Week 6: The Inner Game

GRAINY: when our thoughts lack clarity, like this picture of Rich, the body can become confused

IN the world of high-level sports the difference between first and second is often what takes place between your ears.

The inner game – that ability to stay calm and focused amidst chaos; to put out of our minds a mistake; to rebound from a lost opportunity; to forgive ourselves; to overcome failing to meet an expectation, to cast aside doubt when times are troublesome; to deal with pain or discomfort or injury; to cope with pressure; to ride in the face of fear…

However, when it comes to skill and mastery – and this may sound like a contradiction – often the execution of a given movement or skill to a high standard doesn’t involve much thought at all. It’s instinctive. It’s reactive. It’s something that has been practised so frequently that it just happens. The mind is off. The timing is exquisite. The body knows what it needs to do.

There are two entities: the body and the mind. When working together, they can be formidable. When there is friction, progress or function seems sticky or stationary even.

Just like our muscles have to dance between tension and relaxation to enable us to operate at our highest, our mind has a yin and yang of its own, too.

In terms of lifting weights, for instance, we take in the information, process it, instruct and remind our bodies what to do and, using our senses, practice until we get better and it becomes easier.

There comes a point when we do more feeling and less thinking. This is having the intuition to know when everything is positioned as it should be and then it just flows perfectly. That takes repetition. Lots and lots of repetition.

REPETITION: that’s how improvement is achieved

The inner game also takes years to tame for most of us. Maybe ‘tame’ isn’t the right word, because I’m not sure we ever fully tame our minds. But we can definitely train our thoughts. As I wrote in my Week 5 blog of the Amazing 12 Chichester, we are all programmed uniquely, be it athletically or academically or creatively, and it is this that gives us an advantage or puts us at a disadvantage depending on our circumstances. 

To change and improve is a process – a process that is as applicable to the mind as it is the body.

As coach Vic Braden wrote in Mental Tennis, a book I read many moons ago, “You should approach the process [of change] with the understanding that the brain does not change a software package quickly.”

Some of us, when learning a new or unfamiliar task, have to work harder and think harder, too. That point was highlighted this week on the Amazing 12 Chichester, as Rich and Stacey reached the halfway mark.

Midway, Rich had a frustrating night when practising the deadlift, a movement that has confounded him for many years. He was so consumed by frustration that it left him more listless than normal for the exercises that followed even though he was determined to make amends.

And the next day, when we resumed training, he was still mulling over the events from the night before, perplexed by how he just ‘couldn’t get it’.

BETTER SPIRITS: Rich getting back into full flow

As a questioner, Rich wanted to know ‘why?’ Was it a lack of mobility? Was it a lack of strength? Was it poor balance? Was it a weak core? Was it because he doubted himself?

What made it more frustrating was that the previous week Rich had made sizeable strides in the right direction and so he felt like he’d taken a massive backwards step.

As Braden explains, “in motor learning you might know what you want to do, but the brain replies, ‘Well, that’s fine, but I’ve still got a package up here and I’m hanging on to it’.”

Braden adds: “We get accustomed to functioning in a certain way and, psychologically, that way becomes very comfortable for us…bear in mind that psychological comfort is a very powerful quality for all of us. You might have to get a little uncomfortable before you can make the change you are after.”

There are several more tiers to Rich’s situation. (a) The expectation of thinking that we should be able to accomplish something in a given time when often our forecasts are unreasonable. How can we know how long it takes to learn or improve something when we are all so different?

(b) Sometimes we have to accept we can’t always have our questions answered or that we can’t have them answered in the way we want. There are times when we just have to let go – take the situation for what it is, move forwards and keep practicing, knowing the next day provides a new opportunity and that, with persistent effort, the breakthrough moment will come.

(c) We can view setbacks as positive and as learning and defining moments in our development. As I wrote in week 3, the path for progress is seldom linear. Often we take two steps forwards and one step back. We shouldn’t be disappointed on the occasions we don’t feel as if we are advancing.

