Math and Growth: The Training Sweet Spot!
Written by Fritz Nugent
I have some firefighters that I’ve been training for years. One of them texted me recently and said that she was frustrated with herself because she was three minutes slower on a hike compared to her best (I specialize in wildland firefighters and prepare them for hiking, terrain running, loaded pack and gear training, among other things).
Now here’s where the math comes in. What does three minutes relate to? How bad is that? I asked her how long of a hike, she said, 2 miles up and 2 back down. I asked how long it took, 80-90 minutes? And she said yes, 40 minutes up this time, her best is 37 minutes. So now we math: 3 minutes / 37 minutes = 8%. She was 8% slower today, which is a whopping 92% of her best.
In reality, this is a great achievement! To be able to reach 90+% on any given day is fantastic. Think about that in weightlifting terms. You show up on some random day at the gym and snatch 92% of your best ever. Pretty good! It’s especially good if you’re really good at lifting. A novice weightlifter can snatch 90% any day of the week because they really haven’t tapped into their potential, yet. However, an elite weightlifter has to plan when they will hit 90%, and it’s not every week. In many programs, 90+% lifts are attempted only a few reps a month.
Similarly, this wildland firefighter is essentially a professional hiker. They carry heavy shit up and down mountains every week. So I let her know this – that she was at 92% of her best ever, and that she can be proud of that.
I also suggested that she consider working most of the time in the 70-80% – Zone 3 – range of her ability (70-80% is generally the training sweet spot for consistent growth), both in the gym and during running and pack carries, too. This allows our bodies to reserve the capacity for 90+% demands once in a while. Train too far above 80% for too long and you’re bound to get flat, burn out, or get injured.
The sweet spot for growth is 70-80%. Remember that. And consider how this also ties into other areas of your life. The principle holds true everywhere if you know how to look.
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