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?


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.

Problem with… Power Meter Training

In science there are two measures by which data is assessed: reliability and validity.

Wikipedia definitions:

Reliability in statistics and psychometrics is the overall consistency of a measure. A measure is said to have a high reliability if it produces similar results under consistent conditions. “It is the characteristic of a set of test scores that relates to the amount of random error from the measurement process that might be embedded in the scores. Scores that are highly reliable are accurate, reproducible, and consistent from one testing occasion to another. That is, if the testing process were repeated with a group of test takers, essentially the same results would be obtained. Various kinds of reliability coefficients, with values ranging between 0.00 (much error) and 1.00 (no error), are usually used to indicate the amount of error in the scores.” [1] For example, measurements of people’s height and weight are often extremely reliable.[2][3]

Validity is the extent to which a concept,[1] conclusion or measurement is well-founded and corresponds accurately to the real world. The word “valid” is derived from the Latin validus, meaning strong. The validity of a measurement tool (for example, a test in education) is considered to be the degree to which the tool measures what it claims to measure; in this case, the validity is an equivalent to accuracy.

Problem with power is that it is less reliable and valid when applied to the testing of novice and intermediate/sport athletes, and more reliable and valid when applied to the training and testing of expert or professional athletes. Overall, power may be objective (as all the online paid advertising states by both coaches and the manufacturers), but it makes power data unreliable and invalid.

With professional athletes who have a keen awareness of how their body functions, how their body generates force, from where force is generated, and how to modulate and regulate movement to change their power output, the measurement of power will be more reliable and more valid because it is an actual measurement of the forces they can generate, consistently with specific technique.

With amateur athletes, those who lack self awareness, lack a deep understanding of technique, lack technique, lack the ability to modify technique in real time while training or competing, whose life focuses primarily around home and work, which is then followed by sport, you cannot be sure what exactly the power meter is measuring?  Is it the stress of work impeding their ability to generate power, is it fatigue because they were up all night with their sick child, exhaustion because a project deadline got moved up, because home renos are growing from a minor to a major issue, or perhaps they overdosed on coffee and energy drinks and are having a mild PED fueled burst? You don’t know, and if you don’t know what you are measuring, then irrespective of how objective the number may seem, it isn’t.

If you cannot specifically identify what the power data represents, then the data is meaningless. With novice and intermediate athletes, power values are more often than not, random points achieved at a point in time, where the athlete has little to no idea of how they generated, or how to replicate generating that power level under varying conditions. Worst, athletes and coaches don’t know that they don’t know, and proceed to depend on data simply because they have a solid number to establish training and racing parameters.

Curious isn’t it… hack coaches depend on data, but Daniela Ryf, and her coach Brett Sutton do not depend on power data. When the 3x Ironman World Champion and Ironman WC course record holder doesn’t use power as a staple in her training, you would think that it would make athletes and coaches rethink their approach.

Overcoming Doubts: Daniela Ryf’s Record-Setting Day In Kona

When the 4x Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington, who was undefeated at the iron distance of triathlon states that she did not rely on power to compete, instead honed her skills of self awareness in order to execute racing strategies, you would think that it would have athletes and coaches throwing away their power meters.

But the temptation of a number is just to much for most to let go.  Problem is that for most athletes, their power meter is a random number generator, not an objective measure of anything because what is being measured is not consistently reproducible by the athlete.

So why is power heralded as the new metric for training? Because online/spreadsheet coaches need something by which to measure progress, and power has become the data point. Why? Unfortunately because… the average coach cannot tell the difference between valid and invalid data, between reliable and unreliable data.  The mindset is… its data, hurray! Now go harder and produce data with bigger numbers.

As an athlete, if you do not have proper technique (be it cycling, running, or whatever), if you do not know what proper technique is, if you do not have the awareness to feel whether or not you are executing good technique, when and how your technique breaks down, then there is absolutely no reason to have a power meter.

What is a power meter going to tell you?  It will only tell you the power you generate with ineffective and inefficient technique; technique which limits your potential and places you at risk of injury.

