The Perfect Trap

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Onward and Upward!

Advertisements

The Power of “Simple”

The act of stripping things down to their barest elements and approaching tasks in a step-by-step manner has been largely forgotten in our 21st century instant access culture.

When speaking of health we are sold on the outcome. The potential for massive change in a short amount of time utilizing some new way of eating, moving, or living is all too common. The majority of the consumers of these products achieve no such results or consistency in their life. One can’t blame the product, but look no further than society in general’s approach to life… making excuses as to why we failed. Justifying the act of quitting is even more prevalent now in the age of social media, where each one of us has our own pulpit.

Break the change. Build momentum. Some of my favorite workouts each week are my foundation training sessions. They are structured and approached wonderfully, with an excellent balance of education and application. Rarely do they cause me to break a sweat, meaning I can focus intently on my form, and they can be done anywhere at anytime during the day in 5-15 minutes.

I also really love strength training sessions that take me from my feet to the floor. Simple. Take two exercises: lower body or full body, standing exercise (KB swings, squats, step-ups, lunges, etc.) and pair it with a prone movement (plank, pushup, or any floor pressing, or core intensive exercise). Moving between the two exercises will challenge your cardiovascular fitness as well as your total body strength and stabilization.

Example Circuit:

10-1 Ladder of KB Swings paired with a Plank: 10 swings / :30 plank, 9 swings / :30 plank, 8 swings / :30 plank, etc. down to 1 / :30 … this is not easy if done properly, but can be completed in under 10 minutes.

Example Circuit:

4 rounds of (:30 Squats of Step-Ups / 5-10 x Pushups / :30 Rest) … simple yet effective, for more challenge you can eliminate the “rest” portion and just alternate between Squat and Push.

Note: when making your workout “simple” you’ll want to focus hard on your form. Get the most out of each movement. Tackle the reps with confidence and be careful to not look ahead. Too much focus on the “end” of the session will result in minimal gains from the workout.

Know your intention and pay attention!

Flowing Fitness Continuum

The flowing fitness continuum.

There is a multitude of ways to workout and gain fitness: calisthenics, kettle bells, free weights, machines, cardio, yoga, and Pilates just to name a few.

  • Where should you start?

I can’t say there is a perfect place to start. If you begin at a young age, your introduction to fitness will most likely include tumbling, running, some gymnastic, apparatus based movements, and maybe a few basic exercises such as pushups, squats, and sit-ups. Ideally, we’d all start here and stay here for quite some time. Learning by doing, and being inquisitive about movement is the best way to “do” fitness. Interest in exercise stays peaked longer, avoiding the boredom and monotony that most common fitness programs seem to evoke.

  1. Free weights are excellent to have access to. Many of the movements done with them are very effective and functional. Yet, the drawback is that a multitude of weights are needed and you really can’t travel with them, anywhere.
  2. The kettle bell (KB) is a fascinating tool. Simple in design and function, the (KB) directly targets the most commonly weak area on almost all humans, their posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, low and mid back. The (KB) also provides an excellent non-impact cardio component to your workout. Simply put, if you can learn one implement or tool, make it the (KB).
  3. Unless you are in a rehab facility or situation, machines are completely unnecessary. Size, cost, non-functionality, there are simply too many drawbacks to basing a fitness program around machines.
  4. The mind-body movement, including yoga and Pilates, is one that needs its own article. I have only positive things to say about both of these disciplines, especially when used in conjunction with a sound strength and conditioning program.
  5. Lastly, we have cardio: running, biking, skating, skiing, rowing, swimming, etc. Nothing beats endurance training. It’s extremely positive for your body and mind. Any activity that allows you to propel your body over long distances, under your own power is going to be the ultimate form of exercise.

What it comes down to is personal preference. What do you enjoy the most? Do the activity that brings you the most enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to do it. The more you do anything, the better you get at it. It’s all very personal, but having a basic understanding of various fitness disciplines is helpful in choosing your path. Become the best YOU!

  • Does mastering one discipline help prepare you to master others?

