: The 4 Hour Body
“Do as much as necessary, not as much as possible”
– Henk Kraaijenhof, in: Timothy Ferriss: The 4 Hour Chef
It doesn’t happen too often that one’s phrase is cited in a bestseller, leave alone in two different bestsellers.
And Tim is right. A lot of our behavior as coaches is, often subconsciously, driven by anxieties.
One of these anxieties is the fear that we did not do enough, we did not give it all we got, we didn’t push the limit, that we are leaving something out ….
Anxieties are often miserable guidelines for effective behavior in the long term.
So where is the coaching philosophy and the science behind it?
We know that many athletes stopped their career or had significant breaks or never performed like they should have due to injuries. Which kind of injury?
Overload injury, since the underload injury does not exist! Or yes, it does, when untrained or undertrained people all of a sudden start to do things their body is not adequately prepared for.
Lifting heavy weights, causing back problems, or sprinting, causing hamstring or calf muscle pulls, etc.
But if one trains regularly, two or three times a week, this is unlikely to happen.
Many coaches tell me: “Henk, but injuries are part of the game”, I always reply: “they might be part of your game, they are definitely not part of my game !!!” If they really believe that it makes my job easier.
Looking back I am proud that none of my athletes had to undergo surgery when I coached them, and they were seldom or never absent due to injuries at crucial moments, like important competitions or championships.
An injury causes a setback in training, disruption of the planning, scar tissue and a weak spot in the tissue, and a scar in the brain, resulting in fear of repeating the injury leading to decreased self- confidence. Most of the time, the healing of the scar in the brain lasts much longer than the healing of the scar in the tissue.
Few coaches think about the relationship between the benefits of an exercise and the risk.
In my head I always calculate the benefit/risk ratio in the long-term; this might be a very effective exercise, but what is the risk of injury in the longer term. Some exercises are great for improvement in the short term, but very likely to injure the athlete in the long term.
A comparison: you have a headache, you take one aspirin, not 10, and not a grain of an aspirin tablet. Why not 10 aspirins? Your headache is gone, but you most likely have a hole in your stomach too. And there are also people who already get a hole in their stomach after taking just one aspirin.
My idea about training: take speed training.
I prefer to have a sprinter doing 3 good very fast runs , than 3 good ones followed by 7 less fast ones (fatigue), just because 10 is such a neat number. These 7 extra runs don’t give you the quality you are looking for. The sprinter is recruiting mainly slow fibers, and the risk of injury, overload, overtraining, comes from these last 7 runs, not from the first 3. If my athlete is undertrained- that is easy and quickly to solve, whereas overtraining is not.
What do I mean by this word “necessary”? To me “necessary” means what do we need to do to improve and progress. When the car is going in the right direction, why push?
When progress halts or improvement is slowing down it is time to change something. And it might even not necessarily mean training more or harder!
Train as much as necessary, not as much as possible means: look at the big picture, look at training load-effect relationship in the longer term.
Tim Ferriss understands.