What will a power meter not tell you?  That you are riding with ineffective and inefficient technique, what aspect of your technique is ineffective and inefficient, how to fix your technique, or the fact that chasing power with ineffective and inefficient technique is a dead end.

What will a power meter not tell your coach? What sort of technique you train with, compete with, train with when you are tired, done in, fueled poorly vs fueled properly, etc…

Only one on one coaching, where the coach observes, adjust, teaches through drill and skill work can technique be assessed, improved, developed, and hence power be generated efficiently, effectively and with the potential to increase without jeapordizing the athlete with injury, burn out or a blow up.

But what will an athlete (unaware of their lack of technique) do with a power meter?  They will train and train trying to squeeze more and more power out of ineffective and inefficient technique, because they were told that this is proper “training” and the way to becoming a competitive athlete.

And what will the outcome be for this athlete? By squeezing more and more power out of poor technique, they will fail to progress past a point without having to compromise their health and as a result will become frustrated, disappointed, probably suffer an injury and/or a bout of over-training, and if pushed too hard, too long, will likely come quit the sport.

If you want to develop as an athlete the starting point is not power, it is technique.  In swimming, in cycling, in running, in any sport, the starting point is the technique of that sport, or perhaps the athlete needs to take go back to an earlier starting point and learn basic movements fundamentals prior to being able to start sport specific technique.

If you seek your potential, then stop working with coaches who want to take the easy way out, who seek short cuts in their approach, because they will seek short cuts in your training. If your coach is an expert in “copy, paste, and send”, then perhaps you want to consider changing your coach.

If you seek your potential, find a coach who works one on one with athletes, developing their abilities from the beginning, not from where its convenient and cost effective for the coach to begin.

Find a coach with a long term perspective, who cares about you as a human being, not just you as an athlete, a coach who cares about your health, and wants you to succeed equally in sport, and more importantly at home and work too.

Problem with… Athlete Turned Coach

Based on simple observation, it seems that ‘athlete turned coach’ make up the majority of coaches in sport.  There is some sense to it, if you loved a sport, played a sport, progressed in sport, then obviously there is something to continuing along the path and assisting others to find their way in the sport.

Problem is that the ‘athlete who turns into coach’ tends to have a massive blind spot.

As athletes they trained in a particular way, or they were trained in a particular way.  Not knowing any different, and not having the education or experience to know different, they are unaware that they are blind to the fact that everyone is not like them.

Problem with the ‘athlete turned coach’ is that they are almost all guilty of the following syndrome:

“When all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails.”

Because their training worked for them, because their training resulted in their resume of podium placements trying to convince them that their philosophy does not apply universally is typically met with a blank stare which seems to state “what do you mean the training I do won’t work for everyone else?”

When athletes of the ‘athlete turned coach’ fail to make progress, these coaches have only one solution (i.e. the hammer) and with that they apply more of their magic by either picking up the volume or the intensity of their athlete’s training, or in extreme cases, both.  At no point in time does the ‘athlete turned coach’ conceptualize that their approach is simply wrong for that athlete. How can it be wrong?  It worked for them, therefore hammer that nail harder.  If that doesn’t work, hammer harder still! Geez that’s a stubborn nail, hammer it harder (get the point, or do I have to hammer it further)?

At first I thought this observation was an anomaly, but after awhile… after taking coaching courses, after working with numerous coaches, and after reflecting on how I was trained by many of my coaches I came to realize that the pattern is consistent, and eerily so.

Then I read in Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography that for a period of approximately a year, she turned to former International Triathlon Union (ITU) Champion Simon Lessing who after his stellar career turned coach.  Who wouldn’t want a 5x World Champ as coach? Chrissie shares how the relationship didn’t last because Simon spent more time coaching himself then actually coaching Chrissie.  Plus she states that his ego had difficulty with the fact that his athlete was setting a new standard (i.e. Chrissie was undefeated at the iron distance of triathlon competitions).  But not all former ‘athlete turned coach’ are guilty of the hammer syndrome, or of forgetting that they are coach.  Chrissie switched to 6x Ironman World Champion Dave Scott after Simon, and continued her success in her final years working with Dave.