(d) Each setback provides the opportunity to change a pattern of thinking: to bring awareness to a response or reaction that doesn’t enhance our experience. From there we can work towards introducing a new pattern/way of thinking – overwrite the old software, so to speak.

(e) There’s the overthinking. We can try so hard to work it out that, with too many thoughts flooding our brains, nothing works at all.

(f) Injury prevention. Rich has hurt his back in the past. When our body senses a threat or fears danger or the brain is sending a message of concern, the Central Nervous System goes into preservation mode and the body can tighten up to protect itself and thus make it harder to follow instructions or perform.  

Rich can see how the ‘inner game’ plays a critical role when the stakes are high in top level sports, but what about the everyday athlete?

MOVING UPWARDS: every opportunity and experience provides learning

Put it this way: every top athlete was once an everyday athlete and the ‘inner game’ of a champion had to be cultivated from early on. He or she, using experience, had to train his or her  thinking, just like muscles.

We need the inner game for everyday life, too. The gym is a place, like many, that allows us the opportunity to get better at it.

Having one ‘bad’ session on the Amazing 12 is like losing a point in a game of tennis. Don’t let that point lose you the match.

What determines the healthfulness of our bodies and minds is what we put in our mouths and heads respectively. 

With Rich’s head in a muddle, I decided to take a gamble midweek. At Core Results, where we train, there is always a monthly gym challenge and I had Rich do it a few weeks ago as a finisher and as a marker to see where he was, fitness-wise, so I could have him try it again later. It involved goblet squats and heavy ball slams. It was a relatively short but high-intensity workout with low risk for those who aren’t so technically blessed.

BALANCE: we can train the mind as we can the body

I had Stacey do it as well a few weeks back. Typically, Rich attacked it with everything he had, finishing in 5 mins 48 seconds and, given how he went at it, I thought it would be a challenging time to beat.

Low and behold, someone came in the next day and knocked a good chunk off it, reducing the leading time to 4 mins 21. And then it went down further, to 3 mins 28.

Stacey also went for it with all she had at the end of one of our normal sessions and got the job done in an impressive 4 mins 58, but it took everything out of her.

This week, without prior warning, I had them both retry. Stacey didn’t want to. She said her legs were aching from the night before and that there was ‘no way’ she’d better her time. I just told her to do her best.

LEADERBOARD: A12 duo doing well in first and third

Even with a couple of no-reps, which she had to repeat, she registered an emphatic 4 mins 33 (25 seconds improvement in 13 days).

To sum up just how her mindset had shifted afterwards, Stacey, who doubted herself beforehand, said confidently, “I think I can do it faster.”

My ‘gamble’ on Rich was in order to lift his spirits. I felt, in spite of his funk over the deadlifts, that he could beat his goblet squat/ball slam time to at least remind him he was getting fitter and stronger. I was confident he could do it. If he didn’t, though, he might beat himself up further and conclude he was going backwards rather than forwards.

“I’ll give it a go,” he said. And he did, finishing in 4 mins 53, which is a staggering 55 seconds quicker than his first attempt two weeks previously, the one I thought would take some beating!

DRILLED: Stacey on her back squats

These are just little finishers, but they reveal progress. They tell me if someone is getting fitter and they can also help form a stronger mindset. In training, there are small victories to be had all the time if you are prepared to see them.

Battles are won this way. Change is difficult, but takes place incrementally. However, we need to know how to handle the moments that don’t go as anticipated or desired. Failure only exists when we fail to learn from our setbacks. Nothing is a waste of time, because every situation offers an opportunity to learn and develop.

To be at our best, we should perhaps take a leaf out of the book of the finest. Braden explains that the great tennis players (and this applies to most top athletes) “respond to their momentary failures and mistakes on court by pushing and willing themselves toward mental recovery. They never submit to their cycle of self-doubt, the cycle that starts with the silent cry, ‘I’m finished’.”

You’re only finished if you believe you are finished. Belief is a thought about something. And we can always change our beliefs if we permit ourselves to.  