Yes and no. Mastering the ability to control your body, kinesthetic awareness, is the best way to begin. This means gymnastic, bodyweight movements are the preferred method. That being said, it’s not practical for the average adult to begin training as a gymnast. Having the background, learning how to move well at a young age, is the ideal beginning. Being sufficient at more than one discipline is never a bad thing. If I can enjoy more than one activity, the variety at my disposal is greatly increased. Endurance/cardio activities pair well with any other form of fitness. Love to move!

  • Which one is best, for me/you?

Just move. Begin. Walking, running, light calisthenics, some pushups, squats… develop a pattern, make it habitual and you’ll feel better, do it more often, see and feel an immediate difference. If something peaks your interest, go for it. Use any sudden spark of ambition to begin again. Respect that you are starting from the beginning. Don’t sweat if the initial activity is hard, challenging, and leaves you with residual muscle soreness. One last note here: if you can do it on your own, free of class, or gym/facility commitment, your ownership will come much more quickly. Learn, progress and move forward!

Our lives are our own. Enjoyment is 100% personal. Find the things you love and do them often. Don’t waist time on activities that provide you with no enjoyment. Contrary to what many believe, this includes exercise and fitness. There is a path for all of us. The focus, movement.

Patience. Presence. Persistence.

Resistance

Resistance

The mind controls it all. It fabricates, incentivizes, dramatizes, and elicits emotion in nearly every moment of our lives. Focusing the mind to be fully connected with what we are doing, when we are doing it, is a skill that when possessed, is the most powerful of them all.

When I define a goal it often has loose consequences. It’s arbitrary whether or not I succeed or fail. Those who love me do not place value on my performance, therefore the prioritization is all my own. The preparation, planning, and sacrifices are my own. To achieve a best performance in this regard requires a very strong mind. A high level of personal importance is required in order to give everything to my goal, or event. My events are long. Anywhere from 3 to 24+ hours. Knowing this I focus on not looking forward to the end of a training session. At the point the training becomes uncomfortable, for any reason, intended or not, I must be in the moment. The mind connects with the feeling of the body; am I tired, thirsty, hungry? What of those things can I control? Am I slowing down? If I am, it’s most likely due to the mind letting the body take control and forgetting proper self-care. I must also focus on positive thoughts. Reassuring the purpose of the event and its priority in my life. This is where I want to be.

General fitness training fails when there is no consequence.

“A lot of people try to get around goals by not being specific enough. Your goals have to be quantifiable with a by-when date!”

Commitment and priority are quick to waiver. Your body will put up a fight to any sort of change: dietary, sleep, workout, and schedule. Understanding and expecting this is mandatory. Giving your self the option of cancelling or saying no is the beginning of the end. You must commit. Clearly define why you want to make changes. Superficial, image based goals can spur you to begin training, but when things get tough, they are not strong enough to keep you on track. Do you want to be an example to your family and friends? This can’t simply be a nice surprise. Please don’t dabble. Being an active participant in your life means eliminating the passivity in how you approach each day. Train with vigor.

Balancing the Fitness Equation

Balancing the Fitness Equation

To ensure our health, wellness, and a steady progression, work and rest need to balance each other out. This is the same principle that defines many other areas of our life: financial, social, work, school… you name it.

I exercise everyday. Whether I’m in training for a race, or focusing on another area of my fitness, my weeks are littered with physical activity. For some time, I trained intensely almost every day. It was like a drug, or therapy, if I did not reach that lucid feeling of muscular fatigue I was not finished. For a period of your life, you can train like this. It was not stressful for me. I could handle the workload, and relished the pain, intensity, and strenuousness that each day entailed. This was my twenties. Entering the next decade I found myself seeking more balance in my life. Not simply a balance to my weekly exercise, but a balance in my life: work, social, physical, and athletic. Seeking to be “well-rounded” and diversified is a tough task. It’s easy to slip into the obsessive, single-minded state of goal achievement and optimization of an activity we see some success in. Hence, if you are good at working out, and you enjoy it, see positive changes in your self-image, you’ll make this a daily priority.

