People, hold back. Even when we think we are giving our all, we simply are not. Think of all those stories where you hear about a mother pushing aside a fallen tree to save her children, or an untrained person fleeing for their life, literally running for miles to escape harm’s way. It’s not fair to apply that kind of intensity to your training, but it is important to note we can all push a little bit harder.
We are taught from a young age, to survive. To not climb too high, to not swim too far from shore, to not wear ourselves down. We tell our kids to slow down, to pace. We instill fear of failure and its implications right from day one. It is in our very nature to hold back, for survival. This is totally not a bad thing (in an overall sense). This can, however, get in the way of pursuing excellence, and creating space to improve.
Enter in the concept of ‘training’. Besides the obvious physiological adaptations that occur over time, this is all about the mental adaptations that occur as well. The more years I spend coaching, the more convinced I am of the need to convince our deep little reptilian or caveman brains to overcome the FEAR of over-reaching – for even the best laid training plans are not effective if we do not slowly convince our brains that we are capable of much more.
I remember when I first started with Master’s swimming and endurance sports. I literally felt like I was going to die every training session. I always wanted to stop. My lungs and legs and whole body burned. I remember thinking, this will get easier, if I keep training. So the funny thing is, IT NEVER GOT EASIER. I’m not saying that I did not improve. I improved wildly – distance, speed, technique…all of it improved – so did my recovery time. That’s all great stuff…but what I am getting at here is that my brain (and yours) has a set comfort level. A pre-conceived notion of what hard and easy and everything in between is. Let’s consider this phase 1 of most training plans. The curve is steep and fast.
Out of this first phase of training came an adaptation in my brain, that it was SAFE for me to exercise at my pre-set notion of ‘hard’ for an extended period of time – slowly, with repeated exposure to stimulus, my cerebral cortex was convinced I would not blow up into a flaming heap of goo if I pushed it for extended periods of time (Lactate Threshold).
How then does one alter ‘perception’ of maximum effort? Ah-ha! Afterall, that’s the game changer, right? You have got to practice, practice, practice going to your perceived max, and then punch through that ceiling over and over and over again until the ceiling changes is how one does it. That’s intervals, Tabatas, maximum rep weight…and proper recovery until your brain says ok – this is my new norm.
I coach athletes of all kinds, but the group where this is the most apparent (and magical) is on a bike, where you can literally see the breakthrough happen and measure the improvement. The same thing happens when adults go for a move that they have spent months breaking down to try and get it right (like muscle-ups, pull-ups and push-ups for some). This is the stuff that makes my day, and keeps me coaching. Crafting mental breakthrough’s are the softer skills of a personal trainer – but one of the most important ones.
The game at the end of the day is to speak to your scared caveman brain and making it feel safe all the while tricking it into reaching further than it ever intended to go. I truly wish for no bears hunting you down, logs in your way or having to escape a knife-wielding lunatic – but if you do…With some smart training, I know you will be ready ;).