Several months ago I wrote a blog about three coaching mistakes I have made. As a follow up I wanted to write a similar blog that touched on mistakes I made as an athlete. As I wrote in my previous post, the purpose of this blog is not to simply point out the errors made, but to hopefully help those who are athletes learn from the mistakes I made and not make the same ones in their training journey. Many of the same mistakes I made, I often see my athletes make. It is an interesting process that I find myself in - almost as if I am now the parent raising the child I used to be and all the poor choices that frustrated my parents are coming back on me in a strange, almost twisted, cycle. Now, as I see my own athletes making these mistakes, I want to carefully nudge them back onto the path that will help them become their best self. So athletes, read, learn, and avoid the mistakes I made.
More is Better
Throughout my entire athletic career playing football (not sure how athletic I actually was), all my coaches told me the same things. You have to work harder than your opponent. You have to lift more weights, run more sprints, do more conditioning. The mindstate in the sport always has been “more is better”. So naturally with the desire to be the very best, often sometimes obsessive about my preparation, I did more than everyone else. During high school, three times a week I would break into our team’s weight-room with a screwdriver so that I could do an extra workout around 9pm. In the silence of an empty 5,000 square foot room of metal plates and lifting platforms, with only a dim corner light reflecting off the far wall, I would listen to my breathing cadence as I did the workout I wrote for myself that day. It became a cycle of hard work that lead into my college career. My freshman year of college, during training camp, often the most grueling part of the season that included two-a-days, I would go into the gym at 5am so I could squeeze in a session before our 6am role call for practice. After graduating college I found myself following the same perpetual cycle through my CrossFit™ training. Once I found the sport, I loved it - mostly because it gave me the opportunity to once again compete. The problem, though, was I assumed doing more meant that I would be the best, just as I had done with other sports growing up. And so, doing more is what I did. Knowing better, I would still push through workouts, program multiple high intensity training sessions during a time of year I certainly didn’t need that amount of volume and beat my body down with reckless abandon all in the name of “working harder than my opponents”.
Inevitably, the overwhelming intensity and volume I put my body through eventually took its toll. The wear and tear slowly started to corrode my body. I often ignored the most obvious symptoms of overtraining - restless nights, low sex drive, persistent muscle soreness, lack of motivation, an ever changing appetite, among many others I experienced. Despite the clear signs, I continued to push through until my body decided I had enough. I started to break down. Constant injuries, hormone inconsistencies and eventual chronic sickness caused me to reevaluate my training approach. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that more is not always better - at least not ‘more’ in the way athletes often perceive the concept (more on this shortly). It took me 8-9 months to fully recover from the destructive path I was on. Now, as a coach, I often see athletes doing the same thing that I did. The addiction to the sport is so sweet, but just like an addiction to other pleasures, it can often harm us much more than it will ever bring true satisfaction.
For those that struggle with the desire to always do more, I get it. I really do. But, in order to save yourself from the path of a beat up body, messed up hormones and a quick end to your desire to be the best in the sport, reevaluate what you need to be doing more of. Outwork your opponent in ways that are smarter, not harder. Spend more time on skill work, movement quality, nutrition, mind-state improvement, and other tools that will allow you to become the best in the sport and less time on the addiction of going ‘hard’ in metcons. Sure, there is a time for high intensity training, but doing so all year around will inevitably lead to a body that no longer functions the way you want it to.
Think of it this way, Steph Curry is not always working on his shot by playing full speed basketball games. Tom Brady is not always perfecting his throws and timing by competing in full speed scrimmages. Instead, Steph Curry takes thousands of shots under a non-fatigued state to ensure his position is perfect, his knee bend is optimal and his wrist release is the same each time. Tom Brady watches hundreds of hours of film, practices footwork drills, runs through routes with his receivers on ‘air’ (without a defense) and visualizes throws he will make. Then, after hundreds of hours of practice, these guys transition to game-speed practice. In the same way, most of your training should be ‘practice’ of skill work and less about game speed work. Stop doing more high intensity training. It will end up making you less powerful, less enduring, and less likely to succeed. Instead, do more practice, focused skill work and mental preparation.