So here are a few questions to ponder: what beliefs do you hold about yourself that aren’t true? How do you respond to setbacks and what language do you use with yourself in those instances? Is your attitude to change and transformation a positive one and, if not, what can you do to improve it?


Week 5: Why repetition is so crucial

SECOND NATURE: Rich and Stacey can skip on auto pilot because they’ve done it so often

HAVE you ever tried learning something – it could be anything – and it just seems an endless struggle? Or have you noticed how some of us pick up new skills or perform tasks far easier than others?

We’re all different. We learn in different ways. Physically, mentally and emotionally, we are hard-wired differently.

It doesn’t mean we are better or worse than the next person. Only different. And if we want to improve or change, we can. But the way we are programmed means that change is often slow and only those who persevere with the process reach their destination.

The people I’ve worked with on the Amazing 12 Chichester transformation program have all had contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

My current pair, Rich and Stacey, now at the end of week 5, are no exceptions.

PRACTICING: Rich working on the hinge pattern

Rich, for example, has always found it hard to get the hang of the hinge technique which is essential for the deadlift and kettlebell swings, whereas, by contrast, Stacey finds it almost effortless. There could be anatomical reasons for this also.

“I just don’t understand why I find some things so hard and Stacey makes it look so easy,” said Rich this week.

But what may explain how some of us take more easily to certain tasks and challenges than others is that we are all programmed uniquely.

Our programming covers everything, from the way we think to how we move to our beliefs and desires.

I’ve noticed how there are things Rich has adapted to much better than Stacey, again highlighting how each of us is unique.

UNIQUE: some movements are easier for us than others

Crucially, Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist and an expert on this subject, explains how most of our programming is done during the first seven years of life and some of it pre-birth.

By the age of seven we are very much set in the way we do things, hence the expression about “show me the boy at seven and I will show you the man”.

It may explain also how some of us seem so naturally talented. This ‘talent’ is programming that’s either inherited or learned during those seven years.

Our programming is stored in our subconscious, which is where habits reside. According to Lipton, we operate from the subconscious 95 per cent of the time.

“The subconscious mind is like a machine,” explains Lipton. “It records, pushes a button, plays back.”

SPEED WORK: sprinting with the prowler

Everything we do is being recorded, whether we like it or not. For example, the person who comes home from work, plonks himself on a couch, watches television and doesn’t move for the next four hours each day is recording a pattern he or she may not even realise is being recorded.

Or, as I have written about previously, the person who complains repeatedly is re-recording the same pattern. Or the individual who automatically reaches for their phone upon waking is reinforcing a pattern…

Lipton says the process for changing habits shouldn’t be rushed because it takes time, which, of course, conflicts with our impatience for results.

“You don’t want it to change very quickly, because otherwise habits fall apart,” says Lipton. “Habits are resistant to change.”

MODIFICATION: Stacey pressing with a football bar

The good news is that the programming can be changed. The bad news is that it requires work, action, discipline, commitment and patience.

Some challenges may seem impossible. But remember that on the other side of impossible is the possible.

So what is the best way to change this programming that is within each of us?

According to Lipton, there are three main ways. One is hypnosis, because, as Lipton explains, for the first seven years of life our minds operate at a low vibrational frequency. Many athletes successfully use forms of hypnosis to improve their performances.

The second – and more common method – is repetition: doing something over and over. “Practice, repeat, practice,” says Lipton, which is how it works often in the gym with developing and honing techniques and skills. It’s why, for the best results, training needs to be repetitive.

“It’s about habituation,” says Lipton. “Where you make a practice out of something every day and repeat it over and over again.”

GROWING: Rich’s strength is on the increase

However, the process starts with awareness – recognition of our behaviour. To change something, we need to be conscious of what’s going on. But, as Lipton explains, the conscious and subconscious mind operate differently.

Our thoughts are hugely important in this respect. Earl Nightingale, the famous American author who studied human behaviour, once wrote: “Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition will one day become our reality.”

