Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Is A Magic Number

When I was a young kid, there was no "Cartoon Channel". Your window of opportunity for cartoon viewing was limited to the 5 or so hours the networks dedicated to children - Saturday mornings. It was a mindless, but pleasurable way to burn up a half-day of your weekend. During commercial breaks and at the top of the hour, I'd switch channels to ABC to make sure I didn't miss any "Schoolhouse Rock!" episodes. One of the first segments ever (and one of my favorites) was "Three Is A Magic Number":

There's a lot of wisdom in that. Things, good or bad, often come in threes.

*Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift = 3

*Clean & Jerk, Snatch, Press = 3

*3 x 10 = a classic rep scheme

*5-3-1 = Jim Wendler's Program (three rep schemes)

*Three Weeks = about as long as you can really, really push it

*Six Weeks (three weeks x 2) = overtraining (if you insist on continuing to push it anyway)

*Nine Weeks (three weeks x 3) = injury (if you ignored everything until now)

*Twelve Weeks = three months, a pretty standard duration of a meso/peaking-cycle

The following graphic depicts the RKC system's basic exercises. Three outer circles surround swirling transitionary spaces and a core where we find the center of the RKC universe, the swing. Although the lines are solid, it is not meant to be a static model. If it were animated, the components would rotate, swell, and contract and, as they did, exercises would at times be more prominent and sometimes disappear as they become obscured by others.

RKC System Basic Exercises

At first we'd swim in crystal-clear water, and we'd think, Hey, this is deep water here - we're real divers. Then one day the instructor took us to the edge of the continental shelf, about a mile off Puerto Rico. As we approached it we could see light blue and then suddenly dark blue, a dramatic dividing line. We were in about sixty feet of water, and we swam to the edge, and looked over. It just dropped away, a slope of eighty degrees, and you could see that the slope was teeming with life, finally disappearing into darkness. The image stuck: life thriving at the edge, and I've thought about it many times since, kind of iconic for the creativity at the edge of chaos.'

Chris's image was indeed powerful. And it turns out to be more than mere iconography, because there is good evidence that evolution is particularly innovative in such waters, poised between the chaos of the near shore and the frigid stability of the deep ocean.
Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaosp. 187

I often wonder if the "what-the-heck" effect is nothing more than a curious resulting order that emerges from a seemingly chaotic concoction of solid exercises. In truth, there is probably little that is chaos, just unexamined, and I hope the visual above may perhaps shed some light on the topic.


dasic said...

Hello Boris,

Once again, good day to you.
This is one of your post which I thoroughly enjoy. ( It should go straight into Best of Squat Rx )

Of course another classic 3s would be : Push , Pull , Squat/Deadlift. and go at it.

I never lived in the 70s i was born in 1989 but that was a very nice video and I'm probably going to use it for teaching my primary math classes as well. thanks!

Out of curiosity what subjects do you teach?

I'm currently undergoing a geography teaching scholarship in the National university of Singapore.


Aaron Friday said...

When you relate the exercises so closely to each other, then the "what the heck" effect is just the "of course" effect. If one gets stronger in general, then by the very definition of "general," one gets stronger at many things.

My taiji instructor values supplemental practices that are basically the same as the taiji he has mastered, but different enough to shed some additional perspective on his core field of mastery. This is because he wants to perfect his already mastered art.

I personally think it's a waste of time and effort unless you're competing and/or making money with your art, or are on a life quest to wring the last 5% out of it in your lifetime.

Heinlein wrote, "Specialization is for insects," and I agree with that sentiment. The difference between grasping 85% of something versus 95% is not worth the many years of your life spent gaining that extra, but marginal increase of knowledge. Not when you could spend those years gaining 85% of some other, unrelated, field of knowledge.

Have you ever read Magister Ludi by Herman Hesse? A guy spends his entire life becoming the master of an isolated and specialized school of intellect for genius students. At the end of the story, he's outgrown the school and retires from his job as master to a "simpler" life as a common person. He jumps into a pond, has a heart attack because the water is too cold, and he dies.

Boris said...

Hi Dasic,
I teach high school Japanese language and a course about 'cultural issues'. I coach sometimes.

Hi Aaron,
I like that - the "of course" effect. It's not magic by any means, but properly coached and executed KB work often (but not always) has as good or better carry over to, for example, cleans than barbell squats and barbell deadlifts. Considering the straight poundages, that's notable. Not mysterious to people familiar w. KBs and full hip extension/development, but significant.

Specialization for people w. no vested interest in specializing is kind of silly, isn't it? On the other hand, grasping no one thing even close to 50% isn't exactly enviable - and in the gym (and probably everywhere else), there are a lot of people like that.

That book sounds good Aaron, but you just gave away the ending (?)!

Aaron Friday said...

You're right, it's definitely worth it to get good at something before moving on, and 50% is not a good level to jump off of. I leave it to individuals to assess when their efforts approach diminishing marginal returns.

As for the book, if the ending told the whole story, we'd all read the last half-inch of 100 books and have PhDs is book-endings. Only the whole story tells the whole story.

matt said...

"*5-3-1 = Jim Wendler's Program (three rep schemes)
*Three Weeks = about as long as you can really, really push it"

I have been noticing that after the 3 week heavy cycle in 5-3-1 I am totally completely wiped out. I need a few days of doing absolutely nothing.

Boris said...

See, it really IS a magic number!!!

I just bought the ebooklet yesterday Matt. I haven't had a chance to read much of it, but it looks great (I've always loved Wendler's stuff).

Boris said...

I'll get on it. Thanks!

matt said...

Nice Boris. I hope you enjoy it.

I moved to doing some 32kg snatches. It has taken its toll on my hands. I had gone a few months without any problems with the lighter weights but after I moved up I had some problems with blood blisters. Would you happen to have any tips? Or maybe it just takes some time getting used to the heavier weight.

Boris said...

How much volume are you doing Matt? Is it both hands and where are the blisters? Do you have callous build-up?

I'd like to see your snatch w. the 32kg sometime.

matt said...

Hmm..I bet I started off with way too much volume. I think I did around 140 my first workout and 132 the next workout with the 32kg. I think a little too ambitious. I was used to the 28kg so I figured it would not be that big of a difference.

My callous seemed to do OK. It was new blisters that formed that were the problem. Both hands had them in different spots too. On the left there was a blister that formed in the middle of my hand and that is it. On the right I had 3 or 4, the worst was in between my pointer finger and my tumb.

If you have some free time sometime I could show you the technique.

Boris said...

That seems like a lot of reps if you've just started w. the 32kg, but then again maybe not.

Is your handle smooth? That's a lot of blisters.

I don't know if I'll be able to see anything, but let's get together to train sometime soon. My own training could use a kick in the ass.

yadmit said...

So, to clear up my noggin' on this image of the RKC System, basically, if one did three days a week it might look like this?:

Monday: Swing/Dead/Squat/Get Up

Wednesday: Swing/Dead/Snatch/Get Up

Friday: Swing/Snatch/Clean/Press

Not necessarily in that order and certainly variations of deads and squat movements... but is that it in a nutshell?


Boris said...

The image is more of a graphic organizer than any kind of training template. Though a TGU and a squat may not, on first glance, have anything in common, on closer inspection, they have a lot in common. Dan John actually talked about this at a recent RKC, citing Wittgenstein's family resemblance - it is a great way to look at the basic RKC exercises.