There is this feeling you get when you go to the gym and everything goes your way. I call it The Slayer, because it feels as if Beyonce did a Metal Song: fucking EPIC. You get it in one of those days when the warm up feels light and easy. Your technique sets are a display of grace and control. When you hit your workout the weights move as if they were feathers, your breathing matches your movement in perfect harmony, your transitions are smooth and short, and the only time you trip in the whole workout you stay composed AF and correct immediately with a smile on your face. You fucking slay like Queen-B. Heck! Even your hair game is on point! You finish on the ground exhausted but proud: I am so motherfucking fit, you think to yourself.
Sadly this does not happen often. I think for most people it happens rarely, like once every three moons. But it shouldn’t. I think the bulk of your gym sessions should feel productive and fun, you should feel accomplished, and more than having survived something you should feel like you achieved something. Sure, your hair game will not always be on point, but: Slay you should and Slay you must. I think this is something everybody can do, it just requires a little bit of thinking -which is hard, I know, but it is very doable.
The most common thing getting in the way of your slaying is that too often we go the gym with a set of expectations of our performance. Sometimes we think we should hit specific numbers because otherwise we are not as strong or fit as we think we are “fuck! I did not get 135, I’ve lost all my strength!” Maybe we think that our run should feel easy and light “why do I feel like I am struggling at this pace? Today is going to suck so bad.” Other times we might think that there should not be any shaking at all on that tree pose “it is just a fucking tree pose!” Worse, there is that day when we feel we should not only beat Jenny in this workout, we should fucking bury her in her own shame, obliterate her so completely she never comes back to the gym again. The problem with all that is that it is based on ideas on how things beyond our control should go. When we have an expectation that something should feel lighter than it does it seems like a rational thought but it is not. We are comparing how something feels with an idea of how it should feel. We are comparing reality with a dream, and in doing so we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are basically telling ourselves: “you are not strong today, you are not fast today, you are not flexible today, you should be better”. That just about guarantees that you’re not going to achieve jack shit. Sure, there is some variation from day to day in our performance. But our sense of our capacity should never come from how we think something ought to feel. In weightlifting it’s often the case that days when you are feeling a little crispy at the beginning you end up PR-ing. The same is true for endurance: sometimes the warm-up sets raise your heart rate through the roof, and you think “Wow! It is going to be hard today”, when in fact you are so recovered your resting heart rate is really low, and so the change feels bigger than it usually is. What is really happening here is that your system turns out to be super well-prepared to push hard, and the running sesh goes great.
There are other times when you expect to not be able to do something. Like when you have to do pull ups and you have been working at them for months and you are sure you are not going to get one today. What will happen? Well, you will not get it. Every weightlifting coach will tell you that if you go to the bar not sure if you can get it, instead of with the drive and the fucking grit and will of getting it, you will definitely not lift the weight. Sure, the will is not enough, but expect to suck, and suck you will.
But having expectations is not the only thing getting in the way of our slaying. Sometimes your mindset is right, you have no expectations and yet you don’t hit your numbers. Your speed is off or your movement is off and you feel like shit. Often our minds go into explaining why this must be the case, which is understandable but unproductive. We just end up rationalizing the feeling we have, “oh gosh I sucked.” When this happens to one of my athletes in the gym I try to reframe the workout with them and find some wins. We look for things that actually went very well and there is always something. Despite my best efforts (and theirs), at this point is often too late. It feels like a consolation prize.
There is a way to turn all this around! Go to the gym with one very clear purpose, not a number. Choose one that is all about your behavior, something you can always fucking do, and that will make you better, and will move you closer to where you want to be. That is the magic. Let me give you some examples.
- You have a weightlifting session and you are supposed to max out on your 5 rep squat. Our minds totally want to go to I am going to hit X number of lbs. Change that to I am going to focus on the rep at hand today. For all my heavy sets of 5 repetitions, I’ll make each repetition be independent from one another. If one repetition feels heavy, I will let it go and focus on the next one and just on that one and go for it with all I’ve got. Every time I stand that bar up I will recalibrate, refocus on my technique, and go for the next rep. I guarantee you that if you do this, when you reach failure on that third rep of your last set, the number achieved will not matter as much because there will be not an ounce of doubt in your brain that you gave it your all.
- You have a running session and your coach assigned you some specific speeds to hit. This one is a hard one because there is already an explicit performance goal. Still the purpose of that session should not be the speed itself, but to meet the stimulus that your coach wants. If your coach is good that stimulus should be clear to you, if not: ASK HER! You could even ask that instead of speeds she could give you perceived-effort numbers. Once you have the stimulus clear your objective for that given session would be to try to hit the speeds prescribed for as long as possible, and if the speed is not just there, ask yourself how can you best match the stimulus wanted by your coach. Was it to have negative splits? Then stop for a second, and make sure the rest of your race is all negative splits even if your speeds are not as fast as initially planned. Did you have some intervals planned at your threshold speeds, but again your speed is just not there today? Okay then make sure each interval is at your threshold for that day. Make sure your perceived effort is 9/10.
- Do you have a crossfit training session and you know Jenny is coming and you really want to beat her ass, because fucking Jenny has been killing lately and you fucking hate it. You have always been “better” than Jenny, and to be honest the fact she will beat you just scares you. Remind yourself that even though the distance between jenny’s fitness and yours is getting shorter, this does not mean you are any less fit. It does feel like she stole your fitness but this is really not the case. So in this workout your only purpose is to be aware of every time this competitive thought is getting in your head. Each time you catch yourself thinking about Jenny, you will ask yourself what can I do right now to maximize my performance? You will find an answer right away, and it will be the right one. Also don’t forget, the experienced athlete is way better at not letting the competition unfocus them, be the experienced athlete.
- There is one purpose that always works and is highly underestimated. If you have one session in which your mind is all wrong and your inner troll is really getting the best of you, say fuck it! Focus on the quality of your movement. Decrease the difficulty of your workout and make sure you are moving like the fucking boss you are. Move with fucking style. It does not matter if you slow down the speeds, lower the weights, scale the pose. Decrease the difficulty enough so that you can do everything with fucking grace and you will fucking win!
So from now on before you start a training session, choose a purpose. Select a simple one, something you can control. It can be mental, like turning negative self talk into positive, or physical, like pooping really well before you do thrusters or else your belly takes up the whole rooooom . And remember, everytime you think, “gosh I’m tired” or “I’m feeling weak today”, turn it around into, “what can I do to maximize my slaying?”. And then just fucking SLAY!!!!!