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!

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NUTRITION & FITNESS ON THE GO – planning your healthy travel

This is a deep and complex topic that can be condensed into a few takeaway bullet points. Keep it super simple.

Foods For Flight:

  • Carbs: Sweet Potato. Bake it the night before and wrap it in foil.
  • Veggies: Pack a salad, or sliced carrots, celery, and peppers.
  • Fats: Nuts.
  • Protein: Sliced turkey or smoked fish, in a plastic bag. Powders packed as single servings, using plastic bags, w/dash of cinnamon to balance blood sugar.
  • Meal Replacement: bars. Find one you like and stock up. Patagonia Fruit + Almond Bars.

Travel Tips:

  1. Fresh Pineapple, or Coconut Water. Helpful in avoiding headaches and indigestion.
  2. Lemon + Drinking Water. Helps avoid indigestion, bloating, and constipation.
  3. 8 oz Water. Drink a cup for every serving of tea, coffee, or alcohol consumed.
  4. Cucumber or Lemon + Water. Assists with electrolyte absorption.
  5. Small Snacks > Big Meals. This will help you adjust to the lack of physical activity, new time zone, and sleep deprivation.

Movement:

  1. Lengthen the hamstrings. Engage the posterior chain muscles.
  2. Squat. Be mindful, down slow, pause, up controlled. 4 count down, 1 count pause, 2 count up. 3 sets of 10-20 reps.
  3. Push. Use a chair, wall, the floor, or any sturdy object to place your hands onto. Create tension throughout your body and squeeze up. 3 sets of 10-20 reps.

Philosophy of Sport

The philosophy of sport is not a subject I have studied; it is a subject I have lived. There is no better arena for evaluating your value system, no better laboratory for investigating motivation – and no better proving ground for demonstrating one’s defects. Sport exposes. Sport teaches. Sport develops. Sport becomes my art, my language, my way of being in this world.

George Sheehan

Greatness is a lot of small things done well, day after day workout after workout. Competition is the summation of this process. A race can be your life focus for anywhere from a single week to a whole year. For most of us, we prepare with a magnified focus for 12-weeks. This is a tangible time period, but not overwhelming. Enough time to allow you to develop some specific fitness, and then sharpen that fitness for your competition. Wearing many hats, it’s important for you to not let this competition overwhelm the other areas of your life. It’s important to keep perspective, and let the event become your performance. Sport brings the work you’ve done on your fitness and health into an arena where you are allowed and encouraged to lay everything on line. In these moments of sport what manifests is your personal best.

Sport directs my fitness. I do not need a gym to facilitate my exercise and physicality. My event is running, and my distance is the ultramarathon. In the winter of 2011 I felt a strong urge to move my training outside of the gym, into a competitive arena. Running long distances appealed to me, not only as a mental or motivational challenge, also as a competitive, athletic endeavor. I had trained and built a physique, but what was it capable of in a natural environment where success is not measure in reps, sets, and weights?

As the Sheehan quote above states, sport exposes, teaches, and develops. Running and racing made this apparent to me. It felt true to my core. What developed was a new person. The mirrors of the gym no longer sufficed in distinguishing my level of fitness. As a runner, you feel best when moving at a steady state. Rhythmic motion, monitored effort, fatigue, hunger, thirst, patience, ability, these are what now occupied my training. Racing, and it’s demanded effort, placed me at times uncomfortably out of my element of complacency. What I avoided in my training was exposed in my racing. I learned what I was made of. Strength training, my prior passion, morphed into a supplemental activity. It remained essential, though in a functional capacity, providing balance and symmetry in relation to myself as athlete, not exerciser.

A few years later and I am still a runner. Race day is my performance. My calendar year is littered with events to test my mental fortitude, as well as progress in my field of training. Working with my fitness-coaching clients (current and potential), I let this passion bleed into my sessions with them. Individuality and freedom of spirit are essential in personal pursuits that truly last. It is my hope that those individuals are lucky enough to experience true passion, as well as health and vitality, through motion and movement.

Be patient in your progress, yet persistent in your effort. Finding sport is a process of trial and error, but never stop trying, for when it sticks you will be forever changed, and impassioned to lead a life that you may have only dreamed possible.

