_ I like to talk a bit about athletic development, but it’s not always obvious what that means. The way you compete at your sport and the way you develop yourself as an athlete are quite different. When you see someone sprint at the Olympics – that’s not what their training consists of. There is sprinting, yes, there’ll be other things too, but it’s not a matter of just busting your ass as hard in training as you do in competition. The process of development is different from the testing method. The way you get better at something is not just by doing that thing at maximal intensity, all the damn time. That’ll get you some part of the way, but it’ll also get you fatigued, miserable and burnt out.
Developing your athleticism means paying attention to what helps you to progress. Sometimes that’s going to be working at insanely high levels of intensity, but usually it’s not. The science of strength training is interesting. Depends on who you listen to, of course, because we (trainers) do like to talk. Something I keep coming back to – I forget the exact numbers, so bear with me please – is the difference between intensiveness (your perceived degree of effort) and intensity (as a percentage of your one rep max).
_Your one rep max, acronymised as 1RM, is basically the most amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. The science I have read (can’t for the life of me remember where, sorry people) indicates that if you’re training at around 65% or higher of your 1RM, this is enough to stimulate a strength response.
Pick a lift – bench press or whatever. If you can do a 1RM of 100 pounds, 65% of that is clearly 65 pounds. What this means is – every time you lift weights at 65 pounds or heavier – even if you aren’t pushing failure at all, even if the intensiveness isn’t that high – you’re doing enough to provoke a strength response in your body.
Maybe all this is meaningless to you. Maybe it isn’t. The point, of course, is that you don’t need to feel like you’re going to bleed or vomit in order to be doing enough to make progress. Often the opposite is true – if you’re working that hard, all the time, sooner or later Central Nervous System fatigue will start to set in, your progress will grind to a halt, you’ll feel fatigued and exhausted all the time, and you’ll wonder why the hell nothing is working when you’re ‘being so good’.
My brother is awesome. Something he said the other day is that you can see people’s self-loathing in the way they train. Funny coz it’s true. If you walk into a gym, or take a walk around a popular running track, you can identify the people who are punishing themselves for that cookie they ate six days ago, you can see people who are on auto-pilot, just cruising along doing whatever, you can see people who really enjoy what they’re doing, and you can see people who are working to some sort of structure for athletic progression or the development of a certain kind of training program.
I don’t mean this to sound as judgemental as it’s probably coming across – there’s no hierarchy of training motivation. Whatever you’re doing, this much is true: if you aren’t enjoying it (if it’s not rewarding in and of itself), it isn’t doing a damn thing for you.
Running is a physical expression of freedom. If you like it. If you don’t, it’s hideous. People feel trapped and constrained by their fitness programs, when what you want is the complete opposite. If you don’t like running, don’t run.
If you want to progress your strength, flexibility, conditioning, or improve your times or weights, or get better at something competitive or whatever, you need to shift your focus away from ‘working hard’ for its own sake, and on to developing skills, movement efficiency, joint health and stability and these sorts of things.
The reason I like focusing on developing my athleticism is because it helps to move the focus of my training away from how I look, which is to say – me, and on to a task. This means, when my training fails, it’s my training that fails, not me. And the opposite is also true – when my training succeeds, it’s my training that succeeds, not me. This keeps me from confusing who I am with what I’m working towards. It’s a vitally important distinction.
If your self-worth is tied up in how many push-ups you can do – in the fact that you’re strong, fast, or that you look fit, or whatever – these things, all things, change in time. What happens one day when you get injured? Do you cease being the person you thought you were? What happens when one day, you look different? Are you no longer you?
We have this escapist fantasy that it’s possible to one day achieve a certain magical kind of change – we call it lasting change – and that when we reach that point we will never have to change ever again. Clearly it’s ridiculous. But we buy into the lie that perfection exists, that it’s this static thing, when nothing else in life is static. Maybe rocks. Unless there’s an avalanche.
We have this fantasy that there’s this ‘real’ me that is hidden. That somehow, there’s some magical healthier, fitter, thinner version of ourselves that we can become more like. That’s not how it works. There is one you, and you’re it, and you look exactly the way you look. The fact that you feel different inside does not mean there’s something wrong with the way you look. The way to feel more at home in your own skin isn’t to change your skin, it’s to get into it. Move, play, be free and y’know – judge yourself less.
The best ever benefit of exercise (I reckon) is that it helps you to feel more at home in your own skin. Nothing beats that. And you don’t have to change shape at all.
There isn’t a ‘real you’ that’s separate. There’s no such thing as the size you should be, the weight you should be, because there’s no such thing as ‘should’. The universe doesn’t deal in shoulds. All there is, is ‘is’.
Wow, three is’s in a row, Chris. Did I mention I studied Eenglish at Universtisty?
There’s no such thing as a healthier or sicker you, there’s you as you are, and there’s you as you want to be. The problem is, we think that because we want to be different, there’s something wrong with who we are.
Focusing on athletic development means spending time on the things that will help your body to develop. It means paying attention to the processes you’re going through, and measuring your success not by the way you look, not by who you are, but only in relation to your training. It means investing in free movement, relaxation, structured training, developing your skills and coordination, getting massages, eating enough to support your body, all kinds of things. It means paying attention and trying to work out what’s best. It means thinking about your training, and trying stuff out – not training without thinking, and not over-thinking to the point of inaction. It means giving things a chance to work. Experimenting with variety and consistency.
Mobility drills, rehab and prehab, you name it. It means taking time off and taking time on. Whatever helps you to progress. It means caring about processes that are good for you, good for your development and your body, not merely the ones we think will make us thin.
It has to do with love and respect, not obsession. And ultimately, it means pursuing what you like. What you think might help you to progress. And not holding it too tightly. Not being hard on yourself. And not hiding from yourself. People who play competitive sports – we all believe athletes are athletes because they like what they do. What do you like to do? Do that. What would help you get better at what you like? Investigation, curiosity and awareness.
There will, no doubt, be more to come on this rather broad topic of athletic development. This is kind of a belated follow-up post to A Whole Lotta Development. My main point, is - of course - that athletic development is more than just working hard, and that training does not come down to merely punishing your body. All of this will already be evident, if you have been following my posts about chin-ups.