My family always had dogs, so the concept of dog training wasn’t foreign to me when I got my own, however being a kid at the time I don’t think I was nearly as involved in the process as I should’ve been. Only as an adult have I realized the amount of behind-the-scenes work with the dogs my parents were probably doing.
So having adopted my first dog two years ago with my wife, we set out on the internet to get some basic info. We were confident that we could get it done without obedience classes, but still needed to find a good method to help us systematically attack the problem. We read books by Stanley Coren, watched episodes of Cesar Milan and ‘At the end of my leash’ but at the end of the day it was a forum post on manipulating four key variables that helped us the most with our puppy-sized problem.
When training our dog, whatever the task, we needed to be aware of four variables: Difficulty, Distraction, Distance and Duration. In order to ensure a high likelihood that our dog would be able to perform the task, we had to remain aware of the relationship between the variables, such that when one element was high, the others were lowered to compensate. Under this model, with a dog new to training, difficult tasks were best performed with low distraction, with the owner close to the dog and only for a short period of time. This way the high difficulty of the task was compensated for by low distraction, distance and duration.
To give this a practical example, when we first started training Griffin, he was interested in everything around him, a constant source of distraction. We started with simple tasks like sit or stay (difficulty low), in an isolated environment, like a fenced backyard (distraction low), and gradually worked on increasing the time he could sit (duration), and then issued commands while moving away from him (distance).
Taking that example, not one of those four variables was ignored, and the outcome of the situation depended on manipulating all variables accordingly, not one over the other. Gradually as Griffin began mastering his skills, we could begin doing them in large open environments, with added distractions including other dogs. As we entered these high distraction environments, we started over with simple tasks (low difficulty) and made sure we were close to him when issuing him a command (low distance). During these early stages the lure of other dogs was definitely strong, so we kept the tasks short (low duration) to ensure he’d be successful with minimal mistakes.
Over time the system worked and Griffin has thrived, although he still enjoys trying to jump on all the new people he meets. Our second dog Daphne has taken more time because she came to us very fearful, but sure enough we’ve been able to have similar successes with her, albeit with a bit more time and patience.
What does this have to do with training?
By now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with training or exercise science, and I can’t blame you. I assure you this blog isn’t just a front for me to show the world pictures of my dogs and tell stories about them like they’re my kids. Honestly it’s not.
What’s more important, training or nutrition?
It’s safe to assume that most of us, whether professionals or exercise enthusiasts, have been asked or seen an online debate as to what the ultimate ‘important’ variable is. What’s that one factor we need to know that will absolutely ensure our success in the gym?
Regardless, this inevitable debate will always occur, at least with those new to the fitness field. Some will take the side of nutrition, parroting quotes like ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’, while others lean more towards training, citing that you can always increase work to compensate for any caloric indiscretions. Others will say supplements can skew the balance, and some think that any number of lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, alcohol consumption, you name it will play a more important role. While none of them are technically wrong, all those factors contribute to your success both inside and out of the gym; ultimately people who identify one as the golden ticket still missed the point.
Your success in the gym is never the result of concentrating on a single factor but rather the result of a complex interaction of multiple variables. That’s not to say that your approach to physique transformation needs to be complex, it absolutely doesn’t, but it’s overly simplistic to focus all your effort on one parameter, like training, at the expense of others like nutrition and quality of life. The ones who are truly successful aren’t the ones who train at an all out intensity all the time without fail, it’s the ones that recognize the interaction between all the variables that will produce success, and scale them all accordingly to ensure that progress can be maintained.
Pulling from the example above, Griffin’s success in the tasks was never the result of simply manipulating one single variable, it was being aware of the relationship BETWEEN the variables and ensuring that they were appropriately paired to fit the circumstances. Why should the gym be any different?
Nothing beats consistent, directed effort
No matter what your training goal is, there is a constant state of flux in your body that ultimately converges to produce the desired adaptation. It’s not that one variable is ever more important than the others, it’s just that when one variable is adjusted, you need to be aware of how this impacts the others and make the changes accordingly. It’s important to approach the problem in a systematic way: identifying the important variables, setting the planning and consistently monitoring while providing maximum effort.
I’ve yet to meet a problem that consistent, directed effort like the system above can’t solve.