Training, Goals, and The Lessons Learned along the Way

Training, Goals, and The Lessons Learned along the Way

Discipline: The desire to achieve is rooted in discipline.

Motivation will wane moment by moment, it is the consistent action of doing the work towards your goal that will help determine your success.

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White belt to black belt mastery:  Process and building the foundation of success.

When it is our desire to learn we do so as a beginner. Through our studies and with a patient and disciplined approach we continue our growth. This takes us to new levels as represented in the color of our belts. But deep within the levels or belt colors lies lessons beyond what we see or experience or for that matter what the belt color might tell us or others. The true mastery is going beyond the lesson of the belt and observing and learning the deeper lessons being offered.

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Teachers and being a student: The best teachers are students.

The best teachers have teachers. Even the master has a teacher. Yes it is possible to learn something from anyone, any situation. But learning from a master provides a level of understanding that goes far beyond learning in random situations and circumstances of daily life. Teachers have a wisdom that can help convey and teach lessons that go beyond the experience. Teachers can help to understand what is beyond say the movement or sport. Learning from an experienced teacher and being open minded like that of the white belt mentality will provide more wisdom than can ever be obtained otherwise.

Preparation: 

When setting a goal it is important to be clear what it is you wish to achieve. To broad a goal and it will be difficult to set in place a plan and properly prepare. As the great coach John Wooden once said, ‘failing to prepare is preparing for failure’. Additionally preparation provides a number of other potential benefits when it comes time to achieve your goal. In cases of performance it can help alleviate many of the stressors aka much of the noise that potentially will hamper or hinder you potential. Understanding what lies in hand and ahead is a powerful way to set your minds potential and adjust your attitude to a place/vision of success.

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Know your limitations:  We all have them regardless of what you may believe.

These limitations are an opportunity to empower oneself. They offer us a deep insight and understanding of who we are and what it is we need to be our best self. Respect the limits, know the limits, understand the limits and move within and beyond.

Become your best self, there’s nothing to achieve: 

Contrary to popular believe there is nothing to achieve other than that in which you have determined worth achieving. If you allow others to determine what is important you will not be living your truth but theirs. While we may see something another is doing or has done as a source of motivation it is important that it aligns with our true self, our true nature. In a world where everyones ‘achievements’ are easily shared it is easier to be distracted and become derailed. It is difficult to ignore what are some amazing human feats and the potential that exists, but it is crucial that we understand how these relate to us before allowing them to impact our direction and choices.

Practice: 

To be good we must learn, we must study, we must observe, we must listen and by all means we must take this into a daily practice. Practice must be clear and directed. One must practice with attention to detail and an open and critical mindset. Practice should not be taken lightly, it is the foundation of success. “All practice takes hard work but not all-hard work is practice.” Practice helps not only develop the skill but also the mindset of success.

It’s not always fun: 

Truth be told, training, practice, preparation and the process is not always enjoyable and it should not be. The essence is the moment, being present and be challenged. Moving the body and mind in a healthy way requires learning how to do so. Most skills take time and have a significant learning curve. Many of the tasks along this curve will be less than enjoyable and leave you wondering if its worth it. I can say that if it is important enough then yes its worth it. Its not always the goal that we are chasing but we don’t often understand this until we are deep into the process and training. As Bruce Lee famously said, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”

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Deadlift PR, 570lbs

In July of 2016 I committed to a goal of establishing a new deadlift PR. I had a great system and structure to follow and a coach I knew whom would support and guide me.

My plan was simple

1)Deadlift once a week based off percentages from prior 1 rep max.

Note for the initial phase I only had an old PR from 2010, not exactly reliable. However I knew I could pull 505 & figured this would serve to guide me to build a base, test and set the parameters percentage wise.

All deadlifts were to be done in singles, aka 1 rep only sets.

Structure looked like this

Week 1: 70% for 15 singles, 1 every 30 seconds

Week 2: 75% for 12 singles, 1 every 30 seconds

Week 3: 80% for 10 singles, 1 every 30 seconds

Week 4: 85% for 8 singles, 1 every 1.5 minutes

Week 5: 90% for 6 singles, 1 every 2-3 minutes

Week 6: peak week, 101% and new PR and basis for next wave %

This is a program inspired from Westside Barbell and taught to me by my coach/friend Mark Reifkind. I had done it before and it works for me. It allowed a straightforward approach and a way to control factors such as volume, intensity and load. Of course I had flexibility to adjust as needed.