So, how do you go about selecting a coach? I suggest the following:

DISREGARD… their resume of podium placements as it is irrelevant to you.  Their training worked for them but whether or not it will work for you is to be determined, and their success in no way guarantee of your success.

INSTEAD… compare the number of athletes that the ‘athlete turned coach’ helped vs the number they have harmed: the number of athletes they have injured, broke physically, mentally or emotionally, burnt out, blew up, max out, discarded blaming them for lack of talent, motivation, drive or desire. This is not info that will be made publicly available by the coach, so you will need to talk to the athletes/parents of athletes to a sense of the truth.

There is a concerning consistency amongst the ‘athlete turned coach’ that is a telltale of those you want to avoid as a coach. Every coach has helped an athlete achieve a level of success, that is no measure of a coach. The measure of a coach is the ratio of athletes they have helped to the number they have not helped, and those they have harmed. Problem is that these ‘athletes turned coaches’ rarely appreciate their role in burning out, blowing up, and maxing out athletes, and therefore rarely take any responsibility.  Instead, their typical reply is that those athletes who do not make it were either uncoachable, unmotivated, lazy, weak, untalented.

But isn’t that why athletes comes to a coach? Because they need help? So if you run into a coach who uses athletes as scape-goats, be cautious. When you fail to progress you too will likely find them blaming you for your lack in achieving successes. Is that what you want? To be blamed or do you want to be helped, mentored, coached?

If your health matters to you.  If your training matters to you.  If you are serious about your training, about improving, about progressing as an athlete, find a coach who is concerned equally about all their athletes, not just their top performers. Find a coach who objectively assesses their own performance to determine whether athletes who are failing to progress has anything to do with their own coaching style, and if so, makes specific changes to their style, pursues continuing education, widening their skill set, or in humility refers athletes to other coaches who they believe can truly make an impact.

Watching the Rio Olympics it was amazing how many times the coach of the athletes who were at the Games was the father or mother of the athlete.  In some the cases, the father or mother were not even former athletes, nor college or university coaches.  What does that say?

To me it says that above all what truly matters in a coach is that they care.

Find a coach who cares about you as a human being first, and the athlete part second.

Problem with… Online & Spreadsheet Coaching

Online/spreadsheet coaching is uni-dimensional coaching, attempting to train athletes who live a multi-dimensional existence.

Take the typical week of an age group/masters athlete; it will probably look something like this from an energy-fatigue perspective:


  1. Middle of the night (Sunday-Monday) child up coughing, with a fever, and you spend the night up with them… make it to work on Monday but are drained, done.
  2. Monday night you’re exhausted, you made it through the day just to collapse into bed.
  3. Tuesday and Wednesday you start to recover, work doesn’t throw any curveballs.
  4. Thursday you start to feel normal, but a project is assigned to you, which is in addition to your regular workload and the stress takes its toll.
  5. Friday you manage to hold all things together, but there is a social event in the evening that takes a bite out of you, and its not til after all your errands are done Saturday morning that you start to feel on the rebound.

As an age group athlete, managing a career, a profession, a business, perhaps responsible for a team or a number of staff, with a busy home life, with kids, who come with their own after school activities, and maybe having to provide care to aging parents, and you already have a 60hr training week before you jump into the pool, step onto bike, our out on the road for a run.

How does an online/spreadsheet coach take into consideration, you, your life, on a day to day basis, and modify your training so that it is optimal for you workout to workout?  Exactly, they cannot.

The problem with online/spreadsheet coaching, is that the coach is unable to take into any consideration your life, your energy level, your level of health, yet they demand that specific targets, whether its power, split times, or intensity levels are met as if you are a machine that can cough up workouts without effort, nor consequence. These coaches claim that they can take these issues into consideration by looking at your ‘data’, but without seeing an athlete, feeling their energy, watching them train, I have no idea how that is possible.  I have to be with my athletes – in person – to know whats going on with them, I have no idea how anyone can do that online.

