Friday 8 March 2013

Keeping the Challenge

   Recently a friend asked if I could give some of my thoughts on will power and avoiding plateaus. For me sports, training, athletics, whatever you want to call it, is all about the challenge. I live for it. I thrive on it. Once I feel I've accomplished a goal I become bored and feel stagnant. It's all about moving forward in life. You look back to remind you of how far you've come, but never with regret. No matter how many mistakes or bad choices we feel we've made you can't change them and really they are the sum of what you see in the mirror before you now.

   So how does all of that relate to will power and progression? For me it's not so much will power as the drive to reach a goal I've set. I'm not "willing" myself into anything, but simply keeping the prize in my minds eye. Everyday. You see I can be a tiny, wee little bit obsessive. Ok maybe a little more than a wee bit. When I have a goal in mind it's all I think about. This keeps the drive going. I'll tel you a short story as an example of what I mean.

Before                                  After 
   2009 I decided that I want to be in the best shape of my life. More specifically I wanted a six pack. Desparately. To me a six pack represented the ultimate expression of perfect physical fitness. It's what we all are astonished by in the human physique. It was a quest. I started with the infamous P90X. Tony Horton quipped and encouraged as I pushed myself along with the participants in his video workouts. I followed the diet guide and cut almost all fat from my diet. Then I did P90X again, but double this time. I worked out morning and evening most days. I was exhausted, but dropping weight like an anorexic with the flu. The analogy that was best described for me is that that fat comes off like draining a swimming pool. Everyone has a "deep end" and it's the last spot to drain. For many people this is the abdominal area. So you can be very lean, but even the smallest amount of fat will still remain there. From bone breadth testing - a test to learn your skeletal frame size - I knew that even at 6' tall, I was very small framed and should weigh between 145 and 155 lbs. I know this sounds too thin, but unfortunately in current times the majority of the population is overweight and would be shocked to see how little they should actually way. Besides getting a six pack, weight means being very lean, unless you are a muscle bound endo-morph. These are the people like Arnold Schwarzenegger who are naturally very large and muscular even at low body fat percentages. But I digress. By the time I got my beloved six pack I was 138 lbs and 1.5% body fat. Most people who knew me were appalled. My face was sunken in and I was just too lean. I realized this myself and eventually began to lay-off the training and dieting, putting on 15 lbs again. People told me frequently during my journey that I was looking unhealthy and too thin. There was a point to this story, I was completely one track minded. I looked at everyone's  mid-sections, envying those who had great abs and critiquing those who didn't. It was all I thought of. I'm not saying that to reach a goal you need to be this obsessive. It would be destructive to most people. What I am saying is that to reach a goal you must keep it in your minds eye every day. Picture it until it's not just a goal, but a reality you just haven't made it to yet. Like seeing into the future.

  As for the plateau issue, well to me that's an even easier issue to solve. If you plateau, your mind or your body is bored. Many times I have plateaued and when I do I simply change gears. If it's running like I do now, I change location, change the time of day, change my runs from long and slow to short and fast, I try hills, different shoes, new music on my mp3 player. You get the idea. When I was skateboarding competitively I always tried new things. I was never just a street skater, vert skater or bowl guy. I did it all. For me it's better to be good at all kinds of things, then the best at just one. 

   I used to do some personal training and have gone through periods in my life where weight lifting was my only sport or training. Just ask my previous training partners who I helped to coach to better fitness Keith and George. Myself and these two nutcases used to push ourselves until we would sometimes faint or vomit. Why? Why the fuck would anyone do that? Because we challenged each other. I do the same for myself. Small challenges every day. When I comes to working out I have developed a great "routine" that works for me and is really not routine at all. For training you need structure, but that doesn't mean you can have variables within that structure. I train my core and hit the weights once a week for an hour to supplement my sports. Once I'm in my gym It works like this, I have a set routine of what muscle groups I work and the order, but I don't plan anything. I have enough different exercises in my head that I basically decide just before my set what I'll do. I don't repeat those sets for more than 2 weeks in a row. I find trying to beat last weeks results only works once for me then I need to move on. I constantly change from barbell, to dumbbell  to body weight exercises. I use pyramid reps, negative reps and whatever else I can think of to just make it feel new and different.

Here is my basic workout:

Core: 10 sets, 15-25 reps per set, approx. 150-250 total - 20 minutes
Abs 2 sets to failure.
Lower back 1 set to failure.
Repeat 3 x
Push-up variation to failure

Weight Training: usually work top to bottom - 20 minutes per round

Round 1: dumb bells, medium weight
Shoulders 8-12 reps
Chest 8-12 reps
Back 8-12 reps
Biceps 8-12 reps
Triceps 8-12 reps
Legs 8-12 reps

Round 2: barbell, heavy weight

Shoulders 6-10 reps
Chest 6-10 reps
Back 6-10 reps
Biceps 6-10 reps
Triceps 6-10 reps
Legs 6-10 reps

  This routine has helped me to stay motivated and be creative by inventing my routines on the fly. It also helps to keep the dread factor down, since I don't even know what my workout will entail it becomes useless to dread it. It also helps to design the workout to how you're feeling that day. Not all days are created equal.

   To sum all of this up. Pick a goal. Live it, eat it, breath it. Stay excited about that goal. Tell it to others and make it your reality. Keep things fresh through constant change. Come up with new challenges for yourself or challenge your workout/training partner to a competition or a race. This will help to keep your mind out of the "gotta just get this done" mode and into a "I wonder how good I can do today" place. For me it has always been living in the moment that kept training and sports so exciting. Could I learn this new trick today? Can I beat my last running time? Can I actually lift this much? Can I last just one minute longer? I hope you'll find like I did that the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with answering these questions for yourself is truly the most addicting and motivating factor there is.

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