The last cycle Coach Rif suggested a change, adding in a heavier week at 95% for 3 singles followed by a back off week at 80% then peak week. Due to some scheduling I asked to use back the day and therefore split the 85% into 2 weeks doing an 82.5 & 86.5%. I must say this felt like a great modification even if not in original plan.

The 80 & 85% weeks are most difficult in terms of combined load, volume and intensity. Those can be seen as nuts and bolts weeks but truly it is subjective.

Programs like these demand a lot. One must be consistent week in and week out. One must recover as well and pay attention. As a natural and raw deadlift athlete these loads add up. You will get stronger but you should be smart and conservative in your estimates when starting. Build a strong base and then progress using the %. Adjust reps and rest if need be but only if you feel at an uncomfortable risk. But keep in mind getting strong and lifting heavy always has a level of uncomfortable risk.

The new PR is an awesome feeling. Completing a goal and doing the work to get there is quite rewarding. The discipline that it takes to complete such a goal is one of the great lessons learned during this process. Week in and week out doing what is prescribed and  knowing in advance what lay ahead can seem daunting. But I never was scared, never deterred, never worried about whether I could or could not. I knew if I followed the program, listened to my body and made adjustements as need be (which Rif made a major adjustement in mid cycle) that I could accomplish my task. This was not a ego based or false based confidence but a deep understanding of self related to mindset, physical ability and right amount of desire.

Now days as a “Masters Athlete” i find myself more focused than ever. I chose to continue to learn and grow as a beginner. I chose a blend of things that I feel I am deficient in and things I was to excel at. I have goals and I have many yet that lie ahead which I am training at this time. I keep moving towards a level of understanding and if I am lucky some day mastery.

This is not just personal, its professional. I am committed to both excellence in personal and professional and they certainly intertwine and compliment on another. More than ever I want to be a better teacher and coach and feel that leading by example is key. Allowing my actions to speak and support my words. I hope this program does just that. This goes well beyond a Deadlift PR but it sure does feel good! Celebrate your successes! Accomplishing goals big goals is something that does not happen often, thats why they are truly an accomplishment.

A graphical representation. Linear progressions. Seems so simple and in many cases it is. Don’t let people fool you, linear progressions work.

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Here is a week by week layout

Weight

Reps (all single reps)

70%

315.00

12

75%

365.00

10

80%

405.00

8

90%

455.00

6

Peak

505.00

2

70%

335.00

15

77%

385.00

12

85%

425.00

10

95%

485.00

6

Peak

515.00

2

70%

355.00

15

75%

385.00

12

80%

415.00

10

85%

440.00

8

90%

465.00

6

Peak

535.00

1

70%

375.00

15

75%

405.00

12

80%

430.00

10

85%

455.00

8

90%

485.00

6

Peak

550.00

1

70%

385.00

15

75%

415.00

12

80%

440.00

10

82.5

455.00

8

86.5%

475.00

6

90%

495.00

4

95%

520.00

4

80%

440.00

10

Peak

570.00

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S.M.A.R.T., Structured, Progressive Training = Results

In some circles the idea of progressive training is rather poo poo’d. While there is a case to be made for those whom choose to do as they wish rather than plan, I am a big believer in planning and preparation.

First lets start with a simple idea known as S.M.A.R.T., a method used for goal setting.

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I have rarely if ever met an athlete of any caliber whom did not wish to improve their performance. Whether this be a 1 rep max, a time related goal, etc. most if all athletes train with the idea of getting better. What I know the best athletes in the world is they all have a plan in place to do exactly this. There is little left to chance or error. Minuscule details and 100th’s of seconds can be the difference between gold and no medal at all. I believe this point is clearly evident in many sports especially observed in the Olympic events such as track and field, swimming, ice skating, skiing, gymnastics, etc. And what must also be noted is not always does the ‘best athlete’ or even the ‘best prepared’ athlete win.