Motivation + Positive Feedback = Continuity

If I want to run a 100-mile trail race I’ll first sign up for that race. That commitment is the kickstart I need to start training specifically for the demands of running 100 miles. Otherwise, I simply go on with finding a balance in my daily life, which in terms of fitness is pretty much whatever I feel I need on that particular day.

If you don’t already love to workout every day, or even 5 days per week, you’ll need to make a commitment to develop these habits. Think of how many people you know, or have met, that run 5k’s, 10k’s, ½ marathons, marathons, or any other event that entails registration (buying a ticket J). Now, think of all those people (maybe yourself included) that hire personal trainers, and commit to scheduled weekly workouts. This helps immensely when establishing a bond with fitness and exercise. It works. Understanding the psychology of commitment is key. Once you realize that to commit is to begin, you can then move forward.

Looking at my week, during a buildup period to a ultramarathon, you would see running listed 6 of 7 days, consisting of a strong modulation of intensity, duration, and stimulus (hills, track, trails, road). Learning how to modulate exercise is the progression. The body thrives off of specific imposed demands. In a runner, this is essential to being able to deal with the stresses of racing. If I train to my strengths day in and day out I fail to prepare myself for vital elements of the race. I’ve committed, but failed to properly prepare.

How does this apply to the person seeking to enhance their image with 1 hour of exercise, 6 days per week? They must prepare. Simple preparation goes a long way. Knowing what you will eat, and when is vital. Setting aside a specific period of time each day to workout is essential. Eating well, and exercising never just happen. It’s a myth. No adult happens upon fitness. If they tell you they did, they are lying. Remember, motivation + positive feedback = continuity. If running 3 miles a day, plus doing 50 pushups and 50 situps elicits the results I desire, I’ll keep it up. Maybe after a month I’ll add another mile every other day and a few extra pushups and situps… this is gradualness. Assessing the feedback my body is giving me from my daily exercise I can then make adjustments based on my desired outcome.

Knowing your level of commitment and personal goals with exercise is mandatory. Opinions, distractions, snake oil solutions, and fad programs will constantly ping your daily life. There is absolutely no reason to get on their bandwagon. If you’ve been fit and healthy in the past, why then would you need, depend, or rely on raspberry ketones, green coffee beans, or the new 10-minute workout routine? See the message and use your brain.

Plan. Prepare. Prioritize. Balance. Achieve.

Discipline removes the element of surprise from the fitness equation. It ensures continuity, applies modulation to your week, and promotes change in the form of gradualness.

Success should never be a surprise.

 

Well Rounded vs. Obsession

Well-Rounded vs. Obsession

http://joeyroth.com/posteriv/

When it comes to being “fit” the new trainee, acquaintance, or inquirer will often deem the image being represented a result of obsession. As they learn more about what the driving force is, maybe running ultra-marathons, their opinion edges ever closer to becoming solidified as fact.

Often what we have done, in terms of performance results or competition is a barrier to understanding the process of making fitness a lifestyle. In my experience a lifestyle brings balance to an often chaotic, existence. It gives purpose to movement, blending sometimes, narcissistic desires with essential activity for well, being.

Obsession is an absolute narrow focus. Your life revolves around that one thing. Nutrition, diet, sport and exercise are all common topics of obsession. I see it all the time. They often force either someone to be all in, or, all out. This is derived from the complexity of an action. Take a look at any diet and you’ll see what I mean.

Well-rounded on the other hand is what 99% of us should aspire to be. Pursuing this does not mean you do every activity: yoga, strength, cardio, Martial arts, etc. It’s about how we approach life. Athletic, intellectual, familial, and occupational form a symbiosis and balance that makes us well rounded.

In exercise, variety is often a nice option to have. Is it necessary? Absolutely not, I believe persistence and consistency are more important to having success. Mastery of movement, strategy of application, and the diligence to finish what you start are the keys to obtaining a lifestyle foundation.

At the end of each day it is not how long, or how much we devoted to our health and fitness. It is simply a matter of did we, or didn’t we? We become what we repeatedly do, so choose wisely!