You Don’t Need the Whole Bottle to Cop a Buzz

If you want to improve at something, you have to do it. That’s Specificity Principle 101 and only a jerk would argue against that. However, we usually have a polar interpretation of things. When we hear that you must do something in order to get better at it, we often interpret this as you have to beat it into the ground over, and over, and over again.

We’re extreme creatures like that. We think the only thing that helps pull-ups are practicing pull-ups, and that you have to squat multiple times per week to improve the squat. While effective, it’s not needed, and the addition of more volume does not always yield a proportional return (Law of Diminishing Returns).

We want to dose the main movement at just enough frequency to allow constant adaptation and progress without putting the body into a fatigue state. (Do not confuse the approach of competitive specialization with well-rounded fitness). 

Minimum Effective Dosing

For example, if you want to improve your deadlift, many people think that you must focus on the deadlift. However, what if your deadlift is stuck because of weak hamstrings? A constant approach of 85%+ deadlifts will not fix that because the stronger low back will continue to take over at that percentage, so the hamstrings must be developed elsewhere. That elsewhere is in movement reciprocity. The carryover a movement has to other seemingly unrelated movements is quite profound, and often enough to push you forward in your main goal without having to abuse yourself with rep after monotonous rep and constantly feeling you have to grind out every single goal. The gym version of people helpin’ people, where there is reciprocal benefit in all that we do.

Movement Reciprocity – When a movement has carry over and benefit to another movement. This can be direct reciprocity, such as a back squat helping a deadlift (through training similar muscles). Or, it can be indirect reciprocity, such as a back squat helping pull-ups (through isometric lat action).

Some examples of direct and indirect movement reciprocity include:

  • Back squats will build lat strength for your pull-ups through isometric lat action. We’ve seen as many pull-up PRs happen concurrently alongside back squat PRs as we have with an isolated high volume pull-up program. This is exactly why athletes who come to us with pull-up goals are quickly told to focus on increasing their back squat.
  • Lunges and core strengthening will improve locomotion and running economy, shaving time off your mile, without any mile training specificity whatsoever
  • Powerlifting alongside weightlifting is a great way to get stronger at each. I say bah to supposed technique conflict. When you start to understand muscle synergy and the speed strength continuum it makes perfect sense that skill sets along the continuum would be transferable. Strength helps speed, speed helps strength.
  • Goblet squats building push-up strength through isometric chest and arm contractions of holding the bell in place.
  • Tempo pull-ups helping front squats by training the lats when they are lengthened and weak (like they are in a front rack position). And, vice versa. Front squats helping pull-ups.
  • Front squats training off-the-floor sticking on a deadlift by focusing on quad strength.

We have many documented case studies of reciprocity effectiveness in a low-dosed environment, but two quick cases are from your head coach, who recently PR’d her deadlift (365#) after eight weeks off, followed by four weeks on at just once per week (that’s just four deadlift sessions over twelve weeks). She also PR’d her pull-ups following a back squat cycle that didn’t feature pull-ups (14).

You don’t always have to do the thing to improve the thing. You can have a drink or two and get the needed dose, or you can slam the whole bottle and feel like shit. But, I do suppose both get the desired outcome if you’re into extremes.

Let reciprocity exist and progress in multiple skill sets will emerge in perpetuity.

-Dave Thomas