The reason this topic came to my attention was a bit of self reflection. While I am not competing on a particular stage, I am always competing in the gym and training against myself. I have specific goals with easily measurable aspects and achievable outcomes available. All of these goals and potential outcomes require attention to detail and very specific programming. While there is room to play and have fun, this is just more part of the process and something enable as such. And just to be clear, achieving goals is fun.

So looking at my numbers over the last number of months and even couple years I have specific examples of measurable and achievable goals I have reached and continue to surpass to new goals which are as a result of prior outcomes.

Example 1 is the Kettlebell 1 arm Swing. For the past 3 years, nearly every Saturday I have done some sort of variation in terms of reps, sets and weight with this movement. The programming is done by our Coach Mark Reifkind and as he will tell you we PR nearly every week in some way or fashion. In laymen terms we are consistently improving our performance and it is backed in real effort and numerical statistics. And note we have successfully completed each test day over the length of this timeframe.

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Example 2 is the Deadlift. Since July of 2016 I started back on a deadlift program. It has been 6 years since my last program cycle which resulted in a PR of 560lbs. My current program is based of a specific rep number and total each week based of a percentage of my PR which I most recently achieved. At the end of my 5 week cycle I will attempt a new PR which at this point I have successfully achieved at the end of cycle. Note the last lines 455, 481.5 and planned PR attempt have yet to be completed at this time. What is important is that regardless I will do the work at 455 and 481.5 and take a 545 minimum attempt because this is the planned work and end of this cycle, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

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(Notations ex: 70% for 1 rep every 30 sec x 15 reps. The black numbers aka 7/19 is the date of the lift). What these numbers show is the importance of planning and setting realistic goals. Also, the first cycle was arbitrary meaning I choose to work off what I felt was reasonable considering my past and present. Cycle 2 I simply added 20lbs to each week sans week 4 where I wanted to feel a bit more weight as an specific adaptation. Cycle 3 (515lb) and 4 (535lb) are based of the cycle 2 and 3 PR’s respectively. This will be the case for cycle 5 and beyond.

Example 3 is Gymnastics. Currently I am following the gymnastics bodies foundations program. Since June of this year I have spent an average of 5 days a week training progressions and movements based off the programmed laid out before me. I have had to be humble and patient to allow my body to adapt to the physical demands and stressors of not only the current movements but what lies ahead. I have a specifics goals, with a measurable program which has set out achievable results. This program is far from easy, quite demanding on time and getting more so as I continue to improve. And, yes week by week I just get better setting more PR’s and most important improving my competence in the movements.

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The point of this article and the examples to show how Smart planning and programming in a progressive manner produces true results. Week by week, training session by training session I know I am getting better. This is not just by feel but by specific application of in terms of numerical performance, statistics and overall physical performance. Setting PR’s of week in and week out feels great and it is truly a testament to my training and the planning. And yes it is simple progressive resistance training based of real numbers. I realize this approach to movement and training is not the most appealing due to the structure, it does produce results.

A personal philosophy of mine is to simple to work to get a little bit better everyday in all aspects of my life. Having structure and goals helps to make this possible as does having a tremendous support system and coaching. As a coach myself I value the expertise of other coaches and thus use their wisdom and experience to help guide me along my path. The commonality amongst my 2 coaches is they both come from a gymnastics background and know and understand the value of structure, planning and preparation. The results speak for themselves.

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Components of Training, Forming a Strong Foundation

Below is a list of some essential components of training. As an athlete of all levels it is important that we have a strong awareness and foundation of these components. Training and competing is more than just showing up and doing the work. We must have rhyme and reason behind what we do. If not it is more than likely we will under perform, injury ourselves, burn out, etc. I like to think of training as a life long journey. Along the path it is likely that we will learn new methods, approaches, techniques, sports, philosophies and the like. Whatever it is we do it must be steeped and rooted in an underlying philosophical approach to success and integration. The foundation which we build is the key to the additions we will add throughout our life. Having a solid foundation is the key to building a strong and well integrated structure of varying physical activities, movements, sports, etc. Here are a few things that come to mind.

