An athlete’s peak potential is not limited by the amount of force they can generate, but by their level of knowledge in how to move so that the forces they do generate do not yield equal and opposing reactive forces [in the form of friction, drag, and/or resistance, internally or externally] nullifying efforts to go faster, longer, higher.
If peak power is the determinant of potential, then how do you explain a 13 year old, a 14 year old, a 15 year old and 16 year old Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak all winning Olympic gold? If peak power is the determinant of potential, then how do you explain any athlete who takes the podium but isn’t in the supposed “physiologically and psychologically peak” period of the early 20s? How do you explain 17 year old Janet Evans standing 5’5″ and weighing in at a mere 99lbs (soaking wet) defeating women who towered over her, winning Olympic gold and setting a World Record in the 400m FR at the ’88 Seoul Games?
It’s not brute force, it’s not sheer power, or even willpower, it’s knowing how to move with an ease that allows the athlete to deliver peak performances unhindered by opposing forces.
Athletes who train harder and harder in pursuit of their potential fail because performance is not dictated by force, by effort, by desire. To become a consistent peak performer, athletes must focus on training smarter and smarter. It is smart training which allows consistent peak performers to execute their sport with fluidity, grace, and beauty. It is smart training which leads athletes to be able to deliver consistent ‘relaxed efforts’ both in training and in competition.
What is “Smart” Training?
Any training which denies the basic physical laws of motion is hard training. Smart training respects Newton’s laws of motion, namely:
- The Law of Inertia (i.e. an unbalanced Force results in change),
- The Law of Acceleration (i.e. Force = mass * acceleration), and especially
- The Law of Reaction (i.e. for every action there is an equal and opposite re-action).
Smart training is the development of sport specific technique, of flexibility under increasing load, and of a massive base of physiological and psychological conditioning. The outcome of smart training is athletes who all have one thing in common: their performances appear effortless.
It is also smart training which leads to longevity in sport. How else do you explain a 35 year old winning Olympic Gold in the 50m Freestyle, a 35 year old winning Olympic Bronze in Mountain Biking, a 37 year old winning gold in high jump, 40 year olds competing in the Rio finals of the 5,000m and the marathon, and a 42 year old gymnast who competed in Rio, her 7th Olympics.
On the other hand, hard training ends in hard landings: injury, burn out, and max outs. Training hard leads to athletes quitting before they experience their potential, to athletes who end up hating their sport, who resent the time spent training and competing. In worst case scenarios, it leads to impairments in mental health, body image issues, and emotional stability.
To attempt to deliver a peak performance, without fluid functional movement, is simply unhealthy. The Return on Training [RoT] of placing performance ahead of health is not only low, it is inverse, it is riddled with risks, it does not lead to fitness, nor health, but the opposite… health problems which exacerbate existing or cause new medical conditions.
Above all, athletes who seek their potential through means which are healthy: physically, mentally and emotionally; those who are willing to invest in and for the long term.
Athletes who are stuck: after achieving a peak, have plateaued or have suffered a setback and despite additional training, find improvements in performance elusive.
Athletes who are burned-out or maxed-out from trying to force success, who believe their potential is still to be discovered, but lack the methodology to achieve it in an healthy manner.
Athletes plagued by injuries, who are in a state of training limbo because their body doesn’t permit full recovery, doesn’t allow a return to physical training free of doubt, uncertainty, or simply free from pain.
Athletes who are over-trained, unable to recover from neuro-endocrine fatigue, who lack the skill set and the strategies to effectively manage stress and to engage adversity fearlessly.
Athletes who are divided: unable to unify their physical, mental, and emotional dimensions to deliver consistently in training and competition.
Athletes who have had enough of coaching based on negative motivation, reverse psychology (e.g. guilting, shaming) or pure and simple coercion.
To share that how we train matters more than what we train. It is how we travel that reveals whether or not we have conquered fear: fear of failing, of succeeding, of living, of dying.
To live requires us to conquer fear, and there is no success without having lived, and lived well.
Coaching Hippocratic Oath
For me, there is no compromising on what is the priority: health or a performance goal. The outcome is that I will not compromise on an athlete’s health. Without health as the priority, a coach can only peak an athlete for performance, with the cost of that performance coming in the long term at the expense of the athlete’s well-being, of their physical and mental health. Having pursued performance and having been pushed to the point that it cost me my health, I will not coach in a manner that inflicts harm to an athlete, even at the expense of a performance goal.