Barbells and Bell Curves, Part 3: Anti-Fragility
6 min read

Barbells and Bell Curves, Part 3: Anti-Fragility

Barbells and Bell Curves, Part 3: Anti-Fragility
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

The 70/30 Principle, Review:

(1) 70% of people should spend 70% of their training time doing the thing they want to excel at.
(2) The best / worst 30% (15% worst, 15% best) at any activity would likely see benefit from up to 70% supplemental training.

Let's recap what we've learned already, getting us this far:

  • Strength and conditioning "aren't your problem" past approximately 2 SD above average, or a 90% threshold.
  • That is , you're probably in the 10-15% strongest and best conditioned in your sport.
  • You spend 70-80% of your training time getting better at your sport.
  • You're good enough at your sport where "skin in the game" is unquestioned (a ballpark estimate of 1,000 hours or 5 years of dedicated training).

If you haven't realized, after 5 years of dedicated training, that you have the potential – and this realization is supported by others' observations and expertise – to become a world class athlete, then you don't have what it takes.  Period.

However, that is not to say that you cannot continually improve.  It simply mean's you've tapped 90% (or so) of your genetic potential already and the rest (statistically as we've already covered) is a perpetually more steep uphill battle.  So, step up or shut up buttercup!

The 70/30 Principle, again:

The problem with "going medium" (a.k.a. "active recovery", 70% intensity) is that it's often too intense to actually promote recovery, and simultaneously not intense enough stimulate the growth of new limits (source).

In other words, don't waste time milling around in the middle.  This doesn't mean "go hard or go home."  It means that you need to think strategically about your resources (including time, logistics, and training partners / facilities).

The 70/30 Principle: (3) 70% of our sport specific training time should be spent on the (15%) highest-reward or (15%) lowest-risk activities.

Let's do some quick math again.  Since you've got skin in the game (right?!), let's say you've bumped your weekly training time up to 10 hours per week:

  • Total Training Time (100%): 10 hours / week

Adhering to the first definition of The 70/30 Principle (above):

  • Sport-Specific Practice (80%):  8 hours / week
  • Strength & Conditioning (10%): 1 hour / week

Note, that while we were working our way up to the second definition of The 70/30 Principle, strength and conditioning occupied 20% of our training time.  However, it's reasonable to assume that it takes a smaller proportion of our overall training time to maintain a given level of strength than it does to advance it; and one session every 7 - 10 days appears sufficient for the former (source, source).

Regarding conditioning, we can manipulate various intensities in or outside of a sport-specific context by simply adding low-intensity (i.e. low-risk) volume (source).

This brings us to our third definition of The 70/30 Principle.  What to do with our sport-specific training time:

  • Total Training Time (100%):  10 hours / week
  • Strength & Conditioning (10%, maintenance): 1 hour / week
  • Sport-Specific Training (80%):  8 hours / week
  • Low-Risk and / or High-Reward (70% or 80%):  5-6 hours

If you're keeping track that's 8 hours of total sport-specific training with about 3 hours dedicated to the lowest-risk activities and another 3 hours dedicated to the highest-reward activities.  In other words, about half of our total training time (10 hours) is spent on the lowest-risk / highest reward activities (5-6 hours total or 3 hours each).  If you absolutely must, we still have 2 hours (out of the 8) to "waste" or rather experiment with.

Perhaps experiment means margin for error, or "insurance", or simply "having fun."  As we'll cover the former two below, that later is likely the fuel you'll need to survive all that "hustle and grind."  Remember, grinding destroys things, leaves them in dust, so you better make damn sure to enjoy the hustle.

Low-Risk / High-Reward Training:

Dan John, in his book Now What, describes "The Prisoner's Paradox."  That is, if you only had one hour to train (per week for example), what would be the best use of that time?  Obviously you can scale this to multiple hours / week.  Perhaps, just as obviously since your skin in the game is unquestionable (!) you should be able to self-assess what is giving you the highest "return on investment."

  • Sport Specific Training (100%): 8 hours / week
  • High-Reward Training (~35%): Prisoner's Paradox, 3 hours / week

What about "Low Risk" training?  This is pretty easy to figure out as well.  As yourself, what environment, drills, circumstances, etc. contribute most to my learning and skill development within my sport / discipline?

E.G. drilling plays (no contact), batting practice, free throws, time under tension, putting green, etc.

You could also think of this as a contextualized or rather intentional "warm up"; and by "warm up" I mean things people usually do to "get the blood flowing" and have little relevance or specificity and functionality – fix this with context.

  • Sport-Specific Training (100%): 8 hours / week
  • High-Reward Training (35-40%): Prisoner's Paradox, 3 hours / week
  • Low-Risk Training (35-40%): Functional / Specific Movement at "Warm Up" intensity, 3 hours / week
  • Experimental (20-30%): 2 hours / week

Photo by Jordan Whitfield / Unsplash

The 10% That Matters:

If you're really math savvy, you've caught on that 80% (sport specific) + 10% (strength and conditioning) != 100%.  You're right.  This is where we get to have fun, by focusing on specificity and longevity.

Technically, these may fall under the umbrella of "Strength & Conditioning"; however the emphasis is no longer on gross-general movement patterns (push, pull, hinge, squat), but sport-specific movements or attributes.

Specificity for example may look like incorporating Olympic lifts, Litvinov Workouts, or Anaconda Strength.  In other words, we're looking to emulate our sport inside the weight room / off the field.  In my humble opinion this is where a lot of people screw up.  They jump to this option too soon and conflate something the looks and sounds like a duck for an actual duck.

If you're feeling masochistic, scower the internet for "strength training for rock climbing"; then ask yourself how hard the writers of those programs (or their trainees) are actually climbing on real rock.  You shouldn't be surprised to find that if there's any efficacy at all, those programs are much closer to what I've outlined here than God knows what is on

Longevity, can be thought of in a few different ways:

  • Lifting for "armor"
  • Mobility for imbalances and p/rehab
  • Sleep, Nutrition, Recovery, etc.

The later two don't even have to be part of your budgeted training volume (10 hours / week in the examples above).  Listen to podcasts about health / nutrition while driving; actually do some functional warms up (stretching / mobility) before or after training or first thing in the morning.  Even in terms of recovery, you probably need to sleep more / better, and a cold shower once in while never hurt anyone.

The idea of this last 10% of our budgeted training time is that it is an investment in the future 90%.  If you're this far into the game, you probably want to keep doing whatever your thing is as well as you can for as long as you can – forever!


Total Training:

  • Total Training Time (100%):  10 hours / week
  • Maintenance Strength & Conditioning (10%): 1 hour / week
  • Prehab / Tertiary Training (10%): 1 hour / week
  • Sport Specific Training / High-Reward (30%): 3 hours / week
  • Sport Specific Training / Low-Risk (30%): 3 hours / week
  • Sport Specific Training / Fun-Experimental (20%): 2 hours / week

Sport-Specific Training:

  • Total Sport Specific Training Time (80%): 8 hours / week
  • Highest-Reward Training (35%): 3 hours / week
  • Lowest-Risk Training (35%): 3 hours / week
  • Fun / Experimental Training (within sport context, 30%): 2 hours / week

In Part 4 we'll look out some questions and confounding variables – that is, exceptions that prove the proverbial rule (hence why I dubbed The 70/30 "Principle").  These are the biases, outliers, and noise that