If that hypothetical week of an age group athlete repeated one exact workout on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sun, I guarantee you that they would not be able to hit the ‘objective’ levels set out for them with consistent effort, consistent technique, consistent RPE.  Yet online/spreadsheet coaches measure progress dependent on these ‘objective’ data points, but if these data points are anything but reliable or valid, then what use are they? What value is coaching that depends on meaningless data?  It isn’t; its worthless.

An athlete grinding out huge wattage but doing so with inefficient and ineffective technique renders power data meaningless.  Who cares if you can pound out power if its performed with horrible technique?  Horrible technique is a dead end that will cause at a point the athlete to hit a wall beyond which they will be unable to pass despite trying harder and harder.

What matters with power data, is how the power was generated.  Was it efficient? Was the technique exquisite? What were the impediments in form, posture, in the pedal stroke, the swim stroke, the stride that prevented greater power?

If your coach answers that question stating that form, posture, and technique are irrelevant, its just a matter of grinding, mashing, pounding out more power… please change your coach before you end up injured, burnt out, blown up, or simply disgusted with the sport.

What matters is technique, because it is optimal technique which generates optimal power.

The top athletes in the world, Olympians and World Champions train to be able to deliver a peak performance at given moment, on a given day, at a specific competition, and they have difficulty, even failing at times to pull it together and deliver their potential in the moment of competition, and they devote their lives to training and competing. Yet age group athletes are told by coaches that the power meter data they obtain is an unequivocal representation of their training, their potential, their progress?

What crap.

If you take your training seriously, then stop with the online/spreadsheet coaching.

If you take your health and well being seriously, then stop with the online/spreadsheet coaching.

Online/spreadsheets are tools… on their own they do not comprise ‘coaching’ because coaching involves the teaching and the learning of sport specific technique, skills, and abilities. There is no way that this can be online/via spreadsheet, therefore there is no way that you can be getting all the coaching you need to achieve your potential online/via spreadsheet.

If you are worth the investment you made into equipment, then you are worth the investment of one on one sport specific technique coaching.  Coaching where your day to day energy and health level is taken into consideration, where your technique is observed day in day out, where the coach comes to know you and how you perform when energized, when fatigued, when training, when competing.

If you want to make progress, consistent meaningful progress that you can feel, then find a coach who knows how to do more than copy, paste, and press send.


Problem with… Learn to Programs

Today if you want to ‘learn to’ do any sport, the list of available retailers willing to offer you a course is long.

There are learn to programs for everything… 5k, 10k, the half and full marathon distances, triathlons, and even learn to walk programs.

Have you ever stopped and reviewed exactly what is taught in these programs? If you were to take a university or college course in a specific area of interest, you would likely review the course contents, perhaps review the required and recommended reading, and/or do a Google search on the professor to see their qualifications, their experiences, to ensure that the learning experience is what you want.

Does anyone do that type of research for sport ‘learn to’ programs? You would think that the instructor would be an actual coach, someone with actual experience in taking novices and introducing them to training and sport.  Rarely if ever is this the case.

Stop and think about it for a second… what do these ‘learn to’ programs actually teach you about the sport? Nothing or next to nothing. Instead they teach you, or tell you what to buy to look as if you know what you are doing in the sport. Take the typical learn to run program…

  • Session 1 – What shoes you need… to buy.
  • Session 2 – What clothing you need… to buy.
  • Session 3 – What nutrition you need… to buy.
  • Session 4 – What training technology you need… to buy.
  • Session 5 – What else you need… to buy, in case who haven’t already emptied your wallet.

The lesson is this… if you spend enough, then you will have learnt all that you need to learn about developing as an athlete in the sport.  The outcome of these learn to programs is an abundance of novice athletes who overtrain, get injured, get disappointed, and who in time switch to another sport or simply give up on sport altogether because beyond buying their way into the sport, they learnt nothing about the sport, and having no concept of how to improve, progress, or proceed (except by taking another learn to program) have no other option then to quit.

