Full Disclosure: This was original a response to a t-nation training log/forum that I’ve fleshed out a little bit for the purposes of the blog.
Hey let’s talk garbage volume why not?
I love the internet
I feel like an idea that either doesn’t get enough exposure, isn’t understood, or perhaps isn’t appreciated is the ability to perform UNDER fatigue. I believe this notion resonates with me due to a combat sports background, and you’ll most likely see that with others with similar backgrounds. It’s also a similar principle in the world of armed combatives, recognizing the difference between firing off a round when you are well rested vs trying to fire when your hands are shaking and you’re gasping for air. That’s why those folks in the biathlon are nuts.
It is absolutely true that fatiguing yourself in training prevents maximal performance. If you are super/giant setting between sets of heavy work, you will NOT be able to lift as much weight compared to if you did your sets and rested. And resting LONGER is better than resting shorter, for the sake of full recovery. And it’s also true that, if you want to get better at moving maximal weight for a single rep, you NEED to accumulate a decent amount of time practicing lifts at close to your max weight.
Especially true for highly technical moves
However, one has to ask: are we TRAINING, or are we practicing? This is a clear distinction that MUST be made prior to performing/analyzing training, because it significantly dictates the approach necessary.
If one’s goal is to lift maximal weight for a single rep, it is IMPERATIVE that they practice, and when one practices, they must practice PERFECTLY. This means long rest periods and no-fatigue, so that maximal performance can be achieved and replicated. If you practice poor form due to fatigue, you will replicate poor form when the time comes to attempt to produce good form under heavy load.
However, if one’s goal is to get stronger (not better), they may engage in TRAINING rather than practice. When one trains, their goal is not perfect practice, but to instead become stronger (or faster, or better conditioning, etc. Basically not better, but improved at attributes), and this means putting oneself in less than ideal situations so that adaptation can occur. Confusion exists when it relates to lifting, because sometimes a movement that we would normally practice becomes a movement we employ in training, and in turn, the movement is executed differently for the sake of achieving different goals.
In the case of performance under fatigue, one intentionally induces fatigue so that one can, in turn, learn to perform under fatigue and adapt to that stimulus. In combat sports, this is a common practice, with many classes starting off with an exhaustive “warm up” so that students begin training fatigued and work from there. Keeping your hands up is easy when you’re fresh; it’s miserable after 200 push ups, but the student that can keep their hands up THEN can surely keep them up when they are fresh, and then some.
Alternatively, you can just not keep your hands up starting at round 1
The same holds true in athletic performance. Improving one’s ability to output strength under fatigue will improve one’s ability to output strength when NOT under fatigue. For some reason, the internet feels otherwise, claiming that it is IMPERATIVE for one to be at maximal ability to perform to obtain maximal gains (ie: pre-workout consumed, ideal time of the day, hearty meal beforehand, properly warmed up, ideal rest periods, etc), to the point that same trainees will simply NOT train if they are unable to create the most ideal training environment, believing that they are “wasting gains.” However, a very rudimentary understanding of basic physical training reveals otherwise.
Say your max deadlift is 400lbs. Now, say I have you run a half mile and immediately deadlift afterwards. Say you can only pull 350lbs under that state of fatigue. Now what if we keep repeating this until you can eventually deadlift 400lbs under this state of fatigue. Would you reasonably believe that your 1rm on the deadlift did not improve during this time? Or do we understand that, the exhausted athlete that can match the fresh athlete will exceed him when both athletes are equally rested?
So what about garbage volume? In the context of fatigue generation, I think it does exactly what it needs to do: it fatigues the trainee. Throwing in garbage sets of rows, chins, pull aparts, squats, etc, prevents the trainee from getting adequate rest and forces them to train while not fully recovered SUCH THAT, when granted the opportunity to recover, they do better. That it can result in some additional volume accumulation, all the better, but in truth, for me at least, I see it as a chance to train being strong while tired.
In addition, one must recognize the periodized nature of training has an organic way of letting garbage volume in and out of training. In the off season, this volume can flourish, and the trainee can add onto it to greater and greater degrees. Paired with surplus calories, this allows a trainee to grow, get stronger, and accumulate a significant degree of fatigue. Once a need arises in the trainee to be able to perform at their best, this garbage volume is reduced and eventually eliminated, GIVING the trainee that opportunity for more sessions of perfect practice and reducing the fatigue to the point that recovery can occur and, with it, significant growth. In my own training, I find more and more ways to get in volume when given the opportunity, to include supet/giant sets and daily training on top of regular training such that, once a competition nears, I can reduce all of this and truly be toward my best when the time comes.