Diminishing returns can also be called “plateauing”. This is very evident when an athlete increases their training from 10 hours a week to 20 hours a week, with little return on their investment.
This is where great athletes separate themselves from good athletes. A great illustration of diminishing returns can be observed when analyzing the development of video game graphics from 1997 to 2007. In 1997, video games such as Golden Eye and StarFox featured blockey, pixelated figures who had very few distinguishing features. Ten years later, and video games such as Halo 3 blew our minds. However, between 2007 and today, there has been what appears to be very little improvement in graphics. It isn’t that they haven’t attempted to better the graphics, but different components become increasingly important in creating more life like images.
StarFox 64 (1997)
Halo 3 (2007)
Battlefield Hardline (2015)
Similarly, when an athlete has trained for many years, they begin to settle into a well adapted biological system. No longer will hill sprints and resistance training yield improvement. The tendons of these individuals are very stiff, and their neuromuscular system is primed to produce massive force over a very short period of time. This is diminishing returns. The athlete has achieved close to their genetic potential, and training must correspondingly change.
In my opinion, these settings require much more creativity, and many variables must be taken into consideration. The athlete must be developed by sowing a fertile ground of adaptability through the use of high variability AND sports specificity. Everything matters. Sleep, nutrition, quality of movement, environment, and restoration become an integral part in these athletes’ development. It is important to remember that the “same old, same old” will not yield improvement. There must be progressive overload from previous training to spur on any further adaptation. These are the athletes that are trying to milk every bit of their training for the smallest improvement.
How strong is too strong? At this point, I would argue that there is no such thing. The athlete is looking to improve in any area that my yield any further improvement. If increasing their squat has potential to yield greater power output during a power clean, then surely the athlete will strive to max out their squat. If increasing their power clean has potential to improve their acceleration, then surely the athlete will strive to max out their power clean. It is at this level that the athlete must try to break through diminishing returns through safe implementation of training stimuli that yield high physiological stress. Leave no stone unturned. Develop every area to it’s greatest potential. As coaches, we must strive to maximize every biomotor capacity, without impairing the development of the most important ones.