Train Smarter in 2021

Doing anything smarter, not just harder, is the key to success. And training more intelligently, with a few tips and lessons from our friends, clients, and Tribe members, can lead to better results in the coming year. This rings true whether your goals are health improvement, fat loss, fitness enhancement, or goal-crushing in athletics. Here are some things you might find helpful.

Create the win with your home gym. Consider your budget, space, and goals…and then design accordingly.There is always a way to make this work. You can place a few items in a bucket or crate, and keep it in the closet. Hit the local home improvement store and grab some cinder blocks, pipe, and sandbags. Set up a spare room, garage bay, deck, porch, or backyard with some items. The main thing is that you have an option, a place, and a way to do some training. Build it up over time. The pictures shown above are real examples of home gyms sent to me by members of The Lifetime Athlete community. These home gym setups have supported Ironman triathletes, high school sports players, and lifelong fitness enthusiasts. Where there is a will, there is a way. See how far you can take it.

Meet yourself where you are. Take inventory of your current conditioning level and acknowledge your starting point. Once you have a place and some implements for training, and you know what you want to accomplish (THE GOAL), realize you have to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Make your training fit this reality. Avoid being delusional, in denial, or downright reckless with your programming. Build gradually and sensibly, and you’ll eventually reach your destination.

Frame things positively. We all want to suck less at what we do as humans and athletes. That stated, self-defeating language is exactly that and really doesn’t help much. If you have some weight to lose — don’t tell yourself you are fat — just say you are working on bodycomp reduction. If you think you are weak, tell yourself you are focusing on gaining strength. Instead of saying you are slow, dedicate yourself to improving your speed. Believe to achieve. Even if that sounds trite, it gets you there. This is the champion’s mindset and you are indeed a champion.

Recognize that there are very few days off. Or said, differently, there are no off days. Now, before you get uptight with that statement, let me explain. Yes, if life gets out of balance, and you are exhausted or ill, there may need to be a day off from training now and again. But if you are training intelligently, correctly, and appropriately (might need a good coach), you will:

  1. Rarely feel broken down and in need of emergency recuperation.
  2. Maintain a level of consistency (training habit) that ensures you stay on the path to maximum performance and health.

Solidify the perspective that training is multifaceted and there is always something you could or should work on. It doesn’t alway have to be hard stuff. Sometimes working on mobility, recovery, and movement quality is the way to go…and it beats the couch every time. 

Love your training. Athletics and exercise are a celebration, not a punishment. Relish in the joy of movement and make it an art form. Find a way to appreciate this opportunity, and again, get a good coach to help you with this if you are struggling. Everyone deserves the right to health, fitness, and a vibrant, vital body. But it’s also our responsibility to achieve and maintain that status. I have compassion for those who struggle to find this motivation but I have no patience for anyone who denies the aforementioned facts.

Just do something. Yea, yea…just do “it,” just do it “right,” and all the other phrases have value. What I’m talking about here is avoiding the proverbial “all or nothing” mindset. If you can’t do everything (in your program or plan), avoid doing nothing. There is hardly anyone who can’t bang out 10 bodyweight squats every hour or snag a 15-minute walk at lunchtime. These things help and they count. As a Lifetime Athlete you want to be strong, fast, powerful, and agile. Keeping a little training going even on days when life gets challenging is the way to support those capacities. Having too many zero days leads you on the path to being weak, slow, stiff, and fragile. There is a choice and there are very few good excuses.

Make good goals. Concise, reasonable, objective, measurable. I talk about goal-setting a lot because it’s how we define our path. There are many constructs you can use and quite frankly, how you identify your goals and shape your programming has a lot to do with your personality and your life situation. Regardless, create goals that motivate you and that you can really invest in. You can use push thinking in which you are pushing away from a situation you don’t want to be in (I’m gonna lose this weight or stop being out of shape), but your greatest results will probably come from pull thinking (I’ll hit this target weight or achieve this conditioning marker). And be willing to occasionally adjust your goals as conditions may require.

Find your own accountability system. What keeps you on track? Is it having a team, coach, or training partner? Do you love logbooks, spreadsheets, and tracking apps? Is a strict routine comforting to you? Or do you rebel at confinement and crave some freedom, expression, and spontaneity in order to stay in the zone? Whatever it is, look deep within yourself and figure out the one thing that makes it easiest for you to get your training done.

Develop social contracts. Even the most introverted, isolated hermit/loner among us is still a human. We are social beasts. At least from time to time if not more, train with others. Talk about your training. Share your ups and downs and support others. Work with a coach.

Go long less often. Long workouts have a place. They can build specific endurance, especially if you are a long distance beastie. They can also help with overall durability, making you more tolerant of ample workloads. But the downside is that they take a lot of time, can be boring, and can actually fatigue you excessively and suppress your fitness and health if you are not careful.

