Ski, downhill. Laugh. Have fun.
Lisa, MFT, Bobbie-Jo, Tommy: downhill skiing (in this context) is far from physically taxing and fell under the heading of "social recovery" and getting above the inversion to breathe some fresh air.
Today's "Sunday Post" was written by Michael Blevins. We began discussing these training concepts in Bulgaria and they are starting to take a clearer shape. The main theme is that we often call what we are doing something other than what it really is, which is why we fail to achieve our objectives. Some of this may originate in a lack of understanding about "what does what", but also, more generally from not having clearly defined what it is we wont and need to do to improve performance.
We had a fascinating discussion yesterday with a ski mountaineering racer who wants to truly focus on the sport and improve his performance over the next few years, within the context of the resources he has available. Like we all do, he wants to determine what will give him the biggest return on his training investment. Two questions closed the conversation. First, I asked how he could improve efficiency in the sport-specific context, how could he go faster for the same level of effort. We settled on two areas that I'll leave for a later post as this relationship develops further. Second, I asked, "What do you avoid in training?" Meaning, what level of intensity or duration, what does he avoid? Everyone should be asking themselves this question because the key to improved performance is likely in the (honest) answer. The question I didn't ask, that should rise from Michael's essay below, is this, "Do you train to improve maximum output by working in zones of intensity and duration that actually train efficiency? Meaning, do you ever trick yourself into sabotaging yourself?
Unlearning - Part I
Mike Tyson once described his entrance to a fight, being scared, unsure, vulnerable. As he stepped inevitably closer he could feel the years of work coming alive, but still having to suppress the urge to turn and run. This builds and sways until he becomes the ferocity for which he is known. Nothing dissipates the anxiety of not being good enough or not knowing enough like the head-on clash of do or die. To take a chance and gamble with your ability, to actually do the fucking thing.
"Fake it till you make it" has a negative connotation, but not because it's an actual requirement of eventually attempting the thing you have never done, but because so many over-embellish their ability and under-produce the results. In every great achievement there is a moment when the protagonist must indulge the little hairs rising on his or her neck, welcome the release of those chemicals that signal the body "it's time to put out", and to grit teeth and charge into the unknown. That proverbial jump into uncertainty can occur because we cover our insecurity, because we overwrite the "maybe" signal with the probability or even certainty of a positive outcome. Whether the positive outcome is realistic or not, we convince ourselves of it, which releases the brakes that kept us from it before. The more experience we accumulate with this process of confronting unknown the more reflexive our action in the face of it. Creating this confrontation and directing our response to it is one purpose among many of training.
"Shut your mouth and move" tends to answer any question. Speculation and theory are useless until proved in action.
Training has been an ever evolving process for me, personally. I used to think myself objective and controlled in my use of a stimulus but I neglected intuition and allowed "work harder" to dictate my training, which planted one foot across the line of chronic overtraining. My answer to the question of too much training was to always go deeper, to prove I clearly was not scraping the bottom yet. I have made drastic mistakes in training. It's nothing new and nothing to boast about. Most people who find this style of training make similar errors. When I saw video of a guy somersaulting with a barbell into a clean and jerk, I laughed and then remembered my own determination when performing a self-invented Burpee - Back Flip combo. It is easy to guffaw after having taken one or two steps further along the same road but as soon as we think that we "know" we turn into a cul de sac, unable to look back at how we reached this point or forward toward what might pull us out. The earth is not flat. Progress is a continuum. Stagnation should be a cue to change. We might end up where we started - and realistically we should hope to - but traveling a circumference allows growth by offering us the opportunity to reference and reapply previously-gained knowledge.
My recent journey began with me pretending to know the barbell. It is an object I held every day for close to eight years but was forced to admit I knew nothing about. I feigned mastery by only using it in a range of movements that looked good enough to fool others. I avoided those movements I could not perform and excused it by claiming my focus was on racing bicycles. Ultimately, comparing the bicycle and the barbell allowed me to understand two training fundamentals that are often confused by myself and many others.
The bike is the most efficient form of transportation on the planet: it, along with its self-propelling passenger, can travel further using less energy than any other tool designed for a similar objective. In this sense, the bicycle could be the definition of efficiency, while the barbell represents its opposite, which is output.
Efficiency, whether on a bicycle or with the barbell, is the expression of neurological adaptation whereby a task is accomplished with the minimum of energy expended. To achieve this we practice over and over to wire neural software so deeply that less muscle or cardiovascular power and mental energy is required to accomplish the movement.
Output, whether on a bicycle or with the barbell, is the expression of a different neurological adaptation whereby maximum force is expressed regardless of the energy cost. This high level of intensity must also be practiced but not with the intent of moving a once-heavy load with less energy, instead with the intent to continually improve one's ability to recruit and activate personal resources.
In the context of gym training, specifically training done with conditioning as its objective, i.e. what happens in most so-called functional fitness gyms, it is easy to confuse "output" and "efficiency". Too often we intend to train output, to increase strength, but we do it in a way that targets efficiency because we have missed the point of the barbell and plates. The winner of a weightlifting combination is the one who lifts the most weight for a single rep (Olympic lifting) or a combination of multiple reps in different lifts (Powerlifting). Both are expressions of maximum output while 10x10 is not. And 10x10 doesn't have much influence on 1x1 except during the initial basic strength and mass building phase of one's development.
100x of anything expresses efficiency no matter what we call it at the time. The point of the barbell and progressive loading close to the 1x1 limit is to increase maximum output and until we learn that and respect it we cannot say we know the barbell. This doesn't mean that other forms of use - movement instruction, neurological patterning, body recomposition, strength endurance, base building, etc. - are prohibited, only that we understand what we are doing at any given moment, and why.
In the context of endurance training we often see people who mirror competitive events by executing their sprint training at the end of long, multi-hour effort. In this condition we aren't training output because the body cannot produce genuinely maximum effort (by an objective measure) in such a fatigued state. The efforts certainly "feel" hard but if we don't recruit and express true maximum effort we cannot send the signal to increase it. On a bike doing 6x 1400 watts for ten seconds in a fatigued state does not send the same message to the body as 6x 10 seconds at 1800 watts that might be achievable when fresh.
There is no doubt that great psychological benefits derive from executing hard efforts in a fatigued state. However, believing this will improve the physiological top end is a mistake, and one commonly made. Hard effort - output training - is protected with rest and recovery, and executed in a fresh, warmed-up, aroused condition. Truly maximal efforts depend on the ability to mask our insecurity, to "fake it" because if we don't override self-limiting behavior, we restrict the potential peak of athletic performance and keep ourselves from seeing past our own current ability.
In Part II of Unlearning we will examine the concept of Adaptation vs Compensation as it governs our training goals and methods.