Big Monkeys and Little Monkeys

Are you a big monkey or a little monkey?

I guess, before you answer, I’d need to explain what I mean. I’m borrowing this story from John Welbourn, but there’s an old school Russian experiment, performed by sports scientists, that utilized two different types of monkeys. The large monkeys were naturally active. They spent most of their waking hours moving around, eating, and playing. The smaller monkeys, left alone, were naturally less active. They abstained from activity outside of a small amount, just enough to eat once or twice a day.

The Russians had a theory that there were two basic types of athletes, ones that benefited larger training volumes while others naturally benefited from less activity.

During the experiment, they forced both types of monkeys to swap lifestyles. The big monkeys (the active ones) were put into cages and allowed only a small amount of time each day to eat and move around. The little monkeys (the less active ones) were put in a situation where they had to navigate an elaborate maze with various activities and obstacles to get food each day to increase activity levels.

The results supported the Russian sports scientists’ theory. Both types of monkeys experienced significant decline in health, temperament, and performance. The take away for the Russian sport scientists was that, in some respects, athletes may be predisposed to varied training volumes. Even the best training isn’t good at high volume for a little monkey, for example.

Athletes that are “big monkeys” aren’t just able to sustain more volume, they need to practice more volume. An athlete classified as a “little monkey” will be worse off when he/she tries to mimic the same training volume as a big monkey.

I, for example, am a little monkey. If I miss a workout, I don’t lose sleep. I have peace of mind training just four days per week. Quite frankly, I’m stronger when I train less. I have less cortisol issues and stress with low volume training. However, if Sam Briggs trained as little as I did, not only would her performance suffer, she’d probably go crazy in the process. Conversely, if I ramped up my training to that of Briggs’ I would get worse.

Here’s the kicker. Big monkeys can’t claim to be a little monkey and coast without leaving performance on the table. And, it should be noted that little monkey’s that try to train like big monkeys aren’t “relentless” or “motivated,” we can just call them “crazy people.”

I’d encourage you to learn about yourself and exploit which category you fall into. And, if you’re an athlete, be sure you’re pursuing a sport that supports your kind. College football, for example, doesn’t support too many little monkeys.


Logan Gelbrich


10/24/13 WOD

6 Rounds:
Every 3 minutes complete:
10 Burpees
15 Squats
200m Run