Home Blog The Dose-Response Relationship and Strength and Conditioning Progress

The Dose-Response Relationship and Strength and Conditioning Progress

Written on June 4, 2017 at 6:53 pm, by Eric Cressey

Like most competitive powerlifters, when I want to lift some really heavy weight, I bench press with a good sized arch in my lower back.  It shortens the range of motion, allowing me to press more weight. This positioning actually makes my shoulders feel better, but it's surely not "healthy" to take my spine into these more extreme ranges of motion while lifting a bunch of weight.

You know what else? I probably spend a grand total of 30-45 seconds per week in this potentially injurious position. The dose is incredibly low, so the response just has never been there (and I'm going on 14 years of doing it). I'm sure my likelihood of staying healthy is a bit higher because:

a) the rest of my training features a ton of variety
b) I don't arch to this extreme on every bench press rep
c) I’m able to reverse that lordotic curve just fine (I'm not locked in that position)

If a kid has a bowl of ice cream as a treat once a week, it’s no big deal. If he has it for every meal, that’s a problem. But what if he has only one bite of ice cream at each meal? Over the long haul, it probably isn't a huge deal. And what if the ice cream is watered down? Or plain vanilla instead of cookie dough? "Dose" is a function of a number of factors - and while you can "give" on one or two, it's hard to "give" on all of them and not wind up with an overweight kid.

There are countless parallels to this in strength and conditioning. Some exercises may be a bit more dangerous than others.

On the exercise selection front, back squatting and conventional deadlifts probably should be used sparingly (if at all) if you've got chronic low back pain.

In terms of training technique, everyone should try to avoid deadlifting with a rounded lower back, but many lifters "get away with it" because they exposure to this dangerous pattern is so limited.

A high-volume training program can be an amazing stimulus to kickstart new gains, but used to excess, it can be a problem.

Frequency wise, if you go high volume seven days per week, you'll break down, too.

From an intensity standpoint, testing your one-rep-max in every training session would be a great way to destroy your joints and make sure that you actually get weaker.

The point is that many different factors influence the "dose" of training you impose on your system, and that dose yields a very specific response. Understanding this complex relationship of programming variables and training techniques is paramount for yielding successful training outcomes.

However, this discussion should also bring you to an important realization: you usually can't comment on someone else's training program or technique unless you have knowledge of all these variables and their training history. Each situation is completely unique, so we should all resist the urge to be Monday Morning Quarterbacks. Seek to understand the processes at work instead of just judging the outcomes.

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  • ericjg84

    There are several aspects of the bench press arch that make it inherently “safe”.
    The first that there is no axial loading and therefore hardly any shear force on the lumbar disks when compared to deadlifitng or preforming a power squat. Second, the amount of lordosis achievable is limited by the stop-point created by the bench itself as compared, say, to a yogi or gymnast performing a back-bend. Thirdly, the bench provides stability to the spine whereas the above-mentioned exercises require constant use of accessory–primarily core– muscles for stability which, as we know, is never perfect and therefore a potential source of injury. The bottom line is that the bench press arch is a safe way to work the posterior core muscles/erector spinae.
    Eric Goodrich, MD, MA Ergonomics, former drug-free powerlfiter


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