Lipton adds to this that “the picture you hold in your mind creates the behaviours and biology you express in life. Take fear, for example. Fear causes 90 per cent of illnesses on the planet. It’s all generated by the perception of the mind.”

Therefore, a vital cog in the wheel of change is the belief that you can change. Practice and repetition in the right way can help to foster confidence that encourages belief that leads to change.

Energy grows where energy goes, so to speak.

HARD WORK: week 5 must go down as the toughest so far

Belief is something that can ebb and flow. I notice with Rich and Stacey how on some days and weeks they are more focused and confident than others.

This week at the Core Results Gym was particularly hard for them both, especially Stacey. She took a day off on the final day. I don’t encourage skipping training sessions, but there are times when it’s the best course of action. With the training getting harder and her continued lack of sleep, Stacey’s body badly needed some reprieve.

Stacey’s finding her journey through the Amazing 12 much tougher second time around, mainly because she’s stronger and therefore the loads she is having to lift and move are greater.  

Rich, too, felt it was a grind after flying through the first four weeks. He works tremendously hard in every session. But he admitted he had to dig especially deep this week and felt depleted by the end of it.

It won’t remain that way. That’s the magnificence of the human body (if treated respectfully). With sufficient rest, it recovers, adapts and comes back stronger than before. This is physical change.

ONE MORE REP: Rich is not one to give up easily

Remember the graph I used in my Week 3 blog illustrating a typical path of progress? It doesn’t always take a straight line, but the overall trend is upwards. This was one of those weeks where the line of progress was flatter.

Physical change can be a lot easier to alter than habitual change. For instance, Rich drives himself to the limit all the time and there are occasions where I don’t want him to (for good reason). He has had to learn to control that habit.

In fact, when you watch people train, as I do every day, you can see how the vast majority of actions and thoughts are dictated by habitual behaviour.

William James, the American philosopher, wrote in 1892 that “all our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”

TESTER: crawling can challenge the brain as well as the body

According to Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit, “habits never disappear. They are encoded into the structures of the brain.”

It explains how and why we can slip back into old habits. To change means overwriting one program with another.

“Habits, though, are as much a curse as they are a benefit,” says Duhigg. In training, someone who has a habit of losing concentration can cause themselves injury, while someone whose habit is to never give up won’t ever need motivating.

With regards to food and eating, bad habits, we know, can undermine our best intentions. Good habits keep us on track.

Therefore we need to identify (awareness) the habits that are holding us back and work on re-patterning and replacing them.

When I coach Rich and Stacey, I look to how they move and breath and think and respond to different stressors and cues to identify habits. If they need modifying, I remind them, sometimes repeatedly. Consciously, they will then try to perform or think differently until the action becomes subconscious and doesn’t require much or any thought.

SMILING: it doesn’t matter how difficult it gets, Stacey tries to grin through it

Whether or not 12 weeks is long enough to bring about lasting changes depends on the individual and how committed they are to the process of change and how deeply ingrained the original patterns are.

“Habits, as much as memory or reason, are the root of how we behave,” wrote Duhigg. “Once they are lodged within our brains they influence how we act – often without realization.

“They shape our lives far more than we realise – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

Here’s the challenge for this week: try to identify the habits in your behaviour and thinking and decide whether they are in alignment with your best intentions and beliefs.


Week 4: Why muscles are a life-saver

BENEFITS: not many exercises can beat the Farmer’s Carry

IF you really knew and understood fully the purpose, function and importance of muscles, you might not be afraid of them. You’d probably re-evaluate your thinking or maybe even consider lifting weights or explore how to begin a resistance training protocol.

I have written about muscle before, but it never hurts to revisit a subject or expand on it or write about it from a different angle.

When people see the Amazing 12 Transformation program, it is commonly assumed that the process is purely in search of vanity – that the training and lifting weights and attention to nutrition is only to reshape our bodies so we look and feel better.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course. I’m all for improving the way we look and feel. Who isn’t? It’s the most common reason people go to the gym. But it’s the add-ons and where having muscle us useful that often gets ignored.