There are always stand out stories of accomplishment, achievement, especially weight loss, but everything has its exceptions. Its easy to point to the exception, problem is when exceptions are not identified as such, and are made out to be the typical outcome.  No different than mutual fund, stock market returns or weight loss results which require a disclaimer: results are not typical, history is no predictor of future results, etc… same should apply to these programs.

These are learn to shop programs not learn to train programs. These are boardroom designed programs designed to boost sales, not your appreciation of the sport, not your understanding of your individual needs of how to start training, of your starting health or fitness level. And for a society which is now on average unhealthy, overweight, obese, and sporting at least one lifestyle disease, stepping out the door and just running is not appropriate in all cases.

If that wasn’t bad enough, these programs have dumbed sport down to the point where DIY is accepted as all that any athlete needs in order to achieve their potential, and relegated coaching to some ancient art that’s been replaced with one size fits all plans from start to finish line. Funny isn’t it, none of these retailers would sell one size fits all training shoes or apparel, yet one size fits all training programs are acceptable. Everyone needs a specific fit in their shoes or clothing, yet everyone can follow the exact same step up program of mileage to complete an event? Really?

Done with ‘learn to’ programs yet?

Ready to take your health, your fitness, your performance and your potential seriously?

Ready to take all of the above back in your hands, and out of the hands of salespeople?

Find a coach who trains athletes, and not another salesperson. Sales people will have you hooked on sports nutrition products, compression clothing and weekly or monthly ‘health’ treatments like massages or adjustments, or items such as taping, orthotics, or braces.

Find a coach who appreciates movement, understands how human physiology and psychology intertwine and relate to sport, knows how to inspire and motivate athletes to want to develop, and depends on learning to achieve results, not self abusive “no pain no gain” training.

Take the leap from athlete look-alike, to authentic athlete.  You do not need to stand on a podium to be an athlete. An athlete is anyone at any level of ability who is seriously taking the time and making the effort to learn how their body works, how it moves, what it needs to function optimally; athletes do not depend on others to tell them what they need.

Become an athlete, stop selling yourself short and giving into those who only want to take advantage of you and your goals.

Emotion and Peak Performance

Too many athletes and coaches are under the misconception that the energy of negative emotions is useful in driving an athlete to a higher level of performance. Some coaches are under the misunderstanding that the chair throwing, insult spewing temper tantrums they throw in an attempt to motivate their athletes in fact works. Indeed, you can threaten an athlete scaring them to the point that it results in a temporary spike in performance due to the defensive rush of adrenalin, but this is neither physiological nor psychological training and fails to correlate with consistent peak performance of athletes.

The illusion is that initially gains can be made by threatening and causing an adrenalin spike in an athlete. It is an illusion because eventually after repeated exposure to negative energy – no different than Pavlov’s dog – an athlete will become trained, then accustomed, then dependent on anger, hate, or anxiety to perform. It works until it doesn’t. When it stops working, when the adrenal glands cannot be forced to cough up enough adrenalin to cause a larger spike in performance, Icarus falls from the sky realizing it was all an illusion: their performance was an hormonally induced display, not the result of years of training and refining the physiology and psychology to that of a Champion.

Wonder why athletes fail to replicate success in sport to other areas in life?  Wonder why many athletes are one-offs? Wonder why athletes turn to drugs, alcohol, or self abuse? Wonder why athletes commit suicide?  It ain’t from ‘positive’ energy in their lives that’s for certain.

You can beat a dog so that it fights for its life, but eventually the beating that the dog requires to fight once more… kills the dog.

Peak performance requires a rhythmical heart rate, a relaxed state where there is symmetry across physical, mental, and emotional dimensions, where the athlete is focused, able to execute specific strategies. This unity does not occur in a stressed state, in an environment filled with ‘negative’ emotion.

