We all love to train hard. We love the feeling of working our asses off, yet I think training hard, truly training hard, is greatly misunderstood. Hours of media featuring Energy Drinks, Athletic Shoes, and awesome-sports-movies-action-montages has lead us to confuse training hard with intensity. We have this image in our head that training hard is finishing a workout sweaty and gassed, lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling like somebody just punched us in the face and stole all our money while quoting Jame Joyce. That outcome turns out to be fairly easily achieved: just do 50 burpees as fast as you can without stopping... it will take you less than 5 minutes and if you really commit to not stopping you will finish on the ground regretting life.
Equally pervasive is confusing training hard with quantity or volume. We believe that the more training the better, no matter the cost. Rest is understood as some kind of laziness and pain is just a sign that we are a fucking badass. Unfortunately, volume for the sake of volume just means you are getting a lot of hours of mediocre training and that all that effort is not as productive as if you invested half the time in some high quality training.
Lastly we confuse working hard with complexity. Hordes of internet coaches fishing for clicks in their youtube videos, fitness equipment companies, and our millennial desire of having the ultimate gadget created based upon the most cutting edge scientific insight, push us to believe that this uber complicated training program is the key to all our goals.
I know this sounds like it might not apply to you, but it does. No matter what you are training for, whether your thing is Zumba or IronMan, training hard requires the following:
- Purpose. What are you training for? What is your hard work and effort going to give you in exchange? Apart from braggin’ rights, what are you getting out of it? Take the time to really answer the question “why are you training?” with the depth it deserves. I guarantee you this is not easy which is why most people don’t ever do it. In fact, finding your purpose is quite daunting in some cases. It requires a lot from our egos because it requires us to match expectation with reality. Realizing that your goal is really to have better health and not to run a marathon under 4 hours can be hard to swallow. Having a clear training purpose will give you clear goals and objectives. It will ground your practice and allow you to define how to measure progress and ultimately how to measure mastery. Your purpose will also dictate if you need the help of a coach or if you need to follow a specific protocol.
- Consistency. Are you easily derailed? Do you train your ass off for two weeks and then something happens and you stop for one and so on? Are you constantly saying “I am back to training!”? It does not matter if you are puking your guts out everytime you go to the gym, if you go 2 weeks on 1 off. This doesn’t count as training hard and it won’t get you the results you want. Consistency is the capacity of doing the right things habitually. It does not mean perfection; it means to minimize deviation from your plan. It’s the ability to get right back on track as soon as you notice you’ve allowed yourself to be derailed. Consistency is not a matter of will-power as most people think, it is a matter of anticipating problems, of organizing your life, of making sure you are creating the space and time your practice needs. Your purpose will define things like frequency and volume, but it is your consistency that allows you to say “no” to that boozy dinner on Tuesday evening because Wednesday morning you want to train, or making sure you ask your coach fo ra workout to do in your hotel room because you are travelling next week, or not blowing yourself up weightlifting on Saturday, because you want to take best advantage of your gymnastics session on Monday. Consistency requires both taking the long view and focusing on the small choices of the moment. Consistency is hard work, and it is where most people struggle, and there’s just no substitute for it.
- Self-evaluation. Training hard means looking very honestly at what you are doing. Are you just checking off boxes? Are you really staying true to the purpose of your training? How consistent are you? Are you being honest with yourself? When things get difficult in our training, we often blame others, we blame our program, our coach, our job, our spouse, the weather, we blame everybody else but we avoid taking responsibility. It takes a lot of bravery to look at your own actions without bias or sugar-coating, , to look objectively at what you are doing and realize your training is your responsibility. You think maybe your program is not working? Find a way to evaluate that and change it. It is your job really incompatible with what the sport you want to train for? Then either change your job or your sport, but make peace with it. You think your coach is not doing their job? Have a heart-to-heart talk with them and fix it, or fire them. Take full responsibility of everything about your training. It is hard and it will free you.
Discipline is nothing more than purposeful and consistent self-evaluation. Even though it is simple, it is hard to do. And it is the true path to mastery. Before you go to the gym today, make sure you know your purpose. Spend five minutes thinking about it, and then hit the gym hard, making sure your training is really aligning to that purpose. Afterward, maybe try some self-evaluation and planning to help you be even more consistent. No matter what happens it will be a super productive session, and you’ll be on your way to training hard!!