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Small Changes, Big Impact

Small Changes, Big Impact

I got this email a couple years ago. I believe that the changes that Chris has made to his training can be done by anyone and the results can make a huge difference.  Also, these changes can be done in your own life, with the same results.  Enjoy - Jim Wendler

Dear Jim, This has been an amazing summer for sport, and the Olympics here in the U.K has been a massive success. I wanted to share some thoughts I had about 5/3/1 training/philosophy and some things which came up with regard to the GB track cycling team. Please don’t run away just yet – I think this is pretty cool stuff.

Basically, we kicked the rest of the world’s butt, stole their lunch money and slept with their girlfriends when it came to track cycling. When the performance director was asked by the outside media about the key practices they had implemented in pursuit of this success, he told them with a bone dead straight face that they had super round laser cut wheels which gave them a major speed advantage. The morons lapped it up. The foreign newspapers printed the story. Everyone laughed. When the PD was asked by the British media what the real reason was, he mentioned ‘accumulated marginal benefit’ as the idea that underpinned every single facet of their training. On hearing this, I was immensely sceptical that it was just some buzz word for the latest training fad. Worse still, I thought it was another ruse and the guy was about to tell me that P90X was the core of their training, along with a strict no-almonds paleo diet and agave-nectar enemas. But when he explained it in detail, I was hooked. Basically, they take an overall approach to training which is centred around the concepts of speed, strength and conditioning. No surprises there. Then, they start to examine areas of weakness and develop strategies for improvement. The key concept is that these are not massive adjustments, rather they are incremental changes which accumulate benefit. So, if they need strength work, they aim to bring up their numbers by 2-5% over a given time. If they need to improve speed, they bring dedicate a few extra minutes a day added on to the speed work; if they need conditioning; they might add a couple of extra sprint sessions a week. None of this is exclusionary. Strength work doesn’t take time away from conditioning and vice versa. The work is just manipulated according to need, and the manipulations are small in the short term but they accumulate over time. No almond free diets or cactus-juice enemas.

They also take this concept away from just training/programming and into daily routine. Recovery is improved by having the athletes sleep on the same pillows and mattresses as they have at home. Infections are reduced by teaching them all to wash their hands properly using the same methods. If they have a particular brand of shoe, pedal or seat they like, then they keep spares so they never have to use equipment that doesn’t feel right. Nutrition? Small adjustments either to routine, quantity and quality of food. Maybe an extra portion of veg/rice/meat whatever. Taken in isolation, these things are tiny almost insignificant changes and would, on their own, not give much in the way of results. But implement it over a year, and what have you got? You have athletes that are strong, in shape and well rounded. You have made small adjustments across the board, without having to rewrite the whole routine. You got 2% better at everything, which means you get a hell of a lot better as an athlete taken as a whole.

So what did I take from this?  The first step was a good base program – 5/3/1. I already bought this and had been following the powerlifting template for a long time with great success. What I didn’t then do is decide I would go on forum and find out how to completely ruin it by ignoring the book and doing the “variation on 5/3/1” that Nathanial no Nutts had just posted. No big changes. I made the small changes. I thought about the kind of things that I could make a small difference to, for little effort or money. It went like this: I sucked at chins/pull-ups. I added in 1 set of these at the end of every deadlift and pressing session. Just one set. I aimed to increase by 1 rep each session. Now I’m banging out multiple sets and will soon be adding weight. All I added was a rep. Just one rep a session. I work crazy hours. Cooking food requires time I have to fight to get. So I bought a slow cooker and I cook big roasts in it overnight which will feed me for a day or two. This involves the incredibly difficult process of placing meat and veg in the cooker and pressing the “on” button. Now I don’t need to eat lousy food from take outs or eat rubbish for convenience sake. I have also improved my physique as a result. I make double the amount of porridge in the morning and freeze the leftover for the next morning. I sit long hours at work. My hips get tight. I made a small PVC pipe roller which fits in my work bag and I aim to do 50-100 total rolls on sore spots in my office each day, whenever I can. I have a pair of wrist wraps which I love. I bought three pairs. I keep one in the car in case I forget to pack them in my gym bag. I have a t-shirt which feels great when I squat. Not too baggy, not too tight, nice cotton. I bought three more of them. I always squat in this shirt.

The Changes

  • I bought a 5/3/1 e-book and followed it to the letter
  • I added a rep to an exercise I was weak at
  • I pressed an on button each night and bought some Tupperware
  • I froze some porridge
  • I made a PVC pipe roller
  • I bought some wraps and T-Shirts so I never had to think about training clothes.

The Benefits

  • Stronger (not just at chin/pull-ups – this has assisted my main lifts)
  • Better fed, better physique (which makes the wife happy)
  • More time for work and life
  • Not feeling beat up all the time
  • Looking and feeling awesome when training, and setting new PRs.

I changed some very small things. The results have been huge. It took literally no effort to do these simple things, which means I can put all my effort into training and life. Accumulated marginal benefit and 5/3/1. It works. Thanks for everything you do, and for being a huge inspiration. - Chris 

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This is not a picture of Chris. This photo is a representative of the winners of the UK Track Cycling Team.  Congratulations and well done.



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