Category Archives: Mental Training

Its Never One or the Other

Short cuts, short cuts, shorts cuts… the reason so many are injured, stay injured, are chronically injured is because we are still relying on an either-or mindset… either we are tight or we are weak.

Reality is you cannot take one muscle out of the body – as much as biomechanists, exercise physiologists, etc.. consistently do – and study that one muscle and make conclusions about that one muscle without taking into consideration… well, like the rest of the entire body!

Click here to link to the article at Runners World

This article in Runners World which is written by a physiotherapist no less, claims (a) anyone can simply assess themselves at home to determine the source of their injury, and (b) anyone can apply one or more of the shown exercises, and ta-da they will have a cure all because… hey, its simple: either you are tight or weak, and only in one muscle at a time… and here is the short cut to solving it all on your own.

If you find yourself working with an health professional, and that health professional claims that the body can be divided up into compartments which function independent of the rest of the body… be warned that you are going to get a short-cut solution.

To health professionals still selling the Rene Descartes mechanistic mindset of the body to patients… you may want to read up on current models of understanding of the body as Descartes’ ideas – as important as they were – are also a few centuries old. We have come a ways since thinking that the body is a machine that can be disassembled into parts and understood simply from ‘understanding’ the individual workings of each part.

Oh, Its Harmless… Yeah Right!

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant article on FastCompany.com written by a 13 year old who realized what exactly is on the internet – specifically on social media – about her, despite the fact that she herself has never posted anything.

Thanks mom!

Thanks dad!

Thanks sis!

Click here to link to the full article at FastCompany.com, and maybe while you are at it consider whether posting statements made in private, personal letters, personal moments, really should be captured and shared with the world?

What if you think its harmless fun, yet for the other person… it isn’t?

The Pioneering Spirit

Consider the pioneers who came to North America, and then traveled west into uncharted territory all in the pursuit of their dreams of land, of freedom, of a fresh start.

What has happened to that pioneering spirit?

In the past, the pioneers dealt constantly with adversaries and adversarial circumstances.

Today, failing to say ‘hello’ to someone is interpreted as a micro-aggression, a threat against our well-being provoking us to scream at the lack of safety in our society, calling us to demand for the forceful implementation of legislation that would cause everyone to be friendly to one another, enforcing everyone to say ‘hello’ in order that a false sense of security, a false sense of friendliness, of cooperation, of respect and connectivity is created.

Today, we will settle for the illusion of friendship instead of building real relationships.

In the past, the pioneers would come into contact with their neighbours only by chance and usually only while working their land, or on the odd occasion when they traveled into town to restock on supplies. Pioneers would go for weeks, perhaps months without socializing or connecting socially nor did they need it. The pursuit of their dream was what they needed, and its what they focused on.

Today, we need to receive a steady stream of approval through our social media connections in order to feel validated, affirmed, supported, accepted. Without someone ‘liking’ or ‘following’ us online, we are lost, incapable of knowing what to do, what we should do.

Today, without the directing hand of our social network, we are lost.

In the past, the pioneers risked everything in order to cross the ocean with only the hope that they would be able to claim a piece of land as their own; land which they would have to fight for, and some would die for. Yet success didn’t come simply with having land… in the first years and often for many years there was the risk of crops failing or of the herd dying. There were no safety measures nor government safety nets in place in the event their attempt to make it in the land of the free didn’t work out. But it didn’t matter to the pioneers… because to them the pursuit of the dream, their dreams was worth it.

Today, risk – any risk – is deemed unacceptable, instead we want every risk eliminated or controlled, we want a risk-less society.

In the past, the pioneers packed and took with them what they could carry, leaving everything else behind when they crossed the ocean to travel to new lands. They left behind the safety of their homeland, the support of family, of the community in which they grew up, they risked everything for the opportunity to be successful – not the guarantee – just the opportunity.

Today, instead of success being achieved through the individual right to chose to be successful or not, we want to socialize the success (i.e. steal the success) of those who did risk it all so that it can be redistributed so those who chose not to venture to unknown lands, who chose not to accept the challenges, the risks and the dangers associated with pioneering so that they too can ‘feel’ successful.