Go hard more frequently, but keep it brief. You are made to go fast and/or heavy in short spurts. It’s good for you if you do it right/smart, and it’s the only way to maximally develop your strength, speed, and power. However, the dose makes the poison. With regard to this statement and the paragraph above, your training should look a lot like a long low baseline with frequent short spikes. Kinda like an EKG pattern with a relatively long interval between heartbeats.

Beware the middle. Continuing with the theme above, the single biggest mistake I see people make is loving the middle a bit too much. Failed programs, no results, and injuries are highly attributable to:

  1. Not going easy enough most of the time.
  2. Not going hard enough when it’s time to really kick ass.

Falling into a chronic pattern of doing just enough to be tired in every workout and then never really giving any 90%+ efforts, is the perfect way to plateau your fitness, stall weight loss, and achieve piss-poor performance. Avoid this trap.

Assess your assets and liabilities. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and use them to your advantage in training. Shore up your liabilities a bit, but don’t waste too much time trying to turn them into absolute strengths, which may never happen. Conversely, hone and polish your assets because your primary attribute will always be your go-to on the playing field or in the gym. A good coach can help you to identify and address these characteristics most effectively. 

Make a plan and a program. OK…you know yourself now. You have a gym setup. You’ve got goals and a positive framework. Design a program that fits all that, and that has the amount of complexity or simplicity that you prefer. Avoid the practice of totally random chaos in your training behaviors. To some extent, be purpose-driven.

Keep things dynamic. Rigid plans fail. If some amount of wiggle room is not built in, your program will eventually have a jenga-crash. Monitor recovery (with devices or just instinctively) and push big sessions forward until your body (and mind) is ready. Adjust workouts and cycles when you sense they are not quite fitting you or your situations optimally. Forcing and fighting will only work so long. You gotsta flow. Only the salmon should swim upstream.

Establish moderate (or slightly better) consistency. This relates to a lot of what I’ve already shared and it’s one of my basic principles. Decent regularity in training (in the bathroom also) is where you want to be and it will get the job done. There is no perfect. Hit 84.7% of your planned stuff, and you’ll probably get 98.9% of your potential results. They don’t give out plaques for doing everything on your schedule every day for a year. In fact, those are the kind of people who never get anywhere. I can’t tell you how many athletes and gym rats I’ve known personally who always did everything all the time and never got any better. 

Own posture, position,motion, and shape. Movement is an art form and a skill to be practiced. Move with grace and poetry and in such a way that an onlooker will observe you and say “Aaahhhhh!” in response to the pleasantry. This is preferred over them uttering “Bleaaeeauuwwwggaawwddd!” as they vomit in response to your hideously ugly movement pattern. It takes work but it is not only worth doing, it is essential in being a functional, athletic human. If you notice that you struggle more than just a little in going to your left, getting into a full squat, landing from a jump, etc…fix it.

Train your agility. There are some beasts among us who are truly cats and they move with the utmost agility. Admire and emulate them and practice the combination of mobility, stability, fluidity, and reactivity. Athleticism is defined by this and spending 30 minutes on the elliptical, bike, or treadmill and then doing a few chest and leg presses doesn’t cut it. Actually, cut is the right word. Cut, turn, twist, leap, tumble, and exist in agile fashion. You’ll have less pain in the long run because you’ll move better and more freely with control. And, on the playing field of life, you’ll actually significantly reduce your fall risk. Going down hard, breaking a hip, winding up in the hospital, getting pneumonia, and ultimately dying might be avoidable.

Don’t ignore speed. Second biggest issue next to the whole middle zone thing. People don’t use their speed. They lose it, and then they fear it. Why should we ignore one of the 5 major capacities of human performance? In sports, speed equates with winning. The fast people are the best…in almost every circumstance. But you have to be smart about training for speed, just like everything else. If you have not moved rapidly for several decades, you need a coach and a progressive plan to restore some of your speed capacity. Here’s a quick story. I was once giving a presentation on speed development to a group of gym-goers. Afterward, a slightly aggressive, pissed dude came up to me and stated “I don’t do that kind of training anymore!” I said, “I know…I can tell by watching you move!” And lastly, if you think you’ll pull your hamstring if you try to sprint, view that as a problem with your inner beast and not the act of moving naturally, animalistically fast.

Recover hard. Put as much energy and attention into your recovery practices as possible. This is more than just the passage of time between major, fitness-maker workouts. It’s light exercise, how you sleep, what you eat, and the way in which you bring your body back to the optimal state of readiness. That’s the art and science of training for peak performance. We backfill around the big excavations (the challenging workouts) with all the stuff that restores us. Doing the right things and getting the timing right is the secret to great results without compromising your health.
Love, share, encourage, and respect. Despite a bit of ranting (hey, everyone is entitled) in today’s diatribe, I sincerely believe that we need to care for and support each other. In the end, that’s how I try to live my life and it’s how I treat every client. Use these tips to get more of your training in 2021. Become and remain a Lifetime Athlete. You deserve it. And if you need some coaching help, I’m here for you.

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