What you’re bad at can often provide clues as to what you’re good at. In martial arts, I was never good at slow, controlled high kicks or sliding into the splits, but I was good at jumping, punching, and low, powerful stance work.
As a trainer and a coach, I was never good at bootcamps, large groups, or pushing people really hard until fatigue, but I am really good at training people one-on-one, technical work, and taking people through a process of development.
At Personal Trainer school, they used to talk about finding your unique selling point. So of course, everyone chose the same points: fitness, weight loss, etc. What they didn’t point out, is that your weaknesses reveal your strengths. If you’re not good at one thing, like getting people thin, you might be good at another, like helping people be at peace with their bodies.
If you’re not good at endurance sports, you might be good at weightlifting, shot-put or high jump. If you’re not good at running, you might be good at swimming. If you’re naturally flexible, but you lack explosive strength, you might be great at Iyengar style yoga. If you’re not good at aggressive or athletic martial arts like kickboxing, you might be good at evasive and subtle ones like Aikido. If you’re good at team sports, you might not be good at individual disciplines, and if you are not good at following orders (if you’re rebellious by nature), you might suck at boot camps, but you might work really well with a personal trainer who cares about your progress as an individual.
And of course, you can be good at anything that you’re interested in, if you’re prepared to develop in areas that challenge you. And you can become good at anything if you believe in your capacity to change and grow. That might be the single hardest part, and probably warrants it’s very own blog post. If you don’t like running, there’s not a reason in the world that you should run. If you want to be doing some sort of endurance work, there’s swimming, cycling, and a host of other not-so-obvious choices like yoga, dance, and martial arts. And if you do like running, there are still many different ways you can train. Sprinters sprint, marathoners jog, runners run in all kinds of ways.
Tennis and boxing are strange and demanding sports – they require the continuous application of maximal-commitment-type work, for an extended duration of time. They are challenging because they require you to be explosive and committed, and to have stamina – to be able to repeat a singular significant effort – that stroke, that punch – numerous times with very little chance for recovery in between attempts.
If you pursue something you have a talent for, or that you’re interested in, there will be plenty of things to keep you busy along the way. There will be plenty of weak points you will need to discover and address, but overall you’ll be working on something, towards something, that you enjoy. You’ll have the chance to become really good at something. And you won’t just be spending months upon months, years upon years, grinding away at the treadmill, wondering why nothing’s happening. You’re going to be alive for a while. You might as well actually be doing something, if you’re going to the gym.
But too often people think that what they naturally gravitate towards is what everyone should do. Strength athletes write about the benefits of being strong, yogis write about peace and posture, but who really encourages you to investigate and follow your own path?
And too often we believe how we are is how we are. We think about fitness in vague terms – we might become more or less strong or conditioned – but we don’t have an understanding that if we dedicate ourselves to a process, we may become strong or skilled in a way we couldn’t have previously imagined. People think of themselves as uncoordinated, but there’s a difference between being uncoordinated and not having practiced a skill. Nobody is uncoordinated. People are simply un-practiced at certain movements. People think of themselves as weak, when they have never trained for strength, and as inflexible, when they have never trained for flexibility.
Training gets you somewhere. It’s an interesting process, and it really might not get you where you think it’s going to lead you, but it’ll lead you somewhere all the same, and you’ll learn stuff if you’re willing. We learn more from our obstacles than we do when success comes easy. If you don’t succeed, you learn – so there’s really no down side.
They say “those who can do, do, and those who can’t do, teach” – but the reality is simply this – if it hasn’t always come easy, if you’ve been forced to work on things, to overcome things, you’ll make a better teacher.
I started weightlifting because I wanted to be more muscular. I spent a number of years not really getting anywhere, and when I started to suspect that what I’d read was mostly crap, I started to change my approach. Eventually I put on some muscle, but – it’s actually a bit surprising to look back on – what actually happened is that I became strong. Growing up, I was just how I was, and I didn’t think of myself as a strong person, or one who could become strong. I just was the way I was. But when I actually started training for strength – now I look back, and I remember what it was like, and I remember having no concept for how things might one day become.
There is no way I know of, to explain this properly. Change comes, not in the way you expect, but if you train, you learn and you grow. And you change in ways you did not expect. They really don’t tell you about it in the brochure.