What has happened to that pioneering spirit?

Today, we are a bunch of cowards… stuck in our status quo, stuck in our social circles, fearfilled at the thought that we may be asked to risk anything at all.

Only once we regain the spirit of the pioneers will we regain our vitality, our energy, our sense of purpose, direction and meaning.

Friend or Coach

A friend tell you what you want to hear

A coach tells you want you need to hear

A friend is concerned with how you receive a message

A coach is concerned with you getting the message

Friends are your friends because you share the same fears

Coaches are not friends because they challenge you to confront your fears

Friends anchor you to your past, and remind you constantly of it

Coaches seek to free you from your past, releasing you to seek your potential

Friends are your support system provided you don’t surpass them

Coaches seek to support you in surpassing each and every one of your goals

Friends distract you

Coaches focus you

Friends tempt you to spend time with them and detract you from achieving

Coaches challenge you to eliminate everything that doesn’t move you ahead

Read the biograpahies and auto-biographies of consistent peak performers and you will read as I have read: either they had few if any friends allowing them to focus on their goals or they disassociated themselves from friends in order to focus on their goals.

Concerned more about your friends, or your status with your friends, then welcome to mediocrity.

Concerned with achieving your potential, then welcome the freedom that comes from not having to live down to the fears of your friends.

Its one way or the other… there is no middle ground if you seek your potential.

Cutting Carbs… Not So Healthy

There was a time, not so long ago – but now it seems almost forever ago – that first we would do research: we would first test our hypothesis and second we would promote the results, promote the conclusions that the data yielded either proving or disproving our hypothesis.

Now… its the opposite… say whats on your mind, promote it as “truth”, “fact” and hope that no one digs deeper to find out if there is merit to your claims, and definitely hope that no one goes to testing your claims to truly validate them.

That we do this on virtually all topics, especially our health, would have been unimagineable a decade or two ago; now its commonplace. Along those lines, we learn today that…

One would think that before every personal trainer, coach, nutritionist and ‘wellness expert’, etc.. ran around telling everyone to cut out carbs, that they surely would have taken the time to understand whether this was indeed valid and reliable information.

One would hope that before claims were made as to what is and is not healthy, these so called experts in all things fitness, wellness, training, et al. would take the time to determine if this was correct information that should be passed along and if so, then to whom, under what conditions or circumstances, or what criteria made this information correct.

But hey… thats work and work is what stupid people do, so why would anyone go through all that much trouble to just say what they feel is the truth (and to hell with consequences)?

Clearly no one did because cutting carbs has severe and significant consequences; and if you consider that cutting carbs is supposed to be done to improve one’s health, its rather ridiculous that no one realized that cutting carbs can have dangerous side effects on your heart (a key organ to one’s health in case that isn’t self evident… not sure how many ‘experts’ are aware that the heart is vital to one’s health based on how they all promote HiiT).

This is yet more proof that for the most part all the so called fitness and wellness ‘experts’ are little more than parrots that repeat the last thing they heard. Seriously, stop and listen to anyone of these ‘experts’ and like a parrot you’ll hear… carbs bad, protein good, gluten bad, protein good, dairy bad, protein good, fat was bad… ugh… now fat kinda good… ugh… oh, yeah almost forgot… carbs bad, protein good.

You listen to one of these ‘experts’ and whatever damage is done to your health is not their fault because… whose to blame when advice is taken from a parrot?

Polly want a cracker?

NO!

Why not Polly?

Because… carbs back protein good!

Setting Goals

A challenge with many part-time athletes, especially ‘type A’ go-getter masters athletes who charge 100% of the time with 100% effort in all areas of their life is overestimating their availability and their ability to put in actual training hours.

When goal setting is the starting point – as opposed to taking an inventory of life with actual training/rest hours clarified – goals are developed in a frame of mind where there is endless opportunity to train and recover, challenges do not occur therefore why allocate any resources to the mere potential of them arising, and setbacks are imaginary boogie monsters used to scared bad little athletes to being good.