Becoming a Robot
After bouncing back from a long road of overtraining and pushing myself too hard for too long, I found myself bouncing to the opposite side of the spectrum. As I started to work with Max, I was extremely diligent with all that he told me to do. Every single piece he wrote for me was completed to the best of my ability and there were never any questions, concerns or collaboration on my end. I became a robot. Instead of creating dialogue, discussing my design, letting him know what I needed or how I felt, I just did what was on the paper. I gave no effort for discovery. For example, while doing Locomotion work I would follow exactly what Ido Portal was doing instead of going outside the box to see what was ‘tight’ on me. While doing snatch technique work, I wouldn’t practice new ways of being more efficient. Everything was a mechanical and straightforward process that allowed no creativity or experimentation.
I have seen just as many athletes become ‘the robot’ as those who always want to do more. Instead of having a desire to collaborate with their coach, they read their design, do what is on the paper and leave it at that. While I appreciate those clients who work hard and are diligent in their training, having clients that are open to discuss, experiment and create new concepts of what they need is vitally important to the success of the coach/athlete relationship.
Be thoughtful with your approach to training. Coaching is an art. Like the best artists, a good coach understands the process needed to guide an athlete to their best self. Part of that process, though, is the steady collaboration between coach and athlete. The athlete must help the teach the coach how to effectively coach them. If they become mindless in the process, a coach is left wondering what they need. While some coaches have given the opinion they want ‘robots’, at Training Think Tank we have found that building coaching relationships with our athletes gives us a unique advantage into an effective coaching strategy. So, be thoughtful with your approach to training. If you are being coached, you might want to think about how each part of a tester feels. You can take mental notes as to what you think you are missing or what you need and discuss those with your coach. Allow those conversations to become educational tools for you so that you can continue to grow as an athlete. The coach/athlete relationship is a two way street and dialogue is needed in all aspects. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and give feedback. Those are important pieces to the puzzle of the process we are working through together. We should win together, lose together and grow together.
Lack of Communication
These last two often go hand and hand. As I became a robot with my training, I also failed to communicate with my coach as to what was going on, how I was responding to my training and whether or not I was even completing the proper progressions written into my design. Now, as a coach, I see how frustratingly difficult this makes coaching an athlete. In the business of remote training design, our view of our athletes comes almost exclusively from feedback, videos and the occasional consult. If we do not have that communication with our athletes it makes the coaching process extremely difficult, and, in some instances, almost impossible. Without knowing if my athletes hit their progressions or the weights they are hitting for certain lifts, I am playing a guessing game as to whether or not they are properly progressing and whether they need adjustments for asymmetries, dysfunctions, or slow adaptation rates. It actually amazes me that clients will pay money for coaching and then not want to get the most out of it by communicating with your coach, especially with a group of coaches as talented and passionate as those on the Training Think Tank staff. What some clients are doing with their coaching fee is the same as having a contractor come out to your house to fix several issues and then saying to them “actually, I don’t really care what you do. I am going to take off and probably won’t be around to talk with you about what I need fixed” OR after purchasing a new car, never changing the oil or deciding not to take it in for routine maintenance. In both cases, you are setting yourself up for failure. In the same way, when you choose not to update your training results or give feedback to your coach, you are also losing the most important part of the training process. Make the most of your training. Communicate with your coach.
Now that I have been on both sides of the coach/athlete dynamic, I have a much better understanding of how the mistakes I made as an athlete affected my training so greatly. I hope by sharing a few of the mistakes I made as an athlete I can help current athletes avoid some of those same mistakes. Make the choice to get the most out of your training. Do more where it counts and less where it doesn’t, be creative and thoughtful, and communicate with your coach. They want to help you.