“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
― Anne Lamott
A common phrase uttered in the world of sport is: practice makes perfect… or, better yet, perfect practice makes perfect. In relation to competition, this may be the very thing that is holding many of you back from peak performance.
Competition in sport has a way of exposing your weaknesses. Maybe you train to your strengths, or obsessively compare one workout to the last, judging your performance in the present moment. These tendencies, over time, become hindrances to progress. You improve by encountering failure, embracing the unknown and using experience to move your forward. This is the antithesis of perfection.
In the above quote, Ms. Lamott is speaking of writing, and obsessing over perfection. How will this look? How will this be perceived? How does this make me feel? Is it (am I) ready? Its application is directly relevant to sports and competition. In endurance sports, you are your main rival. The other competitors are their own rivals on race day. It is your body of work that is represented when the gun goes off. All dreams of perfection must be released and the importance of acting and reacting must be prioritized.
So, how do you avoid the perfect trap? Here are a few examples:
Ditch the watch: run by feel and emotion. Biofeedback is fun to track, but it can hinder the mind if the numbers aren’t where they “should” be.
Train with a group: training partners, friends, and teams can provide the necessary stimulus to lift you into a new training experience. *Communicate with the group members and understand the goals of the workout before beginning.
Go off road: nature is calling. Hitting the trails is a great way to add new and dynamic stimulus to your training. The mind works harder to engage with the environment. The body reacts to sudden terrain changes. Pace and speed go out the window when the terrain dictates movement. Also, proprioception, coordination, mobility, and strength are enhanced by training off road.
Remind yourself that your finishing time matters to no one else. Nobody cares, but you. Nobody remembers, but you. Release the social pressure of achievement and be happy to be able to participate.
As the great Stoic Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
We take on these difficult challenges, because they bring out the best in us, on that given day. Be happy in the moment and embrace the beauty that competition and sport bring to life.
“And while these pounds were being shed, while the physiological miracles were occurring with the heart and muscle and metabolism, psychological marvels were taking place as well. Just so, the world over, bodies, minds, and souls are constantly being born again, during miles on the road.” – Dr. George Sheehan
Invest your resources in your chosen mode of movement. Facilitation of activity.
Cardio/endurance commitment precedes strength training. Build habits before refinement and instruction.
Avoid all diets. If it has a name or title, it won’t last, and you’ll spend a lot of money in the process.
Keep a journal. Document how lifestyle choices (food, work, sleep, entertainment, drink, stress, etc.) make you feel.
Graze throughout the day.
Schedule periods of relaxation during the day.
Sleep 7+ hours a night.
“What the jogger’s face shows is not boredom but contemplation, which Thomas Aquinas described as man’s highest activity save one—contemplation plus putting the fruits of that contemplation into action.” – Dr. George Sheehan
Be confident and adamant about how you live your life. No explanations. No excuses. You own it, when you no longer feel like you are missing out on your old lifestyle. Movement, the endorphins and positivity it cultivates, is the way.
Our life is a game. Play it often and play it well. Don’t take what you do, or the decisions you make too seriously. Do your best. That’s enough.
The previous post was a bit of an extended lead in to this one. Now, onto the nuts bolts of applying and implementing knowledge.
Get to bed on time. Put some closure on the day. Plan the next days events, including your workout time. Schedule everything.
Wake up EARLY. Just a few minutes at first. This is step #1 in winning your day.
Schedule a cheat-day. Keep it the same day, no matter what your week entails. I like Saturday.
Keep foods out of the house that are known culprits of indulgence: alcohol, peanut butter, potato chips, any and all sweet or savory snacks.
Hydrate first. When feeling tempted to eat, or overindulge at a restaurant, drink a large glass of water first. Then, make the proper decision.
Join or start your own group, for accountability purposes. Believe me, there is power in numbers when seeking to elicit change. Well established, in place, peer and work groups are great places to start. Who doesn’t want to make positive change?
Think about activities you’ve been interested in in the past. If they’ve gone completely dormant ask yourself why, then decide if their benefit could possibly outweigh their cost. With a new mindset/outlook/goal you might be surprised at the answer.
Get it in before the day starts. Four days each week wake up to that early alarm and start moving. I find getting it in before sunrise gives me a lot of power and momentum to seize the day. Start with 20-30 minutes for the first 6-weeks. Patiently increase your time each subsequent week until you reach that 50 minute sweet spot.
In areas or times of inclement weather, or simply if you prefer indoor exercise, try utilizing media to make the time pass and gather knowledge at the same time.
Seek enjoyment! The mind is powerful. If you believe what you are doing is improving your health, giving you more enjoyment, and increasing quality of life, you are more likely to be proud of it.
Keep it super simple (K.I.S.S.). No sense being overly creative here. The same exercises that worked in the early 20th century still work in the early 21st century.
Be creative in your programming. Utilize ladders, timers, games, competitions, and keep track of your workout totals.