Dreams are supposed to arise from our imagination, but goal setting which occurs without context rarely ends with a fairy-tale ending….

At the start of the season, when full of energy, fresh, motivated and prior to any setbacks or obstacles, training goes smoothly and goals seem close at hand.  We daydream how it will only take a month or two to be back in form, ready to challenge last years hardest sessions.  As the season progresses, as training sessions are shelved due to demands from work, kids, illness, and all sorts of emergencies, goals change from a motivational source of energy, to a weight which drags, burdens, draining what little energy is left at the end of the day.  At the start of the season the goals which felt close at hand, now fall just beyond the reach of our fingertips.  It takes only a few weeks of reduced training due to travel for work, a ‘C’ race which doesn’t go as planned, or a nagging cold which hangs every day to sow seeds of doubt, diminishing the excitement and enthusiasm that met each day early in the season.

When the competitive season finally arrives, our ‘A’ race is weeks or days away, with our entry fee paid and registration completed long ago, the obligation to race remains, but goals have now become reminders of what was not accomplished.  Anger builds at all the things that got in the way of our goals, blame is pointed at this and that, we become frustrated at ourselves for setting any goals… how foolish to set any goals we exclaim exasperated, guilt rises that there is expectation that we must show up on race day knowing that finishing may now be the only target.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus

Is it any wonder that masters athletes fall out of love with a sport that once captured their imagination?  Should it really be surprising that what once was a love affair is now a dreaded relationship?  The TT bike and trainer in the basement, the pile of running shoes by the side door, the bag of swim toys occupying space in the trunk of the car… all reminders of the dreams we preoccupied ourselves with at one point, and the joy they recreated of endless possibilities.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  None of it is necessary, but every year athletes torture themselves with unrealistic goal setting.  Why do we do it, year after year?

I believe there are two primary causes, each easily solved with a bit of work and honesty:

  1. Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of time they can anticipate having to train and recover, with ALL their personal and professional and life responsibilities included, PLUS additional slack added to provide for emergencies, vacations, and those days when you do not want to be accountable to anyone wanting anything.
  2. Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of their actual athletic starting point: where are they today in regards to flexibility, skill level, technique, aerobic conditioning, years of base training, risk of injury/illness.

Problem #1

Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of time anticipate being able to train and recover as if it takes no time at all, able to squeeze it in along with all their personal and professional and life responsibilities included.

Solution #1

We all start each day with the circle on the left: 24 hrs.  We each have decided to fill that circle ourselves.  Our past decisions now yield our current state of health, conditioning, flexibility, our physical attributes in terms of skill and technique, body weight, mental and emotional narratives, outlook, attitude and perspective on what is possible and what is probable.  Today we have the opportunity to change how we spend those 24 hrs impacting our future state of health, conditioning, flexibility and so on.

We cannot start goal setting for athletic endeavours without respecting all the other goals we have already established, and have committed energy, effort and time.  If we do, then we set ourselves up to fail before we even begin, as relationships, career, and all other responsibilities will at some point compete for the exact same minutes and hours we want to train.

To start goal setting, start with listing all your goals…  (see circle on the right)

Ideal vs Actual Training Time

You will likely end up with a list such as this, where: (A) is spousal relationship, (B) parental responsibilities, (C) career/profession, (D) financial obligations, (E) weekly to-do list (e.g. cut grass, car oil change, pick up drycleaning,…), (F) family vacation time, (G) professional development hours, (H) caregiver time to parents (e.g. driving parents to medical appointments), (I) and so on.

Once you have honestly captured that which you have already committed to, then you are in a position to identify the hours each day and each week you have available to committing to a new goal, your athletic goals.

It is not advisable to pack all 24 hrs a day and all 7 days a week to the rafters with commitments.  Doing so is disastrous to goals, and it is another way to blow up both yourself, your schedule and all of your goals… and pretty much your life in general.  Give yourself a bit of slack, wedge in wiggle room so that goals are not packed one on top of the other.

