WHAT’S the best – and healthiest – way to get a sun tan? Lie there all day in the intense heat (effectively, fry) or for 10 minutes a day every day?
I ask because the way many of us approach bronzing ourselves and physical activity is somewhat similar.
I borrowed this analogy from Dave Whitley, Amazing 12 coach in Nashville, USA, strongman, author and a world class strength training instructor known as the ‘Irontamer’. It struck a chord with me because it’s visually so easy to see the connection.
It could be that the common link between the two scenarios is scarcity. Put it this way. In England, where, comparatively, we don’t always see much sunshine, the compulsion is to try to make the most of it. And, consequently, lots of people get sun-burned. Similarly, with our training or exercise protocols, we live (or create for ourselves) such busy lives nowadays that many individuals don’t know when they will next get to the gym or train. So they cram as much as they can into each and every session.
Is more better? That approach to training works about as well as the intense suntan strategy. You’ll only get burned!
And if you don’t get burned, it’s probably only a matter of time before your skin says ‘I’ve had enough’!
Employing a coach for your training is like applying sun screen before going into the sun. But there are good and poor brands of sun cream. Choose carefully.
Sadly, for many people I work with or know, training or exercise is an afterthought or chore….until our bodies start to fail us and then it becomes a priority.
But if you make it a priority or at least move it up the pecking order, your body may last well for your lifetime.
Little and often – done well (and that’s the key) – will bring the greater rewards.
WHENEVER I’m asked what I know now that I wish I had discovered earlier on my physical training journey it is this: approach your activity with the mindset of ‘I’m going to practice’ rather than ‘I’m going to train’.
It may not seem like much. But it has made a world of difference. Mindful practice shifts the focus from effort to excellence and from quantity to quality.
For years, though, I never saw training this way. I was young, felt indestructible and thought working out or exercising was something to do until sweaty and tired and out of breath or just lifting weights until you’ve had enough. In a nutshell, the emphasis was almost solely on my capacity for working hard. Often it didn’t matter too greatly what that entailed so long as I did something that could be labelled gruelling.
Many people continue to train this way…and all the time. That is fine if you are a young stallion or working towards a gold medal of some description, but, from my experience, it’s not sustainable or even worthwhile.
Progress, for me, isn’t measured in sweat or even being breathless and fatigued. But if you want to get burned out or injured, taking your body to the limit over and over is a great way to go about it.
In the wise words of esteemed American strength coach Dan John, who, believe me, knows his stuff, “Don’t act your age, but train your age. Do everything you can to increase lean body mass and maintain the right amount of mobility….Life, lard and laziness are all conspiring against you in your noble battle to keep yourself as young as you can be, as long as you can.”
Even if your intention is purely conditioning, continually reaching and exceeding the point of fatigue comes at a price: recovery gets tougher; form declines; wear and tear accumulates. When the quality of your movement suffers, you become less efficient.
Worse still, over-training, which is what it may be defined as, can lead to injuries and illness.
If you enjoy your training, you don’t want to get injured. If you value health, you don’t want to become sick.
Effective training means you have a clear, structured and intelligent plan that leads to a chosen goal over a designated period of time. It means you know what you are doing and why. It means you assign time to training and recovering and intelligently manage that balance. I ask, what is wrong with leaving the gym or your training session feeling energised, ready for the next one, rather than exhausted and on your knees in a pool of sweat?
With practice as the driving force, the shift in mindset is subtle yet profound. Practice has a purpose and the path is never-ending. I now go to the gym to sharpen my skills. I know what I want to work on and how. The emphasis is on skill and efficiency rather than output. I can better structure my time in the gym. Focusing on practice also helps me to remain patient, which is vital in this day and age, because, realistically, skills take time to improve and/or perfect.
No matter where I am, I can put in the practice. I don’t always need to think about how many reps or how hard to push. Instead, my focus is on progression and quality of movement. I think in terms of ‘how well’ rather than ‘how many’ and, for me, that’s been a healthier change of perspective.
When you are dedicated more to skill than work, you’ll also find that you move much better and, perhaps most importantly, the chances of staying in one piece increase dramatically. At my age – in my 50th year – that’s a crucial factor.
I take this approach into the Amazing 12 transformation program as well. I teach it as a skill. I want each of my clients at the end of 12 weeks to know how to lift effectively and how to move and to be mindful of that whenever they step into a gym, training environment or in going about their daily lives.
Once the skill is dialled in the rest – strength, fitness, physique – will all follow.
As Aristotle once wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”