I shared a short video clip this week on my Intelligent Strength Facebook page that outlined the importance of muscle and how the latest research supports this (not that it was ever in doubt).

MOBILITY: I get shoulder envy watching Rich do these

We are usually at our muscular peak around the age of 30 and thereafter it becomes more difficult to retain. We start to lose more than we gain and this process of atrophy accelerates between the ages of 50 and 60.

But rather than resign ourselves to becoming week and frail, we CAN do something about it. According to the film clip, researchers have discovered that “as long as we keep challenging our muscles, we can hold on to and even increase mass into old age.”

I’ve found this to be true not only personally but also in people I coach. The problem is that as we age, we tend to reduce our activity levels and shy away from demanding jobs or tasks, when we actually need to work harder and manage our diets more smartly in order to retain the muscle that’s going to be essential for old age.

“A lack of muscle mass causes a lot of deaths in old people because they can’t prevent themselves from falling over and they struggle to look after themselves,” the film said.

Muscle helps preserve and maintain bone density. In the absence of muscle your bones become frail.

NEVER TOO LATE: Extraordinary Ann, 77 years young

I currently have a 77-year-old training with me and learning to lift weights. She’s incredible. It’s never too late to start!

Rich and Stacey, now at the end of week 4 on the Amazing 12 Chichester, are 48 and 38 respectively. Hardly old, but on the other side of 30.

Each has a clear understanding of the benefits of weight-training. They know also that while the program is designed to improve their appearance, it will boost their strength and fitness significantly, too. Stacey, after all, has done it before.

More importantly, they each comprehend that the journey doesn’t end after 12 weeks – that this needs to be a life-long commitment because that’s how long we are going to require our muscles to be strong and useful.

GROWING: Rich’s strength keeps increasing

“Having muscle is an essential part of growing old gracefully,” said Stacey. “It will enable me to move and function the way I want to.

“I want to be as strong as possible and if that means looking muscular, which some may not find attractive, then so be it.”

If you’ve not exercised in a long time and are overweight or out of shape, the idea of getting fit and strong can be a daunting one.

That’s why a program such as the Amazing 12 works so well. It can help someone go from next to nothing to making ‘amazing’ progress in a relatively short period whilst also providing a clearer understanding of what it takes – in terms of nutrition and lifestyle – to sustain it. It also teaches and drills important lifting techniques that can be adapted for everyday life.

Weight-lifting is effective because the demand on the muscles is greater (provided you know what you’re doing) than other forms of exercise. Rich, for instance, was doing a lot of training pre-Amazing 12, but found he was burning muscle and not building it.

In the short time he’s been on the Amazing 12, it’s clear, just by looking at him each day, he is starting to develop muscle, which was one of his objectives.

Stacey, too, has a healthy and practical view of what having muscles is about, but finds it frustrating that some can’t see how the benefits outweigh the aesthetics.

“I’d rather have larger muscle mass – and improve the functionality and health of my body – than not,” she said.

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Stacey’s more advanced in her progress second time around

“I think it’s a bit of a myth anyway that women bulk up from lifting weights as we’re built so differently to men.

“Muscles are sexy. They show strength. How can someone who is strong, in whatever form, be regarded as unattractive?”

For Rich, part of this process is to become more ‘body confident’. “I’ve never felt happy with carrying a bit of fat. That’s why I’ve done all sorts in the past to find out why I can’t shift it – for both looks, vanity, self-confidence, but also long-term health benefits.”

Results are never instant, though. It’s important when embarking on a training program to be realistic about what you can achieve and how long it will take.

VARIATION: Practicing the Turkish Get-up

Rich and Stacey know the way I work. I’m continually reminding them of the need for patience, taking each step as it comes, enjoying the process, turning perceived setbacks into positives etc.