Once completed, you will immediately come to terms with what is a reasonable and what isn’t a reasonable goal for training.  If all you have is 10 hrs a week to train, then it becomes apparent that committing to an Iron distance event is not only unrealistic, it can even be anticipated that you will not arrive in one piece at the event.  Imagine then if you added the additional expectation of a personal best, or a top spot in age group on top of an already unreasonable goal.   Yet we do it.  Year after year.

Why not set yourself up to win?  An honest appraisal of your life will position you to fulfill your goals.  Besides, if the underlying goal to training is to end up fit and healthy, then why make the process onerous, torturous, depressing, unmotivating, uninspiring, all while risking injury, illness, and burn out?  It takes a bit of self-respect to not over commit, especially if everyone else in your training group is setting out to conquer a new distance, a new challenge; but in the end, you are accountable only to yourself, not to everyone else.

There is a balance point to life, a rhythm, a speed, and if you take the time to find it for your life, then you will spend more days in that sweet spot of flowing, enjoying yourself, enjoying life as opposed to running obligation to obligation, dreading that you woke up.

Problem #2

Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of their actual athletic starting point: flexibility, skill level, technique, aerobic conditioning, years of base training, risk of injury/illness.

Solution #2

Unlike everyone’s day which is made up of 24 hrs, everyone’s body is different, everyone’s training and racing experience is different. And, the years since being at our peak physiological point of age (in early 20s), have for some us taken quite a toll on our health.

To set yourself up to win when there is a fixed time line between today and tomorrow’s goal, requires being honest with your starting point. Starting from an honest starting point will yield results. Starting from a delusional “I’m still as health and fit as I was at 25” will end badly, no two ways about it.

Setting yourself up to win requires taking an honest inventory of what you have to work with today, and starting right. Sounds simple, few take the time to do it, and fewer take the time to do it right.

Want to achieve your goals healthfully, then find a coach who has the experience of walking athletes through all these steps and who has a history of delivering results without compromising on their athlete’s health by delivering injury & illness instead.

Choosing a Coach

How do most athletes and parents of athletes go about choosing a coach?

First, they probably look at the results a coach, or a team or club are delivering. If the results meet or match their level, or their expectations of the level they want to attain, then it becomes worth continuing the investigation process.

Second, they typically look to finding someone, or someone that knows someone who is currently trained by a specific coach, or is a member of a team or part of the club they are investigating. The question asked at this point is… how is the coach? If the answer is as hoped, “good” or “great”, then the process is almost at its end. If there are added bonuses, for example, a social dimension to the club or additional training available, then these are often the icing on the cake closing the deal.

Sounds like a good way to select a coach, right?

Maybe. The problem with this process is that it avoids digging into any of the realities or truths of training under a specific coach, or with the team or club.

If you asked a member of the local triathlon club “how is the coach/the club”, then the standard response would likely be:

  • its great, its fun, its a great group, you will have fun…
  • the workouts are challenging/hard/killer…
  • the coach is good or great
  • there is training for each sport: there are run groups, bike groups,…
  • there are athletes of all levels

Actually, if you ask 10 athletes from 10 different clubs – be it a triathlon, a running, a swimming club, doesn’t matter the sport – you will almost certainly get identical answers.  So, what have you truly learned about the coach or the club by asking these questions?

Nothing.

Why is it important to dig deeper? Because your health, your well-being is at stake and if you are going to join a club. Personally, I truly hope that any individual seeking health by training for sport finds the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the coach and the club, because you are putting your health and well-being into the hands of said coach.

Let me use a recent story I heard to illustrate the point. A father has a daughter who plays hockey really really well. Having recently moved to the area, he wants to find a team for his daughter to play. He starts the typical research, looking for the teams which consistently are at the top of the league, consistently in play offs, etc… He identifies a couple teams, does a quick poll of friends to find out if anyone knows about this team or that team, asks the typical questions and gets the typical answers… its great, your daughter will fit in great, she will have fun, the workouts are challenging, the coaching is good, and so on. Since there is no reason to stop this father from signing up his daughter to the team, he does. It doesn’t take long before he realizes how big and bad the mistake it was. The hockey head coach is best friends with a couple families (the people who told the father the coach & club are perfect) and it is their kids who get almost continuous ice time, with every other kid getting only left overs. The father is upset that the truth didn’t come out beforehand, and now that the season is underway he and his daughter are stuck.