Max reps in 10/20/30/60 minutes. Take 1-3 bodyweight exercises and do as many reps as possible in the allotted time period. Squats, lunges, pull ups, push ups, and dips work best here. Metabolic conditioning movements, such as burpees or squat thrusts are great as well, but don’t combine these with the other movements as they are most effective, in this format, when isolated.
Kettlebells. Simple and sinister. Check these out, but be sure to learn proper form and technique. The best exercises are the Goblet Squat and the Swing.
Deadlifts. If you’ve got a background in strength training, you’ve probably done a few deadlifts. Check out the form here, and then keep the reps simple. Build a solid base of 5-10 reps at 100-150% of bodyweight before cranking out super heavy sets.
Rest 48-72 hours between workouts. Unlike cardio, it’s not advised to “lift” on consecutive days. You can get away with this in your youth, with hormones raging, but let commonsense play out and recover properly. Proper recovery insures we absorb these hard training sessions.
Do it. Once a week, minimum, spend 45-60 minutes breathing and stretching.
Focus on the hips, low back, and shoulders. Breathing is everything here.
The foam roller can be extremely therapeutic. I use it as a passive activity for my back and spine, but you can get extremely involved with it.
Search, Seek and Employ. The solutions are right in front of your eyes. Make the time. Make it happen.
Follow your plan and you will succeed. Quiet the doubts in your mind. Understand that they are natural, and will continue to come. Daily, intentional engagement will lead you forward, onward and upward.
In the active, athletic, fitness, and wellness world it seems every week we are presented with new exercises and ways to workout. From slight variations to a pushup to complex training programs for niche activities [think stand up paddle boarding], it seems there is no end in sight for “new” ways to train. Programs are designed to be gender and age specific, emphasizing the unique needs of each group, and defending why the approach needs to be different. My opinion on this matter is that this is completely unnecessary in the area of physical training and sport. Remember, we are not talking about physical therapy or injury rehab, thus a specific isolation should not be needed.
Hacking or Shortcutting: the idea of finding ways to get more out of less is not unique to the fitness world. We (humans) are very strongly drawn to new products, theories, and “revolutionary” ideas of improvement. In training we are working on mastery of movement or sport specific skills. Essentially we are seeking change or lasting imprint on our being. You could even say building and defining a new “self”. When a person attempts to invest time and resources into “hacking” an area of their life that is a complete mess (health and fitness), the best that can be accomplished is an arrival at a slightly better representation of bad. Skip the hype.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): the idea of focusing on interval training to achieve a better workout, or metabolic effect, in a much shorter period of time. In true representation, as a part of a broad training program HIIT is an excellent addition. When properly executed along with strength and power endurance as well as pure endurance activities the immense benefits can be seen. On its own, as the backbone of your training, this is a very poor investment of your energy. Too many times I see people lose focus, patience, and sight of what a well-rounded training program is designed to do. Your training is grounded by the endurance work you do each work. Increasing the size and capacity of your engine (think burn more calories, go faster, recover quicker) should never be shelved in favor of the less is more faction.
Gender Specific Training Programs: lame. Both men and women will benefit from the same exercises. Sure, many very fit women will never be able to do a pull-up or knock out a set of push-ups on the rings. That being said men don’t need some specific testosterone enhancing bench press program, which I’m sure exists somewhere. Likewise, women don’t need “sculpting” programs using special balls and bands. Men and women, benefit equally from training movement in a full range of motion. Bodyweight is often a factor in making high rep sets or stabilization exercises easier for women, just as upper-body dominant exercises done in isolation are easier for men to perform. Standards may differ, but execution should be the same.
Nutrition/Diet: if it has a “name” its bad. Our society has too many eating and food related disorders already why start more? All things in moderation are OK. Just like your exercise/training program, balance is key. The desire to look like a Paleolithic being is bizarre to me when considering their short life spans and severely restricted access to any sort of nutritional variety. Be a smart person. Avoid the extremes.
Complex training: this idea that spreadsheets and confusing rep/set/time formats will provide greater results than the simple. Not true. As someone that loves to exercise, and write training programs, my greatest enjoyment is in seeing mastery and progression. For this to happen the trainee cannot be bogged down in confusion and complexity. Your desired physique comes not from popping in and out of complex training, but from weeks and months of consistency. Skip the new finagled programs, Olympic lifts, and excessive plyometric routines. You won’t regret it!
Find your constant and be true to that activity. For many, this was a sport or leisure activity. Now, I see many people with strong ties to “fitness” classes or programs. My constant is running, preferably on a trail. Most of the time I do this to calm my mind, but for a period every summer I focus intently on honing my training to complete to the best of my ability in a key competition. The emotions elicited from this process help me grow and see possible new realities. Being constant in my focus allows me to grow. I may never “arrive” at some final endpoint of potential, but I’m OK with that.
Respect the amount of energy it takes to change, and avoid the tendency to jump on the newest fad in training. Remember, muscles don’t get confused, and there are no shortcuts.
Grounding Exercises: Squats, Deadlifts, Pull-Up/Body Pulls, Pushups, Dips, Planks, Lunges, Step-Ups, and Kettle Bell Swings and Cleans. Common sense variations of these are applicable and worthwhile.