This week Stacey had to miss one session, her first, as she was so run down and Rich skipped three in order to attend his mother’s funeral. Yet he still did some training I set for him on the days he couldn’t get to the gym.

RAISING THE BAR: Stacey’s paying more attention to technique

There’s a level of commitment needed to accomplish a task or achieve goals or become successful or just stay the course and I’m more than happy with the progress Stacey and Rich have made so far.

To embark on the Amazing 12 or any other dedicated training program is sending a message that you place a high value on your wellness and physical performance. It means you are prioritising yourself and yet it’s something many us have difficulty accepting.

For some this will evoke a feeling of guilt. But is it wrong to want to take care of or take time out for yourself? And, as I often say to my clients, should you feel guilty if you’ve done nothing wrong?

As far as I am concerned, we are all ‘worth it’. Building muscle is one of the greatest investments you will ever make. In fact, in many cases it could be a life-saver.

If results, guidance and a tried-and-tested program is what you are seeking, why not sign up for the next Amazing 12 Chichester, which starts in January 2018? For ladies interested in learning lifting basics in a non-threatening atmosphere, I run a Sunday morning program. And if 1:1 or small group personal training is what you are after, I’m happy to help you achieve your goals. All enquiries to Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk


Week 3: Too much information?

STRAPPED IN: under that shirt Rich has on his heart rate monitor

TO track or not track? That is the question.

We live in a highly technological age where gadgets abound. It is estimated that by 2018 there will be in the region of 250 million tracking devices in circulation globally. Some are more sophisticated than others. But are they beneficial or not?

There are positives and negatives, of course. Take, for example, Stacey, who has now completed three weeks of the Amazing 12 Chichester at the Core Results Gym – her second journey through the transformation program.

She weighs herself weekly, though sometimes more frequently. Before she started the program, she took body measurements and she will do so again at the end to measure any change.

When we track, we are gathering information. Her scales tell her about her weight and body fat percentage. When it goes up, she is likely to feel disappointed and when it goes down, she is delighted or feels she is moving in the right direction or what she is doing is working.

OFF THE PRESS: getting stronger by the week

Similarly, Rich, also on the 12-week program, does his own tracking. Every Friday, he weighs himself and tests for body fat, muscle mass and water retention. With each workout, he checks his heartrate. Daily, he logs his steps. The data is useful for charting progress and can also be motivating. For example, I notice that Rich pushes himself hard in training to see if he can take his heartrate to certain levels. You could say then that his monitoring improves his physical output if nothing else. It all makes for interesting feedback.

Gathering information for the sake of it is pointless, though. It’s what we do with it that matters.

My concern is that sometimes it can get in the way – that all the information can, if you allow it to, play with your mind and interfere with the experience.

With data overload we can end up over-analysing and in training we need to make space for our intuition. The more time we spend in our heads, the less we use our intuition, which is the ability to feel what is right and what isn’t.

When I did the Amazing 12 several years ago, I never weighed myself once. I took no measurements at all. Never stepped on a scale. All I did was train, eat and notice how I looked in a mirror and, if not more importantly, felt in my body.

In the absence of all the figures, maybe I had less to be anxious about and my ability to sense what was working and not working improved. I didn’t have statistics that could, potentially, derail my focus and cause any highs and lows.

CHANGE OF SCENERY: outdoors for some smashing

So, really, the answer to my initial question of whether tracking or not tracking is worthwhile comes down to the individual and what type of person you are. It also depends on what you are doing and attempting to achieve.

Rich, for example, has an enquiring mind. He wants to know the answer to most things. So the information, to some degree, keeps him satisfied.

Stacey, however, has a tendency to worry. I know from experience that if I put a weight on a bar and tell her to lift it, she is more likely to succeed not knowing how much she is lifting than if I were to tell her. Yet she still wants to know.

Therefore, the question to ask is if the tracking works to your advantage or disadvantage. If you know you do better without, then surely it makes sense to not track.

