Want to improve your trading every day? Try this…

This is one of my shortest articles, and it may be one of my most important.

In bodybuilding, there is a principle known as “train-to-failure” (TTF).
The idea is that you lift that amount of weight that permits you at least ten
repetitions, but continue the lifting to the point of failure: the point at
which you can no longer sustain the repetitions. Such a heavy-duty
program, as outlined by the late Michael
, is low force (to minimize injuries) and high intensity (drawing
upon the body’s full reserves). This program also contradicts usual
practice, which has athletes lifting every day. Mentzer, a world class
bodybuilder, found that a limited number of repetitions to failure were
sufficient to stimulate muscle growth, as long as there was an adequate period
of recovery following the training stimulus. When first espoused, the idea
of doing a limited number of intense repetitions and then staying out of the gym
during the recovery phase was heretical. Now it is the backbone of many
successful approaches to bodybuilding and strength training.

As Mentzer noted, the idea of TTF is itself a reflection of a principle in
exercise physiology called SAID: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.
The body, according to SAID, will develop along the lines of the demands imposed
upon it. If you impose intensive demands upon a muscle set, that set will
develop more than others that have not been challenged. The opposite of
SAID is de-conditioning: the absence of demand upon the musculoskeletal
system. Astronauts in space for a considerable period of weightlessness
lose body mass due to de-conditioning and, at times, have had to be carried from
their spacecrafts due to a loss of strength. Their bodies adapted to the
absence of demand.

The vast majority of people live their lives the way uninformed athletes
train: they take on too many demands, none of which are sufficiently intense to
take them to failure. Theirs is the equivalent of lifting a twenty-pound
barbell for hours on end. They become tired, but not strong. By the
time they get old, they are chronically tired, and then retire from all
demands. For many, retirement is an exercise in mental, physical, and
spiritual de-conditioning.

Truly great people live their lives on a TTF basis. They challenge
themselves until they fail, and that provides new challenges. They
ultimately succeed, because the challenges that produce failure also build their
adaptive capacity. Their minds and their personalities exhibit SAID: they
adapt to imposed demands.

Now ask yourself: If you trained in the weight room as hard and as
smart as you train for trading success, how strong would you be?

The reality is that few traders train at all, and those that do rarely impose
demands on themselves that require growth and adaptation. The bodybuilder knows that
effort is a friend, a stimulus to development. You push yourself to your
limits, and then you adapt to those
imposed demands. In simulated trading–and in the practice that comes from
trading small size–it is not enough to concentrate and focus: you develop the
capacity to operate in “the zone” by testing the limits of your mental
stamina. Similarly, don’t just follow your trading ideas; test them until
they break. Then you’ll be able to figure out where they are weak and how
you can fix them.
We cannot know our limits unless we are willing to
venture beyond them.

Mentzer realized that, to become the person you know you can be, you have to
do more than you think you can do. Paradoxically, you will find your
greatest freedom, in the gym
and in life, in the imposition of your most stringent demands.

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. first corresponded with the late Mike
Mentzer in April, 2000 (see the “Testimonials” section of Mike’s
). Brett is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and
Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY and
author of
Psychology of Trading
(Wiley, 2003). As Director of Trader Development
for Kingstree Trading, LLC in Chicago, he has mentored numerous professional
traders and coordinated a training program for traders. An active trader of the
stock indexes, Brett utilizes statistically-based pattern recognition for
intraday trading. Brett does not offer commercial services to traders, but
maintains an archive of articles and a trading blog at www.brettsteenbarger.com.