Should he be upset? Not at all. He didn’t dig deep enough into how the team operates, how lines are selected, what are the dynamics within the team, so he found out exactly what he asked, and nothing more.

So if you asked a member of the local triathlon club, you can be certain that you will get the answers that the father received… its great, you will have fun, you will fit in great, we have workouts that will match your needs, blah blah blah… and you have learned what?

Nothing.

If you are serious about your health, your well being and your performance as an athlete then you need to dig deeper. How many of the athletes on the team suffer injuries annually? How many are currently sidelined? How many have improved in their health? How many had their health decline? How many athletes have had to leave the club for health reasons? How well do the athletes recover post competition? How is training structured for injured and ill athletes? Is there any customization of coaching in group workouts to adjust for individual needs?

Finding out from the club how many athletes stand on podiums is easy, finding out the truth of whats the cost behind those podiums is a challenge unless the coach is willing to take ownership, responsibility, to be held accountable for their coaching.

Coaches are eager to share the successes of their athletes, who wouldn’t be? But coaches are remiss to share how many athletes they have injured, over-trained to the point of injury, burn out, or blow up, pushing them to the point that they have been diagnosed with low testosterone, chronic fatigue, low motivation, difficulty sleeping, an inability to recover, and so on (as in the case of numerous pro triathletes). No coach wants that sort of marketing!

And that is exactly the point. If you ask only superficial questions you will get only superficial answers.. everything’s great!

If the father in the above scenario asked ahead of time how ice time is decided, by who, and what changes the criteria… he may have come across as overbearing, obsessive, excessively demanding in his desire for details, but if that father truly was invested, fully invested into the well being of his child and their potential in the sport, then is there really a point where you stop asking questions? If you would do that for you child, then why don’t you do it for yourself?

In regards to our local clubs, one has a nasty habit of over-training its athletes, to the point that some feel obligated to train while injured, training through the injury, into the pain as if that somehow will help them recover or perhaps the thinking is that it will make them tougher. Is this widely known or made known, absolutely not. Its known by astute members who do not hold the club or the coach up as ‘god’. Indeed, many members of this club do perform well at competition, some make the podium, but another nasty not revealed is how many members fail to recover, even after months have passed after competing. Having delivered an effort far beyond their training, or while severely over-trained, these athletes have damaged their immune systems, have impaired their physiology and psychology to such a degree they have yet to enjoy their so called success, as they try to heal. Even members of the club can be unaware, because the natural assumption is that when someone doesn’t show for workouts is that they are busy with work, with family, but not busy with a body damaged resulting from training and racing meant to be for their long term benefit.

Unless you dig deep you will not find out if the training the club does actually makes anyone healthier, or if it just leave athletes suffering with injury, illness, never-ending fatigue, and so on.

If you are signing up with a coach or a club in order to become chronically injured or ill, then by all means walk blindly in. But when the ‘benefits’ of being part of the club start to impact your ability to perform in business, at the office, at the worksite, at home, in relationships,… or land you in a doctors office or the hospital, then maybe you will want to reconsider why you signed up? You may have to ask whether the social aspect truly outweighs your decline in well-being, in health, in day to day function.

If you do not find out ahead of time what a coach or a club is like, then you will likely be in the same position.  A few years down the road, having invested into equipment, into coaching, ending up with a body that has been broken down because you did not do your due diligence into the philosophy of the coach, and the real results (i.e. the unspoken outcomes).

I believe that you are worth taking the time to find out if the true results you will obtain from working with a coach, joining a local team.

Do you believe you are worth it?

To Upgrade Equipment or Not?

I had a masters athlete come up to me and ask, “should they buy a racing suit for upcoming Ontario Masters Provincial Swimming Champs.”  Actually, the athlete asked, “would a racing suit help?”

I answered no.