Consider the following…

Undefeated at the ironman distance and 4x Ironman World Champion triathlete Chrissie Wellington always competed with a smile:

chrissie02 6x Ironman World Champion, triathlete Natascha Badmann could be puking one minute, but the next she would be back to smiling. Even while suffering a crash on the bike, being severely injured, and having to be pulled out of a World Championship competition by her coach, Natascha still would have a smile on her face: Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann06Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann07Have you ever seen Usain Bolt not having a good time?

Usain_Bolt_001Cells that fire together, wire together.

What thoughts are you firing and wiring today?

Still think that getting angry or anxious in an attempt to boost your performance is the way to go? There aren’t many if any consistent World Champions, repeat gold medal Olympians who approach their sport, their racing or training with ‘negative’ energy. There aren’t any truly successful people in any field who approach business or life with resentment, with hate, frustration or anger. The best of the best are having fun; while working, training, competing.

“No pain, no gain” is a losers mindset.

Gratitude, appreciation, gentleness, and humility are the attitudes of champions.

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?


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.


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.

Root of “No Pain, No Gain” [1]

Strengthening and conditioning training was taken from the concept of building muscle bulk for bodybuilding and that is the source of the “no pain, no gain” mindset. Now this adage has been applied indiscriminately to all sports, even in sports where carrying extra muscle bulk is the equivalent of trying to finish last, of trying to lose.

“No pain, no gain” provided a motto, a distinct ‘experience’ for marketers, a unique attribute to exercise.

But with the “no pain, no gain” credo, sport lost athletes and gained a generation of thrillseekers: individuals not seeking health, not seeking betterment of themselves, not seeking technical expertise, but the high – as in an addicts high – of engaging the threat and stress of fear in order to experience the release and high of endorphins, adrenalin and cortisol.

“No pain, no gain” arose from sport coaches and exercise physiologists both of whom were hoping to jump in on the commercialization and the growth of the fitness industry by making names for themselves as tough, merciless, hard taskmasters that would drive you to your limit and beyond.

It was the roaring 80s, the fitness craze was firing up, and the opportunity to be an expert and to monetize on the eagerness of the population to train for fitness drove the need for ideas and explanations on why exercise works, how it works, and how we should exercise.

“No pain, no gain” arose from the belief that in order to develop strength, muscle needs to be made to grow in size in order for the athlete to gain in strength, in power.

“No pain, no gain” comes from the concept that to build muscle, you need to workout to such a degree, at such intensity that you literally ‘rip’ and ‘tear’ muscle at the microscopic level, providing it the stimulus via injury in the hope that it will heal bigger and stronger than before. By repeating this cycle over and over the belief is that your muscles will recover, heal from the self inflicted ripping, tearing, from the multiple injuries you self inflict, and grow stronger in the process.

It works, there is no doubt.  There is proof of it as rip & rest is the cornerstone of bodybuilding.When all that matters is total muscle volume and appearance of that muscle, and there is no functional requirement of the muscles except to be oiled up and put on display at max tension so that it can be judged in competition, then who cares how you build the muscle.

Can bodybuilders lift, push, pull, and carry inordinate loads? Absolutely.

Can they do it in any functional matter that applies to sport? Absolutely not.Have you ever seen a bodybuilder win the 100m sprint, the 5,000m, the marathon? What about discus, javelin or the hammer throw? Any water sports? How bout any sport? Nope.

They have muscle, but they have no functional use for that muscle because they built the muscle, they did not train muscle to execute a function. Although a minute difference, this is the entire difference between muscle bulk which is useless in sport and training which is neurologically focused to coordinate all muscles in the body to work in harmony to execute sport specific technique, to execute strategy, to complete choreography.

If “no pain, no gain” was the secret to success in sport, then bodybuilders should be winning Olympic medals left and right, winning at Worlds Championships across all sports, and recognized as the epitome of athletism.

They are not, because they cannot apply their muscle mass efficiently to any sport.

“No pain, no gain” obviously works as a bodybuilding concept, but if you are not a bodybuilder then “no pain, no gain” applies to you as much as the dumbbell in the image above does to any distance runner… its useless!

