Working towards a goal involves several potential challenges. The skill of an individual at any given exercise dictates a massive majority of programming decisions. Even some of the more meta-concepts such as individual effort can influence (or potentially confound) the right choice moving forward. Compartmentalization of exercises into neat categories may seem like a useful practice to reduce ambiguity and improve results – but that doesn’t always pan out. The true aim of training is to blend all exercises into a single category, “stimulus”. Neither skill nor output, but simply skilled output.
Skill is a phrase that gets applied seemingly everywhere in the training space. From a base-principles standpoint, skill (or skilled execution) would dictate that there are no barriers to the true end-of-set failure criteria aside from raw effort. No breakdown in technique, no biomechanical alteration, and certainly no weak links. This idealized version of exercise is the goal of any lifter, but is incredibly difficult to conceptualize let alone achieve. Truly skilled individuals don’t miss. Each rep, set, and session look as similar at the beginning as they do at the end. Load selection is tailored to skilled execution and ego is replaced by the universal understanding that stimulation is king – not any single training parameter.
Effort is an internalized quality that is continuously applied across a workout. Many attempts to quantify effort have arisen, the most prominent of which is the estimated proximity to muscular failure. The closer you get to momentary muscular fatigue, the more predictable many training adaptations become. From absolute strength, power, and of course hypertrophy – effort is mandatory for the most reliable of outcomes. However, effort is deeply individual. While there are some more objectively measurable criteria, such as the “involuntary slowing” of repetition speed – nearly every tool to track effort can be biased by the person performing the task.
Ultimately the goal of training development is to merge skill and output into a single quality across as many exercises as possible. The consistent application of skilled output within a workout, block, and eventually years of training unlocks the true potential of a lifter. Skill is not confined to internally stabilized exercise such as the squat (although it is much more impactful when free weights are involved). The same premises of skill apply to even machine-based exercise. Similarly, effort is not relegated to externally stabilized devices, otherwise all non-machine sets would be minimally impactful. Instead, skill and output must eventually converge, creating highly efficient, highly intense training regardless of the exercise selected.
Absolute training intensity (as measured by proximity to failure) and often inversely proportional to training volume performed. The higher the intensity of any given set, the less volume typically performed to achieve an end-of-set failure criteria. That is of course, unless skill is low. In these instances a poorly executed exercise can still meaningfully contribute to the forward progress of a goal; however, in the absence of quality, there is volume. Filling the gap between highly skilled execution and raw effort-based training is the role of the coach. Until such a time where skill and effort merge into skilled-effort – sets, reps, and load should ebb and flow to match the individual’s ability. When the time comes, the distinction between skill and output ceases to exist. Instead, all exercise assumes its highly skilled, high effort iteration.