Why? Because the athlete is a triathlete who decided this year to kick it up in the swimming department, deciding that in order to do that they would join a masters swimming team.  In the course of the year the athlete has improving dramatically in their technique, added breaststroke as a second stroke, and has competed at a masters swim meet.

So why no racing suit?

Wouldn’t it help?

Wouldn’t their times possibly be better with a racing suit?

Probably, but its too soon.

Too soon?

When you go into competitions early in your career what you need to see consistently are improvements made not from equipment, but from training.

If you go into competition too early upgrading constantly to new equipment, you may not consciously think it, but subconsciously you cannot and will not (and maybe never will) attach performance improvements to training.  There will always be doubt as to whether the improvements made were the result of training, or because of the new equipment.  With articles spewing the benefits of everything from aero this to aero that, even encouraging novice athletes that shaving legs leads to time savings (yes, but not meaningful at 25kph), it becomes difficult if not impossible for the athlete to know exactly how and why they are making gains.

But guess which one is more seductive? Results from effort put in day after day, or results from dropping a credit card at your local swim, bike, run or triathlon shop?

Exactly.

Its so seductive, that I believe there is an entire generation of triathletes who believe more in equipment upgrades, in “free speed” as the path to progress, with training a mere add-on, as opposed to training being the primary source of improvement, with equipment being the add-on.

So what?

Because it matters.

There are enough variables in life to make training challenging that adding more variables (i.e. equipment) simply makes it impossible to discern what is working and what isn’t.

New athletes need to learn how to train, need to learn to look for improvements from their own efforts, and become confident in the causal relationship between time spent developing as an athlete, and the results in racing.

Besides, you can guess what is more rewarding… you improved because you trained, vs you improved because you bought a new piece of equipment.

Gee… I wonder which one encourages me to go out and train, and which one discourages training and makes me want to hit the next trade show to pick up the latest tech?

Can you see the cycle that can be created? If you see gains from training, then what are you rewarding? All the effort, all the time you spent training, and it encourages you to train more, it can even encourage you to want to explore even more of your potential, causing you to seek as much information on training, encouraging you to experiment and learn what makes you tick, and how to make yourself tick better. But if the gains you see are not clearly linked to training because this time you bought a new helmet, new carbon rims, lighter racing flats, etc… then what does that encourage? It definitely does not set you up in a virtuous cycle of seeing training as the primary source of your improvement. In fact, you can setup a vicious cycle where to obtain greater and greater gains you have to spend more and more time and money at your local shop outfitting yourself with the newest and greatest.

Athletes can go on for awhile with this mindset, because most are unlikely to have the finances to start off with top of the line everything.  This ‘lack’ of top of the line equipment supplies the answer to every race that doesn’t go as desired… if I had these aero rims instead of these aero rims then, THEN I would have hit my bike split goal, if I had that new thinner wetsuit then, THEN I would have hit my swim split goal, and so on. But what happens when the athlete has all the top of the line equipment, then what?

Instead of doing as Stephen Covey wrote “Put First Things First”, too many triathletes are putting second, third and fourth things first.

Can you see why so many triathletes end up burnt out, frustrated, disappointed, and then financially burnt out, frustrated and disappointed?

The shiny new stuff is sexy, sure, and yeah it would be fun to have, but if you are in search of your potential, then its seduction, temptation you have to avoid. There will be a time to upgrade, but imagine upgrading when you are already able to swim fast, ride long and hard, and run past all the walkers in a triathlon.

You have no idea how fun it is to pass an athlete riding fully decked out in top of the line kit, equipment, you know… a carbon fiber bike, deep aero rims, aero helmet meanwhile you’re on your sisters bike, on a big brothers hand me down, on a garage sale or Kijiji find, especially when they just spent a few thousand to shave a few grams off their bike (meanwhile their arse alone could stand to shed 10+lbs), and you go flying by as if they were standing still.

You want to find out why the pros are having fun? Because the best of the best didn’t get into the sport because of the amazing equipment, they got into the sport because the sport was amazing and now someone is giving them free top of the line equipment.  Now that’s fun.

