Shrugged Collective

Chaos in the Weight Room

Strength and conditioning professionals have a difficult job.

In the face of general illiteracy, these individuals must educate and prepare a diverse population in hopes of improving athletic performance and fitness. Further still, there is often considerable pressure to demonstrate these results quickly and indefinitely. A competent professional would do well to familiarize themselves with as much high quality, research-based information as possible.

There is a consequence to this strategy. More data is not always a good thing. Information overload in this modern age can lead to confusion and uncertainty, undermining even the best of intentions.1 This fundamental challenge was described by Albert Einstein in 1934, when he professed that the, “goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”2 That lesson is as applicable to modern strength and conditioning practice as it is to theoretical physics.


Research objectives remain fixed on the notion of finding the best training model for developing human performance.3-6 A common question is one of variance. Should the training plan be consistent across the month and year, or should the prescription undulate across individual sessions?7,8 The available evidence clearly demonstrates that a plan is certainly better than no plan at all, but the superiority of any particular approach has yet to be demonstrated.3,4,8-10 This may have a very simple explanation – the question of the best model is a false dilemma.

The available evidence clearly demonstrates that a plan is certainly better than no plan at all, but the superiority of any particular approach has yet to be demonstrated.

The strength of Sports Science is in its description of the irreducible elements. The applied mechanics and physiology of the human body are well understood. The training variables that best develop specific performance qualities have been defined and verified. However, the application of those variables will remain a matter of personal experience. A more appropriate research objective might focus on developing our understanding of when variance may be necessary for specific populations.

Theory will persist. That famous *P-word will always occupy page space on a wide assortment of strength and conditioning instructional materials (*Periodization). That is a not a bad thing. Nonetheless, the professional should remember to keep the elements few. It can be argued that modern, relatively complicated programming schemes are not necessary. A remarkable example of this can be observed in the Anthropological record, where ancient Olympians hurled diskoi that were upwards of four times the weight of contemporary track and field implements, and sixth century Greek strongmen lifted boulders dwarfing modern Weightlifting and Powerlifting records.11 The list of past accomplishments is long, and the explanation is relatively simple. Devoid of modern technology and delusive theory, a strong social and moral imperative can result in an incredible performance. In other words, how and why you train may be far more important than what you train.

How and why you train may be far more important than what you train.


During my time as a student and researcher at the University of Memphis, we always made sure to keep a copy of Forscher’s Chaos in the Brickyard12 readily available in our laboratory space. This parable is a reminder that the bricks, or studies, from science are only meaningful if they can be applied to the construction of our body of knowledge. Once the brick itself becomes the central focus, the value of the edifice is lost. The same can be said of complicated plans in the training hall. Choose your bricks wisely.


  1. Klingberg T. The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory: Oxford University Press, USA; 2008.
  2. Einstein A. On the method of theoretical physics. Philosophy of Science. 1934;1(2):163-169.
  3. Miranda F, Simao R, Rhea M, et al. Effects of linear vs. daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. Jul 2011;25(7):1824-1830.
  4. Apel JM, Lacey RM, Kell RT. A comparison of traditional and weekly undulating periodized strength training programs with total volume and intensity equated. J Strength Cond Res. Mar 2011;25(3):694-703.
  5. Prestes J, De Lima C, Frollini AB, Donatto FF, Conte M. Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. Jan 2009;23(1):266-274.
  6. McNamara JM, Stearne DJ. Flexible nonlinear periodization in a beginner college weight training class. J Strength Cond Res. Aug 2010;24(8):2012-2017.
  7. Rhea MR, Ball SD, Phillips WT, Burkett LN. A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. May 2002;16(2):250-255.
  8. Stone MH, Potteiger JA, Pierce KC, et al. Comparison of the effects of three different weight-training programs on the one repetition maximum squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2000;14(3):332-337.
  9. Buford TW, Rossi SJ, Smith DB, Warren AJ. A comparison of periodization models during nine weeks with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. Nov 2007;21(4):1245-1250.
  10. Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Klatt M, et al. Comparison between different off-season resistance training programs in Division III American college football players. J Strength Cond Res. Jan 2009;23(1):11-19.
  11. McAllister P. Manthropology: The science of why the modern male is not the man he used to be: St. Martin’s Press; 2010.
  12. Forscher BK. Chaos in the Brickyard. Science. Oct 18 1963;142(3590):339.

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Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?

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