How do we know stuff is real?

The angle of the extending joint where the bar reaches its minimum velocity during a lift, with a higher probability of failure, is known as the sticking point.

Some people ask me what is the difference in “knowing” that the sticking point, overtraining or CNS (central nervous system) fatigue or overtraining is real.

Let’s go simple on this. All these expressions refer to something we can observe. In other words, a “phenomenon”. In the natural sciences, as opposed to the formal sciences (mathematics and logic), we rely on measurable, empirical data to make assertions.

That said, we know that “the thing” is there – we don’t necessarily have a clue about what it is, it’s mechanism or it’s nature.

When we look at any lift, we observe a change in velocity (of the bar or of a certain movement in the gesture, such as some extension) along the full movement. We see that the bar gets slower at certain ranges, which vary according to the person, but it’s always there beyond a certain “intensity” (level of effort, as measured by % of RM). That is what we call “the sticking point” and there are lots of measurements about it.

Overtraining is different. The “thing” that can be observed is that for some reason athletes may “go bad”. They start performing poorly, or “underperforming”. Scientists studied this and came up with many valuable observations, such as the distinction between sympathetic and parasympathetic OT. But there was a point where everything got so complex (and there wasn’t enough grant money to proceed with more and more research) that some researchers decided to call it “undeperformance syndrome”. That is a wise move: we know the phenomenon is real, but we admit we don’t totally know how many actual mechanisms, or underlying physiological phenomena, we are talking about.

Now, “CNS overtraining” is an expression coaches and athletes came up with to designate a weird form of underperformance that only manifests itself in maximal strength (static strength) sports. It really looked like a switch was turned off at 80% intensity and “something” inside the athlete refused to cooperate. It had to be the brain, right? So “CNS overtraining” it is. The problem is that research not only failed to show that connection but, up to where it reached, it pointed to the opposite direction: peripheral. Does that mean the brain is not involved? Not at all! Does that mean it is not central? No! It means we still don’t know enough to positively state it is a predominantly CNS-related phenomenon.

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In the natural sciences, there is a principle called “falsifiability” or “refutability” that is part of the scientific method. It means that after a certain claim gained enough “empirical strength” (a lot of corroborating evidence obtained with sound method), we work with it until it is shown to be false (entirely or partly false). Only then, we will mend or substitute it.

That’s it!