Read the autobiographies of the best of the best in your sport and the type of equipment they had when they started almost always follow the same pattern… milk crate boxes as baskets or goals, hand me down or left over equipment, or whatever entry level equipment they or their parents could afford to get them started.

If you want to be your best, rise to your best, then make equipment secondary. Invest all the time and money and effort that you would have put into equipment, into training, coaching, and the training tools that you need in order to improve.

Remember the movie Rocky? Rocky trained punching sides of beef, training in old nickel and dime store sweats, running in Converse hi tops, and worked with a crusty old coach out of a broken down gym.  In the 4th installment, Rocky faced Ivan Drago, a Russian boxer who had at his disposal every known technological training tool available to the KGB.  Yet when the illusion of superiority broke down, everything else fell apart, including Ivan.

Who do you want to be?  Rocky or Drago?

We don’t often consider the nuances to why one athlete wins and another loses, and it is for this reason why I believe that athletes should start with nothing other than the basic equipment. Athletes need to learn to train, need to see results from their training, see continued results from adjusting and progressing training, and become confident in themselves. When you race you need to draw confidence, belief, inspiration and motivation from somewhere.

Consider two athletes: one athlete draws their confidence from the training they have put forth over the past two years, the other athlete has little training to draw from but believes that their new equipment will get them to the finish. When the race gets into the final miles, when the body and brain are running on fumes, when the athlete has to dig down into another layer of themselves to finish the race… which athlete do you think will have the confidence, the belief, the inspiration and the motivation to finish and finish well?

Start the way you want to finish. If you want to finish because of the belief you have built in your potential, then start by building that belief. You can build belief in yourself, you cannot build belief in equipment, nor will equipment ever believe in you.

Reconciling A Tortured Private Life with Public Success

Its not an uncommon story… an athlete has a tortured private life: abuse of one sort or another, poverty, lack in one area or many areas (e.g. familial support), yet that athlete rises to achieve stunning success.  How?

Being able to hypothesis an explanation for this pattern has eluded me.  How does someone who endures daily pain and suffering, who must fight off attacks or endure them because their attacker has physically, mentally or emotionally jailed them into the role of victim, who does not know from one day to the next whether they will eat, have shelter, perhaps even be alive, rise to compete at the Olympics, and sometimes, rise to the level of Olympic and World Champion?

How?

There are countless athletes who have support, who have access to coaching, to the environment of a club or team, have access to training facilities and equipment and do not gain the insight into the details of executing sport specific technique with any degree of quality or proficiency, yet an athlete who has lived a tortured private life manages to perfect movement to the point that they generate power, speed, and endurance that rivals those who have had nothing but privilege after privilege.

How?

If you lived a tortured life, but were exposed to a sport, a sport which offered you a break, an escape albeit temporary from your abuser, your jailer, your lack; how much time, and with what effort and energy would you put into that sport?  With what attitude would you approach that sport?  With what level of gratitude, excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness, excitement would you approach every single training session?

The hypothesis is this… if the last thing you want to do is go back to your private jail cell – a physical, mental or emotional jail cell – or jailer, then how would you commit to training?  How dedicated to learning, to practicing, to developing your skill would you be? With what level of determination would you work if sport offered you a temporary leave from jail, from your jailer, from pain, from abuse, from the reality of a life of lack?

It would be unbridled, unrestrained, limitless, it would scale the walls of impossibility.

Want to succeed? Then you have to figure out how to release yourself, give yourself permission, free yourself to experience your fullest potential, seeking with unbridled enthusiasm, unrestrained energy, unwavering faith, with limitless imagination what is possible, what is possible for you to achieve, to attain.

Problem is… our life in the west is comfortable and with our daily aim of making it only more and more comfortable, we fail to use discomfort as a source of motivation, as a means to propel ourselves towards new goals. In the west, when we are uncomfortable it usually leads to a complaint, or worse blaming that someone made you uncomfortable. At an extreme, discomfort is labeled abuse, and is used to validate and excuse failing and failure.