Progression: 

Elite level athletes follow the simple concept of progression. If your not progressing your digressing and in the world of athletics and in general this is a bad idea. Tudor Bompa does a fantastic job teaching how to program a progressive program for optimal performance. He gives you the framework and concepts. Additionally, it is my professional opinion that the conjugate method is the best for the majority of athletes who are in the lifting world of sport and athletics. This system was Developed and fostered in the old Soviet Union and popularized for good reason and measure by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, in this case the numbers. We must plan and execute for success and in order to do this we must have a system in place that addresses our strengths and weaknesses with the overall goal in mind. Progress does not happen by guessing and hoping, it is determined with an overall picture of the goal and the work that needs to be done to get there.

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Variation:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same results. In training this rings true. Again looking at progression and the conjugate method as an example of, they embrace the idea of change. It is crucial that ones program and movement is in a constant state of change. Variation, stimulating and learning new movements, changing weights, reps, rest, etc. Are all part of variation and progressive adaptation. For instance, one does not squat the same weight for the same reps and sets week in a week out. This would lead to a negative adaptation if continued for  any length of time. The body is like layers, it will build and add upon itself and will need appropriate stimulus to do so.
Pattern identification
We must understand that the body moves in patterns and sequencing. We have to understand what it is we are working to achieve and be sure to enhance that particular pattern and sequence with our training. Weaknesses must be known and addressed but we must never forget where our strengths lie in the process.
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Your weakest link
The old adage says, one is only as strong as their weakest link. How true it is. If for instance you have weak hamstrings this will have a direct effect on your ability to sprint, squat, Deadlift, clean, etc. A program should honor the individuals strengths and weaknesses. The program should see the body as a pattern of sequencing with a chain reaction. If one of the links of the chain, or the sequence fails to fire correctly the body will be compromised and unavailable to attain true peak potential and performance.
Form and function matter
In order to function at your highest level and achieve maximal results from your efforts you need perfect form. This is especially true in sports like track and field, gymnastics, ballet, martial arts, etc. But it is also true in sports where we attempt to achieve max effort lifts such as Weightlifting, Power-lifting, and even Crossfit. If you move better you will be more efficient and this will enable more movement potential as you will expend less energy. These two principles flow together to form perfection.
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Technique is key to success
As the above states, technique is the difference. If you look at sports other than Track, gymnastics, Weightlifting, etc. and take a look at Crossfit and its top competitors you will see they move heavier weights/loads more efficiently. This is due to their technical ability and law of specificity in training context. But as we discuss technique, even in Crossfit technique is the one of the key differences between the best and the rest. Just watch Athletes like Rich Froning and Julie Foucher.
Breath matters
Breath into your diaphragm activating your deep core muscles and creating a stable environment for your spine and his enhancing your “core strength”. Remember where you have ribs, you have lungs this means your breath circulates around the whole body. Coordinating breath and movement is another crucial aspect. You must learn and know how to breath for the movement. For instance with a squat, we inhale as we squat and exhale at or on the rise.
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Rest is the missing link:
I love how people are really pushing the limits and testing human potential. From pro athletes, Crossfitters, Ultra Endurance athletes, etc. Humans are pushing into new areas of performance. Another key to optimizing this performance is rest. This includes sleep and rest days from training. The body and the brain need a break. If you listen carefully to your body it will tell you via a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors it needs rest….I.e. Elevated heart, insomnia signs, low energy, poor appetite, injury, slow recovery, etc. A good program and coach will be sure to include rest into the plan and hopefully avoid these factors that signal towards overtraining.
Listen to your body
Yes, your body is really smart and it will clearly communicate to your brain what it needs. Most likely we fail to observe and listen and this gets us in trouble. This is less of an issue with elite athletes whom are being coached. The challenge I have seen is the non professional who is competing at a high level in sports like crossfit, triathlons, marathons, etc. All these sports almost allow one to overtrain easily simply due to variation.
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Mind over Matter
Physical ability is one thing but the difference between great and good is in the mind. Training in itself is a process of mental preparation and training. The old saying goes that training should be harder than competition. This is certainly true as far as I am concerned. Competition has so many unknown and unfamiliar variables that present potential distractions, the last thing we want is too feel unprepared physically and mentally. Now, as a coach and athlete we should always understand and prepare for the unknown to minimize distraction and optimize performance, this also goes along with the mind over matter. It is not just physical!