PATTERN OF PROGRESS: Notice it doesn’t typically go in a straight line

One thing we should be aware of when it comes to tracking is that what matters is the pattern over the long haul and not a matter of days. Our bodyweight, for instance, can shift from day to day and even during the course of a day. If you’re going to weigh yourself, do it on the same scales, at the same time and on the same day of the week. But not every day and multiple times on the same day!

More important is knowing what are we tracking and why? If your objective is to become stronger, knowing your bodyweight isn’t necessarily important. If part of your goal requires you to perform at a certain weight – like a fighter – checking the scales and controlling what you eat and drink is key. If you’re an athlete who needs to improve his recovery, checking your heartrate becomes almost vital. And if you are a top level athlete and looking to fractionally improve performance, the information from tracking can often be the difference between winning and losing.

Recognise that progress isn’t always linear, though. The path to change is full of ups and downs and plateaus, therefore, someone who monitors their performance closely and frequently or obsessively can easily become demoralised as they ride the roller coaster towards completing their objective.

Compare this approach with a more intuitive one that is to turn up, do your work, enjoy the experience, give your best each time, feel what is effective and not worry so much about the outcome. The latter, for me, has an essence of adventure that can be lost when too much emphasis is placed on details and numbers. But there’s a balance between the two approaches that works best. 

HAVING A BALL: Stacey’s getting down to business

As a coach, I record the details of every workout on the Amazing 12 and it’s essential for guiding an individual through the program safely as well as charting progress. However, I also rely on my experience and knowledge to know how to encourage progress.

Often you can just sense when something is working and when it is not without even having to refer to the data.

After three weeks on the Amazing 12, Rich commented to Stacey, “you’re looking a lot leaner,” and she replied, “I feel much leaner.”

Stacey said to Rich – and not out of politeness either – “you’re looking more hench,” and Rich admitted he was experiencing and seeing physical changes even though his body fat measurements were not necessarily budging much. And, as we joke, how on earth can he put on muscle when eating only a vegan diet? 

Without seeing any numbers, I can see clearly how Rich is recovering so well from workout to workout – despite putting in a good shift every day. It’s something he had struggled with when I worked with him several years ago.

Sometimes, though, what we see and feel can be undermined by what is shown on the scales or whatever apps we may be using.

STAYING FOCUSED: Rich doing his circuits

Understand that there will always be good weeks – and we should enjoy them – and tougher weeks – and we should appreciate them, too. Why? Because it’s often during our setbacks and when we are being challenged and feel as if we are struggling that the potential for change can be greatest.

As a coach, managing these moments is critical to progress – ensuring the overload is just right makes all the difference.

This week was especially tough on Rich, whose mother sadly and unexpectedly passed away. He had to miss a day of training and will have to skip more next week, but he wanted to get back in the gym. Under the circumstances, he did tremendously well.

STRAIGHT BACK: Ball slams with good form

For Stacey, who is still struggling to consistently get restful sleep, her body is not recovering as well as it could. She’s getting lasting aches and pains. Therefore, she needs to make sleep a priority.

There are apps that can assist with sleep and assessing how well we sleep, too. The same rule should apply: if they help, use them. If they don’t, ditch them. But try to avoid relying on them.

If you’re interested in the next wave of the Amazing 12 (starting January 2018), some personal training in small groups or 1:1, women’s weight-lifting or women’s boxing for fitness, send me a message at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk. I don’t bite, but I am dedicated towards producing results. 


Week 2: It’s all in the practice

STILL GOT IT: Stacey’s squat is one of her best movements

WE’VE all heard the saying ‘Practice makes perfect’.

The correct version of the saying is that “perfect practice makes perfect”. Or there’s another version that goes “practice makes permanent”.

The essence is that you do something over and over and work at doing it well until it sticks.

Repetition plays a vital part in the process of improvement. For some that is tedious or boring. But you don’t get good at kicking a ball without kicking a ball. 

However, in the fitness world we are bombarded daily with videos and images of amazing people doing amazing things, which, while awe-inspiring and motivating, can also be massively distracting.