In the west we having training facilities used rarely, typically only for the media circus’ of the Pan Am, Commonwealth, or Olympic Games.  We have multi million dollar stadiums in our cities, we have indoor and outdoor pools and tracks and gyms in our own towns, yet we cannot put down our phones, tablets, or switch off the streaming videos, or turn off the social media feed because that would be uncomfortable.

Champions arise from discomfort. Some are born into discomfort and use it to drive themselves to achieve so as to escape. Some are born into privilege, but are mentored to use discomfort to press on, as motivation to pursue their potential.

What do you pursue?

Comfort by choosing to sustain the status quo, the known, the worn in and well worked rut.

Discomfort by choosing to believe that there is more to you, more to your potential, more to your life, more to see, more to do, more to learn.

Root of “No Pain, No Gain” [2]

The other way to train – other than “no pain, no gain” – is to look to where true strength, true endurance, true power and speed all arise: the brain.

As a rehab professional, I have worked with patients who have suffered from acute and chronic neurological disorders and diseases: from stroke, to MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinsons, Acquired Brain Injury, and patients with various dementias (e.g. Alzheimers).

The reality of where true strength, endurance, power and speed emanates not from muscle, but from the ability to control muscle.  This epiphany occurred to me while working with all the patients with neurological diagnoses because in the vast majority of these cases, the weakness, the fatigue, the inability to coordinate, the disintegration of complex movements such as balance occurred because of neurological changes, not from a lack of muscle mass.

Consider a patient who has a stroke… one moment they are standing, talking, walking, perhaps even driving a car, and the next moment they cannot form a sentence, they cannot swallow, they cannot remain standing. What happened?  Did 30, 40 or 50 lbs of muscle mass just all of a sudden disappear leaving them without strength, without endurance? No.

Think about what makes a muscle move?

Exactly, its you thinking about making a muscle move that makes a muscle move.  How big, how strong, how long a muscle can perform is irrelevant if you consciously cannot control that muscle.  That is exactly what happens to a stroke patient.  The portion of their brain that creates the thought to move a joint, and then creates the signal directing muscles to coordinate either by contracting or relaxing to varying degrees… is not working.

Muscle is not strong because of its size.

Muscle is strong because of its control.

You can have an immensely bulky individual with massive muscles and functionally they may be weak relative to an athlete with half or even less of the muscle mass. How is that possible? Well, ask a bodybuilder to throw a javelin, and then ask an Olympic Track & Field athlete to throw a javelin… who will throw further? You could argue that the bodybuilder is strong because they can bench or squat more than the field athlete, but according to the javelin throw guess who is functionally strong. Not the bodybuilder.

I use this example over and over because we have all seen it, but for some reason fail to recognize it each time we do see it. How many times has a teenager, years before their physiological or psychological peak prevailed against all other athletes from all other nations at the Olympics to win the gold medal? Countless. Yet, every time we forget that these athletes are not bulky. They are perfectly proportioned for their sport, and prevail because of their training in technique, not bulking up. But what do we do? We head off to the gym, off to inflict self harm by pounding ourselves into submission on treadmills, ellipticals, in bootcamps, and CrossFit classes until we either taste, cough, or pee blood, all in the belief that that is the effort required for a “good” workout, a workout that is supposedly making us healthier.

Right.  Tasting, coughing up, or peeing blood… is healthy.

Do we even hear the crap that comes out of our mouths, our minds?

Guess what the rehab process is for a stroke patient?  HiiT?  Bootcamps?  Spin classes? Circuits? What about a Tabata class? Nope. If non of that makes sense for a stroke patient, then why would it make sense for you.

Is there a role for strength and conditioning training? Absolutely, but not for newbies, not for individuals who lack back aerobic base conditioning, who lack full range of motion, who lack flexibility, mobility, and the ABCs of movement (i.e. agility, balance and coordination).

Athletes peaking for competition, athletes who have mastered sport specific technique and now need to load and overload their technique in order to train to maintain ideal body posture, body lines, and body position definitely need strength and conditioning training.

Until then, repetition after repetition of the technique specific to your sport is appropriate training that will lead to not only health, but will translate into functional improvements that will yield strength, endurance, power and speed.