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WORDS Rob Jackson

In the search for health and fitness, we often find ourselves looking for anything that may give us the ‘edge’. Whether improved aerobic capacity, more defined abs or a new deadlift max, most serious trainers will spend time, money and effort searching for the shortcut to their ultimate goal.

Whilst it’s great to push the limits, many trainers spend so much energy trying to perfect the “one per centers” that they lose touch with the basic 30-50 per centers. This is referred to as ‘Majoring in the Minors’ - perfecting the fine details at the expense of the bigger picture.

“What supplements are you taking?” is usually one of the first questions asked whenever there is a nutrition discussion. However, you rarely hear the question: “how many calories are you consuming per day?”

Dr. Mike Israetel (PhD in Sport Physiology and professor of Exercise Science at the University of Central Missouri) looked at the variables within nutritional plans and highlighted where the greatest results can be seen (Figure 1). Yet when we look at most trainers, their time/effort/money invested is best represented by Figure 2.

Breaking Figure 1 down further, Dr Israetel proposes that: Calories In vs Out. ~50% of your success will come from your total caloric balance. Simply stated, if trying to add muscle, you must have surplus calories; and if trying to cut fat you must have a calorie deficit.

This is such a basic tenant of exercise and metabolism - yet how many people accurately track their daily/weekly calorie intake? There are literally hundreds of free apps available now that will allow you to easily input your foods and provide accurate calorie totals. This is your first point of call regardless of your goal – if you don’t know how many calories you consume, you’re missing the biggest key to nutritional success.

Macronutrients: Roughly 30 per cent of your success will come from how you manipulate your macronutrients – Protein/Carbs/Fats. This means that once energy balance has been sorted, your next biggest gains will come from how those calories are divided between P/C/F. This will vary between different nutritional plans but once again, if you don’t track them, how do you know if you are consuming P30/C20/F50 or P50/C30/F20?? The best thing is, the same app you’re calculating calories will usually give you macro breakdowns as well.


Nutrient Timing: How you spread out your meals each day (3 large v 6 small) and their specific timing (pre/peri/post-workout, am v pm etc) will give you about 10 per cent of your results.
Food Composition: Refers to choices such as whether your chicken is organic or not, the glycemic index of your carbs or if your vegetables are freshly picked or come out of a tin/freezer. The 'quality' of the foods we consume is only worth about 5per cent of our outcome.

Many people stress about purchasing only organic free range options and fresh produce when (apart from ethical concerns) there is very little nutritional difference and minimal impact on overall dietary success.

Supplements: Powders, pills and potions are likely only giving you approximately five per cent. Sure, protein powders can play an essential part in fulfilling your macros but it’s unlikely the 2g of BCAA is giving you a massive boost in performance.

Many trainers have perfectly measured doses of supplement powders and certified-organic-steel-cut-oats consumed within a specific PWO window… yet don’t know the total number of calories or macros (P/C/F) they are consuming each day.

This is a perfect example of ‘majoring in the minors’ – spending lots of time/effort/money on areas that provide minor improvement rather than on those areas that create major change.
For 80 per cent of your greatest nutritional gains, simply track and adjust your total calories and macros (P/C/F) to fit your nutritional plan. Ask yourself: are you are you ticking off 1%ers or are you simply majoring in the minors?

Pareto’s Principle states that 80 per cent of our results come from 20 per cent of our causes and in part 1 we displayed this idea in relation to nutrition. We will now apply this same concept of ‘magnitude’ to our training in order to direct where we should be focusing our time/effort/money to avoid ‘Majoring in the Minors’.

Should you train the whole body for 60 minutes three times per week? Or do a 30-minute body part split six times per week? Should you use a barbell and Olympic lifting shoes or go barefoot and use only bodyweight? There are so many training variables that it is easy to get caught up in the fine detail and therefore end up majoring in the minors.
Carrying on from Dr Israetel’s work, I propose the following ‘Input for Training Success’.

Total Training Volume: this refers to the total amount of work completed for a given period (let’s consider a week). This could be measured in kilograms, kilometres, hours etc. There is a minimum threshold of volume that needs to be crossed before any gains in performance can be realised and this will vary between goals (strength v aerobic capacity) and individuals.
This doesn’t always mean more is better. Refining and controlling total volume may improve results. For example, if you’re struggling to gain lean muscle, perhaps cut back the extra hours of running, basketball and spin classes to focus purely on lifting.

That said, you can’t expect to improve aerobic capacity from a 10-minute walk once a week any more than lifting 10kg per week is going to make you ‘jacked’. Total work matters and you should be monitoring ‘Total load’. For example, lifters may record sets x reps x weight = tonnage.

Frequency and intensity: how many sessions per week and what intensity you train at should be adjusted to suit your goal. For example, three 30-minute sessions of varied high-intensity sprints will achieve very different training outcomes than just one 90-minute slow jog (they are the same total training volume), just as one 100kg squat will yield very different results to 10 x 10kg squats.

It’s important to recognise that intensity is inversely proportional to duration, so the longer the session goes the lower intensity of training. This is why you’ll often see people completing compound movements such as squats and deadlifts before accessory lifts such as leg curls and lunges.

Modality: free weights or machines for strength? Run on a treadmill or run outdoors for cardio? Rowing machine or spin class for burning calories? It’s easy to endlessly debate the merits of one over the other when both are likely to be fine and provide variety itself to maintain interest. Bike sprints have increased leg mass and squats have been used to shed body fat… there are many tools for the job.

Technology and Gadgets: there is no shortage of gadgets to record, track and display every parameter of your training. These can often be a distraction from the training itself and do little to enhance performance in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, this is an area that people are investing a lot more of their time/effort/money as new products are released every week.

Determine the total amount of training time you have available per week and training frequency (for example: two x 60-minute sessions v three x 40 minutes per week). Understand that the longer the session, the lower the intensity so schedule your most demanding activities earlier in the session.
Vary the equipment you use to suit your goal but don’t limit your thinking to believe that there is only one tool for a given job. At the end of the day, it’s not about your outfit, your protein shaker or that slick app… it’s the weights you move, kilometres you run and the sweat you create which will show results.

Rob Jackson is a Strength & Conditioning coach with over 20 years’ experience in health, fitness and high performance. Specialising in elite performance, Rob has a track record of success in both NRL and AFL with the Melbourne Storm NRL and St Kilda AFL clubs. He is currently the Strength & Conditioning Manager at Melbourne Football Club and also creates and implements customised high-performance gym facilities around Australia. |

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