One day you see someone lifting insanely heavy weights, the next running super fast or completing an astonishing gymnastic move or finishing an incredible endurance event or performing some dance variation or working out with a new fancy type of equipment or completing a heroic training session. The list goes on. We then get hooked or think, ‘I’d like to try that’ or ‘I’d like to be like that’. Before we know it, we are hopping from one thing to another and, consequently, making no advancement.

You know I like a good Bruce Lee quote, but the one about how “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” comes to mind.  

MAKE EVERY REP COUNT: As Rich is discovering here

I can’t recount the number of people I’ve met (because there have been so many) who’ve been doing some form of training or exercise for years and complain they’ve made no or little progress. Usually, it’s because they don’t stick to what’s necessary for long enough for it to make a difference. 

Progress comes from being consistent and, in an intelligent way, challenging yourself to make advancements. It also means being patient, staying the course and not taking on too much, too soon.

What we often don’t see on all those Youtube videos are the countless hours each of these impressive individuals spent diligently working on their given craft, movement or skill. We see the finished product.

The foundation of the Amazing 12 is practice. We do select movements and practice them, because that’s how we get better and stronger. It’s not just about lifting weights and performing reps – attention to form is also paramount.

ALL HANDS ON DECK: some groundwork exercises for Stacey

Good technique isn’t only about avoiding injury. It’s also crucial for carrying out a task in the most efficient manner.

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”.

That may not apply 100 per cent of the time, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that sentence.

My 11-year-old son, for example, wants to be good at football. I tell him to tidy his room, tuck in his shirt (when he goes to school), take pride in his homework etc. What’s this got to do with football? The way you do anything is the way you do everything, I tell him.

If he has no standards or pride in how he does everyday tasks, it will spill over into his footballing performance. If he’s lazy most of the time, he’ll be lazy when he steps on the football field. If he can’t be a team player with his family, he won’t be much of a team-mate on the pitch. It’s a mindset thing.

FOCUSED: slamming a ball repeatedly is as mentally challenging as it is physical

In the gym it’s important to be focused. A lapse in concentration can be costly. Switch off mentally when you are deadlifting and you risk damaging your back. Fail to get your breathing right on a heavy back squat and you can hurt yourself.

The movements are not risky. How you carry out those movements is.

Most of us don’t realise it, but we’re in practice ALL the time. Everything we do and think is a form of practice. Some of us do so consciously and others unconsciously. Our bodies like to follow patterns and forming habits.

Make sure your habits serve your best intentions. 

Stacey and Rich are now at the end of week 2 on the Amazing 12 Chichester at the Core Results Gym. And for two weeks they’ve been doing drills. For five days a week they come in and practice. I’ll watch their form, correct them when needed, motivate them if necessary and make any other necessary adjustments to ensure they are on course to meet their goal.

Some weeks will be tougher than others. There will be doubts and questions and aches and complaints. But we still practice. Because without the practice there is no progress. Stacey and Rich are committed to getting the best out of the program.

Turning up every day, whether they want to or not, is practicing commitment. Sticking to nutritional guidelines is practicing discipline. Doing the extra training I assign them and without me knowing if they’ve done it (and properly) or not is practicing integrity. Dealing with the ups and downs of training in the gym is practicing the art of cultivating a positive mindset.

SUNSHINE: Stacey enjoying the last few days of summer

It all counts, because these skills can be taken into and used in our everyday lives.

We can easily become obsessed with our weight or appearance or fitness or body fat levels, but let’s not overlook just how important it is to cultivate our attitude and mindset.

Many people will look at the Amazing 12 or any form of training as only a means to becoming aesthetically transformed, but, as a tool for growth and personal development, the gym or movement arena is as good a place as any other if you care to take advantage.

I am now taking applications for the next wave of the Amazing 12, starting in January 2018. I am also available for private personal training, either 1:1 or in small groups. For more information, or to enquire about my weekly women’s boxing fitness class or Sunday morning women’s weight-lifting, please contact me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk