Correlations and qualifications of athletes: An analogy

As the title says, I'm not exactly skilled when it comes to auto work. However, I hope the following analogy here at least makes sense. If not, feel free to berate my lack of automotive restoration knowledge in the comments section. But just for the sake of discussion, let's consider the following.

As far as what correlates to increases in performance, let’s use an analogy here. Let’s say you are restoring a classic car. At this point, the car needs almost everything. The body is intact; however, the paint is badly scratched and faded, it has no engine, etc. At this point, the car is similar to an athlete who is just getting started in his or her sport. If we were using powerlifting as an example, this would be a lifter with very, very little experience.

At this point, anything you do that has some logic will bring your car closer to being fully restored. You may start to work on getting an engine first. Next, you might focus on fixing other mechanical issues. Here, the car still looks like shit, but at least it's drivable. It may not be a high performance vehicle yet, but it can at least do something other than sit in your garage and take up space. This, in turn, would be an athlete with some training experience, but still of lower rating. If this is a lifter, he or she would be of Class III or maybe the low end of Class II.

After this, you may decide to start fixing the aesthetic issues with the car. You remove the dents, scratches, rust, or any other things that may be holding the exterior back. You then get it painted and buy some nice wheels for it, along with a higher-end set of tires. After this, you may decide to start to detail the interior and exterior. Pretty soon, your ugly but operational car is now looking pretty good. It isn’t the best of the best, but at least it looks the part. This would be an athlete who is adequate to good but not highly skilled enough to call great. If this was a lifter, he or she would be Class II up to the CMS level.

Following the work you have put in before, you no longer want your car to just look like a high performance vehicle. You now want it to also be considered the baddest on the block. At this point, you may start to tweak the engine. You will need to really find the most specific things that will make your car perform the way you want. This is the point where your car is on par with an athlete who is considered to be great or the best at what he does. If this was lifting, this car would be a MS or higher lifter.

Now, let’s think about what you did. At first the car had nothing at all. This would be like a lifter who steps foot in a gym and has never seriously lifted nor has any idea of how to perform the lifts. By putting an engine in, you are essentially teaching the lifter how to perform the lifts and correcting issues that may be causing technique to break. There is no need to pull out tons of general accessory work other than the basics to correct weaknesses because weak points haven’t yet been defined. (This would be like painting and detailing without the ability to drive it). There also is no engine, so advanced modifications are nonexistent. (This would be like engaging in highly advanced special exercises or advanced forms of periodization). At this point, the best correlation is the very basic techniques followed by basic bodyweight movements and strengthening of the prime areas (hip girdle, shoulder girdle, abdominals, low back, and mobility). The highest correlation at this point will come from simple means.

The second step is getting your shitty but drivable car to at least appear road-worthy and something of which you are proud to say you've worked on. This would be similar to using more directed general exercises (strengthening the triceps, upper back, glutes, etc.) for areas that seem to be lagging. The next step would be to start introducing more specialized movements and directing them towards strengthening the actual movement as opposed to weak structural areas. This is when your training will become more directed and simply performing the movement and very general strengthening or mobility work will cease to correlate.

The last step would be to make your now good-looking and fully operational car perform to the greatest extent of its abilities. At this point, you may start using advanced modifications to make the engine more powerful. (To relate to training: schemes like concentrated loading, shock method, high levels of band tension, etc.). However, what can’t be overlooked is the need to perform regular maintenance on the vehicle to keep it in the best shape possible. You may be doing all of the basics like changing the oil and rotating the tires, but maybe you have an issue that needs repaired (this would be things like mobility, general work, and some specialized preparatory or developmental movements to strengthen weak areas, but all at lower volumes). And don’t forget to actually perform. You need to drive the car (competitive exercises at varying intensities).

Many variables to consider...

For each level of qualification, there are many things that can be changed as the athlete becomes more advanced. These include, but are not limited to, exercise selection; periodization schemes; and, depending on the sport, other variables such as equipment, supplementation, tactical preparation, and so on.

We will first look at exercise selection. A book that examines this in depth is Bondarchuk's Transfer of Training Vol. 1. In this book, Bondarchuk examines the correlation of different exercises to the level of athlete. What most of the data finds is that as the athlete progresses, general exercises cease to produce positive correlations and, in some cases, can cause negative correlations. To go back to our car analogy, let's say that your car only needs a few small modifications to reach a high level of speed. Instead of making these modifications, you instead tear out the engine that is installed only to replace it with the same type of engine. This would be like rotating general means of preparation and hoping it will increase the results of a high-level athlete. Rather than finding the specific issues that are holding things back, you are deciding to overhaul everything and are not really paying attention to what needs to be addressed.

Another variable to consider is types of periodization used. As many positive aspects as there is to block periodization and other similar schemes, they aren't appropriate for everyone. As many have stated, they are aimed at more advanced athletes. Most athletes who are novice or lower level would benefit from complex or concurrent forms of training that address their needs, which can be numerous. Using advanced systems of periodization would be like trying to modify an engine that had limited potential anyway. It really will only go so far, and at that point the bigger issues would need to be addressed.

Additionally, we could look to the issue of equipment. In a sport like powerlifting, gear has changed the sport in many ways. And like it or not, it isn't going anywhere. However, there is nothing worse than seeing "that guy" at meets. The one who doesn't really know how to perform the lifts and lacks any appreciable strength, yet he has all of the most advanced gear, which he can barely move in, and turns around to dump three squats in a row. This guy is the equivalent of our above example—of modifying an engine that is not high performance in the first place. This isn't limited to powerlifting only. I have also seen the football players that want all the best cleats, gloves, visors, etc. but can't play for shit. And we can probably plug any sport in here and think of an example.

Finally, supplementation is another aspect to look at. Most guys who want to try all of the latest and greatest Ultra Hyper 1374% better than the leading competitor powders and shakes but then can't eat consistently to save their lives are also wasting their time. This can also be said for the guys that have been lifting for a whopping one to two years but somehow are convinced that they need grams upon grams of steroids to reach their full potential. Of course, these same guys can't plan their training for shit.


When it comes to planning your training and looking for modifications, always look to the car analogy. If you are equivalent to a busted up frame with a shit engine or no engine sitting in a garage, don't think of putting big, oversized rims and ridiculous candy paint all over yourself without having the ability to leave the garage. To put it in perspective, if you don't know how to perform the sport or movements important to your sport with some proficiency, don't be the person trying to add advanced modalities or special exercises to your programming. Nothing is worse than being the moron who looks the part but has no actual ability. Also, don't look to make advanced modifications to an engine that will break down. In a training sense, don't be that idiot at the meet with twenty pieces of gear that you can't realistically use. Or maybe that guy who lifted weights for three months at the college rec center and thinks every supplement and ergogenic aid in the world is all it will take to be the greatest athlete in the world. Training is a multi-year process regardless of the sport you choose to participate in. It takes smart planning to consistently progress.