By Carmen Bott MSc. CSCS email@example.com
Over the years, people have come to see me for a variety of reasons, whether it is to gain strength and power for sport, to improve conditioning levels, to lose body fat and/or to get back into shape. Whatever, their goals might be; and the exercise prescription to follow, two elements must be present for results to take place:
Consistency and Intensity
Consistency is the easy one. Be committed, follow the program “x” number of days per week, keep on keeping on. . . It’s really quite simple. Intensity, however, is not so simple. It is the factor that requires the most gumption, the right frame of mind and the willingness to push oneself past what is comfortable. This factor is more critical and of course, it is the one that most individuals need help and more importantly, candid clarification on.
I have met many clients that have told me they are ‘hard workers.’ Too be perfectly honest, hard workers are not a dime a dozen. They are much, much, more rare than you think. And being a great athlete does not mean someone is a hard worker either. So, based on this fact, I am going to make an assumption:
YOU are not training as intensely as you can.
I will let you in on one of my biggest coaching secrets: Intensity can be learned. And I am going to provide you with 5 coaching points to help you be the intense trainee you are meant to be.
As Gray Cook, a world leader in physical therapy and corrective exercise states: “You cannot build fitness on dysfunction.“ So, it is imperative that you make sure you have taken care of old injuries and muscular imbalances before you begin an intense strength & conditioning program. The secret to success in physical performance lies in systematic development, through a process called Periodization. Periodization is a fancy term for yearly planning, which means you must plan your training and your physical development, not just jump in with both feet, like many of the fitness programs you see out there suggest. Bootcamps are NOT a recipe for quick fitness, nor do they employ methods of planning. Conversely, they are often a recipe for injury. And injuries result in lost training time. Lost training time means zero consistency.
I want you to think of intensity this way: The application of maximal physical effort, systematically applied to a movement or lifting skill you already possess. Meaning, if you do not possess the skill to squat, you may not squat heavy and thus work intensely. You must build your foundation first.
If you are new to training, a suggestion might be to register for a ‘Building a Strong Foundation’ class this Fall.
Fatigue versus Failure
Before you can reach your true physical potential, you must also learn to be comfortable being very uncomfortable. You must develop the mental tolerance to push yourself outside and above your current fitness and comfort zone. Elite power athletes and endurance athletes are all too familiar with pushing the limits, both physically and mentally. It is often those who can suffer the most, and recover the fastest that makes them elite. You can certainly take some valuable lessons from this mindset and apply it to your own training environment. But, you must use caution. Pushing oneself does not mean the use of sloppy technique or maximal efforts at any cost. With respect to exercise and training, pushing oneself means using skilled movements, repeatedly, to cause high levels of muscle fatigue, not failure. Failure can lead to injury or poor motor patterns. Instead, you must practice this fine line of pushing and backing off just enough so you have good form. AND, here’s the kicker: It takes a great deal of effort to practice perfectly under high levels of fatigue. . .to squat perfectly while your thighs are burning or pull perfectly (with your shoulders packed and spine straight) rep after rep after rep. I challenge you to be ‘perfect’ in every rep you do, even when you feel like quitting.
If you are still having problems overcoming barriers to intensity, perhaps you need to examine your ability to focus and differentiate between ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain.’ First of all, let me clarify. Yes, there is such a thing as good pain. It comes in the form of burning muscles, high heart rates and sometimes a bit of nausea. And I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t really pain – it is discomfort. Today, we are bombarded with media and the avoidance of pain – take this pill for this pain, this one for that pain and so on. Put the pills away and take Lance Armstrong’s advice: “Pain is temporary; Quitting is forever.“ If you think I am encouraging that you work through injuries (pain) and push yourself so hard that you have soreness for weeks, you are missing the point. Please go back and read the first two paragraphs again. Science has proven that if we expose ourselves to a certain level of intensity, that is ‘painful’ (uncomfortable), and then we expose ourselves to that same level again within a few days (consistency), we will be able to tolerate it much more handily on the second go around. The human body is an amazing, adaptive machine. It must, however, be overloaded in order to adapt to a higher level. Thus, if we overload it, we will need a higher level to elicit the same uncomfortable response. Another tip is to expect and welcome some pain/discomfort. Then, shift your mind away from it. Take your mind to the technical aspect of the lift. This is a ‘disassociation’ technique sports psychologists have been using for years. And it can be learned if you practice it.
No Fear, No Frustration
Some of the biggest differences I encounter between training teenagers and training adults, is the level of fear. Adults, being more set in their ways, have preconceived notions of what they think they can handle and what they are comfortable trying. Meaning, adults, in general have more fear. And that becomes an obstacle for me, as a S&C Coach, to work around. Although there is no substitute for good judgement, adults do need to be reminded that part of ramping up intensity is trying an exercise that is new and more complex. Training intensely begins with the right attitude and the right attitude includes a clean slate – a willingness to try something new, possibly fail and to not become frustrated with the experience. Think of how many levels of swimming kids must go through before they are left to their own devices – usually a few summers worth right? Well, put that into perspective and know that learning takes time and patience. But it is worth it because learning something new is also another effective way to boost up the intensity of your training. Shaking muscles on a new lift is a GREAT sign. It means you are paving a new neuromuscular highway and thus improving coordination. Take some advice from the kids out there: No fear, no frustration OK? Approach your workouts with a willingness to learn. Training is a beautiful opportunity if you view it that way.
Actions Must Match Vision
This may sound a bit blunt, but you must sacrifice laziness, unwarranted training habits, crap technique, pain avoidance and pleasure seeking to develop the physical and mental capacity to tolerate hard work. It is fine to have goals, to have a vision of where you want to be. This is where it all begins, but if that vision is clouded baggage and stubbornness, then you will be stuck right where you are. It is only through a willingness to make this sacrifice and hard work, and nothing short that will lead you to achieve your strength and conditioning goals. You must take responsibility for where you are right now. Your actions must match your goals directly. I challenge you to do just that! Defeat your fears, leave frustration at the door and face the road ahead with daily conviction. What translates intense physical conditioning into bliss is the victory you will have over YOURSELF.