“No pain, no gain” is irrelevant to any athlete involved in sport because in sport you do not want bulk, you do not want muscle mass, you want efficiency.

Absolute peak power is irrelevant in sport and to sport.

What matters is peak power per kilogram of body weight.

If anything, bodybuilders represent the diametric opposite of athletes who train for sport.  In bodybuilding it is not the most efficient who wins, it is the least efficient… it is the bulkiest, heaviest, most cumbersome that wins.

So if the training philosophy of bodybuilding is “no pain, no gain” and bodybuilding is the anti-thesis of the type of strength, endurance, and power that an athlete wants in sport… then what does that say about sport athletes training “no pain, no gain”?

It says that they are training to lose, not to win.

It says that they are training to become less and less efficient, not more and more.

It says that any exercise physiologist or coach who is training their athletes in this mindset for anything other than bodybuilding competitions, has no clue how to train athletes for sport.

Anyone who wants to convince you otherwise is ignorant.

Anyhow, “no pain, no gain” is simply an absurd concept when it comes to performance. Why?

Because muscle bulk is not the worst byproduct of the “no pain, no gain” mindset. Even worse is that the “no pain, no gain” mindset is that it is the root behind athletes training and inflicting self-harm.  The “no pain, no gain” mantra forms the narratives which permit and encourage athletes to self inflict… pain, injury, illness all in a belief that by damaging and destroying themselves somehow it leads to better health, better well-being, as well as gains in strength, endurance and power.

How absurd is “no pain, no gain” training when applied to training for sport… inflicting self-harm believing that you are becoming a better athlete is akin to hitting yourself with a hammer hoping that if you can only take more and more hits, and harder and harder hits, by being able to “take the pain” you will magically transform that into athletic performance.

There is no relation between being able to “take the pain” and being able to swim more smoothly, to bike more efficiently, more aerodynamically, or running more effortlessly.

Its absurd.

Its ignorant.

Its the dumbest model we have come up with to train athletes, especially as a model to train children, tweens, and teens.

Consider this…

There are countless Olympians, and Olympic medalists who are teens; teens who competed at the Olympics before they even came close to the physiological and psychological peaks of the early 20s. There are in fact Olympic gold medalists who were so young that there is no way that they had fully developed physically, to their max strength, to their peak endurance, yet they eclipsed the abilities of all other athletes against whom they competed to win.

How?  Not by the “no pain, no gain” mindset.

Hi Protein… Bulls#!t

Every chance the food conglomerates get to generate some new “super food fad” or new diet that will take you to immortality, they jump on it. How many diets have we gone through in recent months? Paleo, Keto, Atkins, etc… One thing they all have in common: they are all high in protein. Isn’t that a little interesting when you actually think about it? Protein is the most expensive form of calorie… fruits, veg, grains and nuts are much much cheaper, so why would food conglomerates be jumping onto promoting protein?


Can it have anything to do with their need to continue reporting higher and higher revenues and higher and higher profits to keep C-class executive bonuses flowing and to keep shareholders satisfied with a growing stock valuation?

Wait… are you suggesting the switch to hi protein diets has nothing to do with actual health and has everything to do with the economics of food companies?

Thats preposterous… no food conglomerate would ever ‘manufacture’ evidence in order to boost sales, profits, stock valuations, hence salary and bonuses… or would they? Gee… its not like it hasn’t ever happened before with the demonizing of fats where everyone had to turn to margarine and low fat and no fat foods (which just so happened to create an entirely new category of products that food companies were able to make billions and billions).

Still think protein is all that healthy? Let alone necessary?

Considering that athletes coming out of the Eastern African nations – typically long distance runners coming out of Somalia, Ethiopia, & Kenya – all live on diets that are 95-99% carb mainly because they cannot afford protein are the same athletes who tend to dominate at the Olympics. What happened to all that business about protein? Huh?

Exactly… its business, its not health information, its all about revenue, profit, and bonuses.

Like getting sold…

Well keep buying all that hi protein business because you are being sold a boatload.