Entries For: June 2012
The seductive argument that practice alone makes champions is wrong
Ok, many of you have heard the story by now, train/practice for 10,000 hours and you will be the best in the world, a champion, an outlier etc. It's the stuff of dreams, you can be the best if you just work hard enough. That's an idea that sells a lot of books.
Unfortunately, it's wrong. Or to be generous, it's incomplete.
I first read about this 10,000 hour thing in Dan Coyle's "The Talent Code". A good book, with lots of things to learn from from a coaching perspective. I've adopted a lot of what Coyle wrote about in my coaching practice, it's good stuff, but it's missing something fundamental. It's also the fundamental argument made by Mathew Syed in "Bounce". Notably, Syed is a table tennis player, perhaps not the most physical of sports. In the recently published "The Secret Olympian" (anon, but it's a British rower, a bit of googling will tell you who wrote it), "anon" writes :
Syed's argument in Bounce - train enough and you'll be excellent at whatever you choose - is seductive. It's probably true for table tennis. But in general, it's wrong. As Bas van de Goor neatly states, 'You can learn to play volleyball; you can't learn to be tall. Genetics count'.
These guys are not going to be successful volleyballers, not if they spend 20,000 hours of practice in the best hotbed in the world. Genetics matter. You can't be an elite athlete in most sports without winning the genetic lottery at birth. Sure, if you train you will improve, but how good can you get? Can you be the best at the world at whatever you choose to? Only if you've got the right genes. If you want to sprint, and you don't have working ACTN3, forget being elite. It just won't happen.
ACTN3 is just one of many factors influencing athletic performance
At the highest levels of performance ACTN3 genotype certainly make a big difference: among Olympic-level sprinters the frequency of individuals carrying two disrupted ACTN3 copies is vanishingly low (less than 3%, compared to ~18% in the general population). However, this large effect is due to the exceptionally strong selection that occurs during the slow climb to the Olympic level. The vast majority of athletes who start that climb will never make it to the top; those who do will be the tiny minority who have nearly everything in their favour, including the right genes.
So super-elite athletes need to have the right ACTN3 combination, but they also have to have a whole host of other factors working in their favour – this one gene is just a minor ingredient in a large and complex recipe. In fact, most studies performed so far suggest that ACTN3 explains just 2-3% of the variation in muscle function in the general population. The rest of the variation is determined by a wide range of genetic and environmental factors, most of which (particularly the genetic factors) are very poorly understood.
So what does that mean?
You can train your backside off, but unless you're gifted with the right genes, you're not going to be an Olympian. You will improve, but your upper limits are genetic. Having the right genes is not enough, not by a long shot, the world is littered with people with the genes to be superb who for whatever reason ended up couch potatoes, but it is a very important part of mix if you want to be an elite athlete.
Friday nights at DISC
With the co-operation of Blackburn, we're going to be at DISC on Friday nights as well as Sundays for a couple of months. This is a three hour track session, from 7-10pm. Mixed sprint & enduro, programs, as with all our training, published online in advance on this website. It will either be $15 or $22 to attend and I am hoping to have an enduro coach to assist me, while I look after the sprinters. So if you're an aspiring enduro coach and want some mentored time at DISC, or just some time at DISC, get in touch with me ASAP!
A long doco from the BBC on obesity and sugar
Well worth the 60 minutes it will take to watch all of it, or, just don't eat sugary stuff!
Do it properly
You want to ride the best flying 200 you can?
Cut the corners!
A new peak power PB!
Last night at Spin, I set a new power PB of 1,597 watts. I had a goal of 1,600, how close is that? Given that it's a Powertap and not 100% accurate, I could stretch the truth and say I got it, but that's bollocks! Anyway, power is going up reasonably consistently, it's amazing what a bit of unbroken training can do. There's a hint - consistent training ... Keep working ...
We might have a slot on Friday evenings at DISC to train
Blackburn has a Friday slot at DISC that was used for a mixture of training and some random-ish racing, but it's lying fallow at the moment for reasons not 100% clear.
So ... I have asked the committee if they'd like us (aboc) to help/assist/share the time to try to make it viable for both BBN and us to use that time, it'd be 7-10pm on Fridays for nominally "winter". More news as it comes to hand. This would be as well as, not instead of, the Sunday evening sessions and would be a mix of sprint and enduro training like we do on Sundays.