The Spirit of Training: Intention

I’ve been strength training a long time. It’s been on my mind ever since I walked into the gym at the tender age of 13, enrolling in my first “weight lifting” class so I could use the YMCA facilities without adult supervision. The gym was a place I could work on myself. Watching strong bodies move was motivating to my younger self. I wanted to be impressive. I longed to develop strength and power. I associated being strong and athletic with confidence, standing out amongst my peers, gaining attention and admiration.

This became a passion, that ebbed and flowed for many years, mostly mimicking bodybuilding style training, which although good for hypertrophy (muscle growth), it was not the most efficient style of training. Alas, I knew no better, but it kept me coming back for more week after week. I was constantly learning.

After 10 years of purely weight training I had a chance encounter with a rock climber in a gym in Albuquerque NM. In between sets of bench presses and bicep curls I kept glancing over and watching his powerful, extremely lean body, moving on the climbing wall. It was impressive to say the least. Watching muscle, fitness and athleticism being displayed in that manner was completely new to me, and from it, a curiosity was born. I saw potential. I saw the future. I desired a transformation.

I spent three years becoming immersed in functional training. Movement based strength training. Bodyweight, leverage training. I utilized controlled, suspension based exercises: gymnastic rings, pull-up bars, medicine balls, stability balls, climbing ropes. Every rep engaged the core. I learned what “body tension” felt like. Each rep was confidently approached. I believed in it’s successful completion before the attempt was made. Over time, I transformed. The previous struggle of controlling the weight, was now a struggle to control my body. A monumental shift in focus. The gym/studio became a place to grow. It had purpose again. It was no longer a routine, expected daily event. I engaged in 2-3 intense sessions per week, while focusing my other efforts on the sport I sought to improve at.

Strength. Movement. Sport. Image. All these things are linked. When I saw these elements linked in action it opened up my eyes to the future. If I was to stay fit and keep progressing I needed to attach myself to a lifestyle activity that required utilization of my competitive nature. A fusion of my passions so to speak. I had no idea where this would lead, and really, did not care. Total immersion requires this blind faith following of routine. When the goal is to change your body to complete a task, OR to be more efficient in the activity, repetition and structure is the key. Deviations, in the beginning months and even years of training can be highly detrimental to progress. This relentless requirement, which was completely self-imposed, thrusted me forward.

This period of development is a permanent stamp on my approach to fitness. If I look closely at this training period I see simplicity and minimalism at it’s best.

Tools employed:

  • Bodyweight, Gymnastic Movement
  • Leverage, Suspension Training
  • Core-Specific Exercise
  • Intense, Focused Sets of Maximal Effort and Focus
  • Rings, Medicine Balls, Dumbbells, Ropes, Bars

Learning the exercises. Failing or encountering difficulty is key to development. From here we can break down the weaknesses that caused the failure. This process of developing strength through controlled movement connects and unifies us with our bodies. Sport gives us this unification. The gym enhances our development in sport. Downhill ski racers are powerful, sharp and controlled athletes. Rock climbers are strong, powerful, gymnastic movement specialists. Distance runners are masters of efficiency and pain tolerance, striving for the perfect balance. Wrestlers are the ultimate fusion of endurance, power, strength, flexibility, balance and technical movement. What unifies these activities is movement. We seek to understand movement NOT in a complex matter, but in basic steps. Gym training, properly imposed, should be about understanding movement and effort, and about learning proper progressions of exercises, and correct implementation.

Complexities, fads, trends, extremes… they will come and go. We will always have our bodies and we will always have Sport. Constants. Choose to learn, not shortcut. Choose sport and lifestyle over quick fix programs. Find your passion. Be intrigued by activities that inspire you. Even if you never intend to explore a proficiency in them, let them be a source of inspiration. Let yourself be impassioned. Read a book about someone who accomplished something that was truly hard. Learn about sacrifice and devotion. Gain confidence from human completion of projects, goals, and life events. Come to the realization and understanding that you are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.

Mindset trumps everything.

Onward and Upward!