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The Devil is Not in the Details

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

The devil is NOT in the details

The saying “the devil is in the details” derives from an old German proverb “Der liebe Gott steckt im detail” which translates to “God is in the detail.” What this means in a practical, real world sense is that the details are what is most important. Unfortunately, I don’t think this applies to the performance world and I actually think the opposite is true.

Expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done with a specific number of sets, reps, rest time, loads, speeds, range of motion, length of mesocycles etc. causes much more confusion and complications than it really needs to.

I don’t think human physiology is that delicate, precious, and especially not that predictable.

I want to preface the rest of this article that I’m talking within the context of working with team sport athletes. Not barbell athletes who are training for a PR in a few specific movements for a specific date.

Do you think that we can outsmart our body? “We must run precisely 1,200 yards week one, then 1,400 yards week two, and 1,600-yards week 3 to ensure a proper progression and adaptation.” How do we even know that? What if we should just run until we feel like we are about to overdo it? And then take a day or maybe two days to recover and then do it again the following days/weeks? Don’t you think we might actually elicit greater and faster adaptations if we just push ourselves, let ourselves recover, and then do it again? Maybe we don’t need 48 hours of recovery between sprinting sessions? Maybe we really only need 24, or somewhere in the middle. The more and more we worry about the details probably facilitates more underdosing than we realize and at times overdosing.

Go 4-5 weeks without following a plan. Spend your time in the gym doing something challenging. Don’t worry about the specific exercise, ROM, sets, reps, rest times, % 1RM etc. Just challenge yourself. See how much you’ll grow over that time. You will feel free. You will become more creative and probably learn a ton about yourself and the way you respond to different stimuli. And after some time learning about yourself through some trial and error, you might make quicker gains than you’d expect.

This all stems from people in our field thinking that we are more important than we really are. Do we really know that 8 reps is the optimal number of 10 yard sprints before we fall off in performance? Or before we put our hamstrings in danger? (just used the number 8 because I’ve heard that somewhere, don’t remember where). Some days we can probably do 20 reps or even 30 reps! Who knows? Just from my personal experience, I always feel like I can run faster and jump higher 3 games into pick up basketball compared to during the first game, and I know the number of sprinting actions taken during a basketball game are much more than 8. Maybe the research tells us one story, but that’s only one story. Research can control for many variables. Real life can’t. There are a lot of studies out there that demonstrate effective programming strategies over the course of 6, 8, 12 weeks. That’s great, but then what? What should you do after you just went through a 12-week triphasic plan? Who cares? It is not going to matter in the long run. Just keep expanding as an athlete. Continue to broaden the athlete’s ability to express force in as many contexts as possible.

Consistent and frequent loading and other stimuli (even without a periodized approach) is better than the most science-based program ever if that program doesn’t last a life time.

Imagine two people with two different training strategies. One athlete follows a periodized approach with detailed micro- meso- and macro-cycles. Every 4-6 weeks there is a subsequent de-load week. There is always a progression to intensify certain physiological characteristics whether that be aerobic capacity, maximum strength, power production, etc. The other athlete trains just as frequently, without any real plan other than training all the same physiological characteristics with high intent. Who do you think is better developed or more prepared to participate in their sport after 4 months? How about after 8 months? How about after 1 year or even two years? I would put money down that you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference when you see the two compete in their respective sports.

All in all, the devil is not in the details. The big picture matters much, much more.

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