Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Consistent Winning - nature's numbers.....

A few days ago on a blog I saw an old book mentioned that looked interesting. As I tend to do, I had a look on Amazon and ordered it and it has been a fascinating read that I am mulling over to see how I can test out or apply some of its ideas.

The focus of the book is about planning your training and rest so that you don't end up burnt out, ill or injured. Rather your training builds you up not tears you down. You need to rest and recover.

So far so good, but the template that the book develops are pretty interesting, particularly if you think about some of the premises of DeVany's Evolutionary Fitness.

DeVany in his essay talks about Power Laws as the pattern of human movement:

9. An evolutionary activity pattern is mixed and varied. It contains brief, in-
termittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid pe-
riods and play. Healthy activities mimic the patterns of wild animals and
contain elements of chaos and order. Power laws that are typical of self-
organized, far-from-equilibrium, dynamic systems, describe such patterns.

10. Power law training, which is developed in the book, mimics the ancestral
activity pattern and promotes hormone drives that counter hyperinsulemia
and build lean body mass.

So power laws describe the "natural" way we move - "brief, intermittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid periods and play". I mentioned this recently.

Anyway, the picture that seems to come across is to keep things random. But what does that mean?

OK - keep that idea for a minute.

Fibonacci Numbers

Consistent Winning builds its argument, its pattern for training and rest on the basis of what is called the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

This is a sequence that apparently occurs a lot in nature. You can build the sequence as follows:

start with 0
then 1
now the next number in the sequence is the sum of the previous 2, so the third number is 1 (0+1)
then next will be 2 (1+1)
the next will be 3 (2+1)
then 5
then 8
then 13 etc

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 etc

There is a lot about this here.

The fascinating thing is that these numbers crop up again and again in nature. This video explains it

or here

So this pattern is everwhere. It is also a power law....

Now the authors of Consistent Winning apply this pattern to training and rest days. The authors noticed that athletes tended to get injured and to peak after certain consistent periods of training:

After three weeks of training, he hit a peak then caught a cold. After another five weeks of training he peaked and then was injured. Exactly 3 more weeks of training ended with a peak performance. Athletic performance evidently did conform to a mathematical structure and was predictable."
(notice that 3 and 5 are fibonacci numbers).

Elliott Waves

It is not just the fibonacci sequence that is of interest to this book though....they are use the related idea of the Elliott Wave.

The Elliott wave principle is a form of technical analysis that attempts to forecast trends in the financial markets and other collective activities. It is named after Ralph Nelson Elliott (1871–1948), an accountant who developed the concept in the 1930s: he proposed that market prices unfold in specific patterns, which practitioners today call Elliott waves. Elliott published his views of market behavior in the book The Wave Principle (1938), in a series of articles in Financial World magazine in 1939, and most fully in his final major work, Nature’s Laws – The Secret of the Universe (1946).[1] Elliott argued that because humans are themselves rhythmical, their activities and decisions could be predicted in rhythms, too.

You can read more on the idea on wikipedia but you get the idea - there are waves in terms of performance. Things improve, fall back a bit, then improve even further. Notice that the peaks of the waves are fibonacci numbers! There are 1, 3, 5,13, 21 etc.

Anyway, the Elliott Wave translates the fibonacci sequence into a graph:

We can correlate the advancements or upward movements to trainin peridos and the corrections or downward movements to rest periods....or if rest is not taken, to periods when you will be prone to illness or injury.

So, your performance will tend ot go up and down to a predictable pattern. When it goes down....take a rest period.

The book goes into some complex training sequences with periods of rest followed by traiing periods all built around these waves. For example if you want to peak next week he recommends a 3 day cycle:

  1. active rest - e.g. very easy jog
  2. rest - 30 min easy walk maximum - preferably total rest
  3. rest - 30 min easy walk maximum - preferably total rest
  4. train easy
  5. train easy/moderate
  6. Peak


It is a very interesting read.

I suppose what I find intriguing is how this apparently natural pattern can be built into our activities to promote rest and better, healthier performance.

Lots of questions!

  • How does this relate to the "random" activity pattern described by DeVany?
  • If this sequence is so universal, how can we use it more in training?


Sifter said...

Gee, I did not realize that strengthening and conditioning need be so complex. Power laws, Fibonacci numbers, Elliot Wave theory.. goodness gracious, all this time I thought you need to move and lift heavy stuff. And lift heavy stuff while moving. And move some more.
Best conditioned guys I've ever seen were Rangers, a Dutch Marine and some Golani fellows. I'm certain they did things far simpler.

Zach said...

Awesome post. I impinged my shoulder awhile back, and it happened right when in hindsight I should have rested, I was getting all sorts of signals about it.

As regards Marines, Rangers, etc., the type of regimented training that they do (speaking from experience) gets you in awesome shape. If you've ever seen a 45-year-old tip top Marine, they look great, they also are torn up in the knees, and if they retire at 45 looking like they're 35, 5 years after retirement many look like they've aged 20 years. When injuries and a more sedentary lifestyle take their toll, a former military athlete doesn't know a routine that can get him/her out of a rut and back to their former selves.

I hear what you're saying Sifter, really do. But I think the point of this post was that the regimented military training is the complex conditioning. It's simple on the one hand, but over the years it can be quite damaging for many.

I have gone from 3 a week 2 hour gym sessions, to 1 a week 25 minute session with a weekly sprint session. I add unscheduled play with kids, and sometimes break out the 25 minute sessions into 2 15 minute sessions per week. It's far simpler, and on an EF diet, I've gotten better results than when I was a 16-year old brute.

Jeff said...

Very cool post and makes sense to me. The power law stuff is what sold me on EF originally.

This falls into what I am currently doing with Body By Science style HIT once per week. Like Zach I have limited myself to lifting once a week super intense, a sprint session(or sometimes 0 or 2) and walking or play in between.

In a sense the complex in appearance is actually very simple. It would be too hard to code the exact sequences in DNA. It is easy to code the algorithm or recipe. This happens a lot from my understanding in biology as it gives the best results with least amount of what needs to be replicated.

Great post as usual. Thanks,