I found a great article the other day about our need for achievement. As a coach who often puts the emphasis on practice and process, I still get curious about our need to set big goals, and the sense of satisfaction that arises from the grit and hard work of accomplishment. The author, Stephen Handle writes, “One often overlooked need we share is a “need for achievement” – this is our desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, or achievement of high expectations. We don’t have to be good at everything to be happy, but we usually like to be good at something. We all crave a type of passion, skill, or talent that we can excel at and rise above the norm. It helps us define ourselves as individuals. A healthy need for achievement isn’t about becoming better than others, it’s about becoming better than your previous self. It’s about identifying a goal you want to reach in life and being willing to put in the necessary steps to make it happen”.
Any of you who are currently training for something, will identify with this.
Creating and experiencing a flow or a peak performance (an achievement) is one of the greatest joys of being an athlete and is one of the most satisfying aspects of my coaching. Observing someone succeed is pretty much a manifestation of what’s awesome about sport.
While time management and training is primarily about carving out time, choosing to train, and setting a schedule, time management is also about seeing possibility and not getting railroaded by your own barriers to success and achievement.
Here are 5 of the most common barriers to time management and achievement and how to identify and overcome them:
1. Lack of motivation to train
An inability to get training done leads to low morale, and lack of momentum in training habits and an inability to get stronger. Some people have no trouble getting out the door, while others do. If you are the latter, the best is to keep your mind out of it (“Do I want to train right now” is not a good question for you), and just set up a schedule and stick to it. Schedules create habit and good habits create positive momentum.
There are 5 key things that will help you:
1. Plan when the workout is going to happen---preferably on a weekly, not daily basis—plug them into calendars on Sunday.
2. Organize your equipment so you are always prepared
3. Eat and sleep to support your training.
4. Decide how you are going to talk to yourself in training before you start. Decide to delete the negativity. You don’t even have to be overly positive. Be OK with neutral.
5. Celebrate your recovery day because you have worked so hard and deserve it.
Watch for ways you may repeatedly talk yourself out of doing well. Also called negative self-talk, this is going to the negative as a default and an inability to appreciate the good things that can happen in training. Sometimes the negative happens - we make a mistake that’s correctable, or something out of our control negatively affects and outcome in training. In this case, recognizing the negative is important, and accepting and using the experience to become better is a good thing. Moving on quickly is important. However, only looking for the negative, or talking and reflecting on training in absolutes and generalized statements may not be helpful.
‘It was a terrible workout, the worst ever. What a tough pill to swallow and I am wondering if it was my new shoes, the jacket I was wearing, maybe the food I had for lunch, and if I am really just not that good at this.’
If this is a consistent way of talking to yourself, it means that you may just have trouble being good to yourself and it’s a habit to look for everything that went wrong, instead of what may have gone right and what you can improve on to expect success in the future. If you have this habit, you may want to talk in ‘fact’ not ‘feeling’. You can ask yourself: what went well and what didn’t go so well. No judgement, just solution. While learning from experience is always a good thing, being able to take away and appreciate that good things happen every time you go out and train is a valuable exercise in self-esteem and intrinsic joy. I often ask people to find one thing to pat themselves on the back for in every race and training session. I don’t mean getting carried away with big HIGH Fives and celebrations - keep it humble and appreciate your small efforts that worked out.
3. Nervousness and Anxiety
Nervousness and anxiety causes muscle tension which is not the optimal state for athlete performance. Being able to perform relaxed is the biggest challenge for most athletes. Being relaxed and calm emotionally can have a huge impact on how your body reacts to intensity. The self perpetuating spiral of (confidence + self-belief + being relaxed) = success is one of upward movement.
Worry can be debilitating, anxiety can stun us, so it’s best to recognize worry early, not ignore. Worriers can be highly creative and imaginative people, and if asked about their worries, will often talk about things in the future that are either highly unlikely to happen or outside of their control. Or they allow other things to displace the worry and derail the race, such as not going to the race because the weather is bad.
Sport Performance worry can be tamed by recognition, relaxation, and visualization.
Name that thought: there is that worry feeling again. Notice and don’t judge. Then ask yourself a question: can I take action to help me? If you are worried about having enough calories before your training night, this requires one action: make sure you have calories. If it’s not something you can take action with (it might snow), you don’t have to analyze it. Worried about performance? Start with the facts, not expectations: only you know how well prepared you are physically and what you are realistically capable of. Once you know what’s reasonable to expect, use a visualization technique to see yourself performing this task well. Expectations that aren’t realistic can breed worry and future disappointment. You can sidestep this stress by performing reality checks on your expectations.
Relax and breathe and focus: breathe deeply. Breathe the worry out and away.Worry and anxiety is best helped by recognition, and then focusing on process, process, process. Things you can control: breathing, arm swing, footstrike, relaxation
Visualize: How do you see your happiest most prepared self? How do you want to feel. Use you imagination to your benefit: imagine the best case scenario.
4. Dealing with Distractions
We have all watched great athletic moments and achievements and seen the look of total concentration and flow on the face of the athlete. They look determined but also unflappable. They know that when something is not relevant to the outcome of the race, they will not give it energy. Through careful training, they have learned to ignore distractions. For example, for years, I have run at our well loved trail Elk and Beaver Lake in Victoria. This is a multi use trail and I expect to see other walkers, runners, dogs, bikes, and horses. I expect that some of these other users may cause me to veer, swerve, slow down, stop, or otherwise shift my momentum, however, I allow none of these distractions to shift my focus. Instead, I purposely practice keeping focus, while staying safe, and not allowing judging thoughts to arise, especially if I am performing some training with intensity.
Distraction control starts in training, by identifying when you are habitually getting distracted and then teaching yourself a new habit - techniques to re-focus. It starts with awareness, then quickly learning to identify the distraction without judgement, then, just as quickly, to re-focus on your process.
There is no greater personal power, than to not allow others to disrupt our flow. In that regard, distraction control is also a powerful choice:
Say you get cut off by a dog and have to break stride. You have a split second to make a choice to either get mad, upset and emotional, or move on and refocus. Anger in that moment will not help, will cause tension and tension is detrimental to peak performance. Your choice.
5. Non-productive emotions
Anger, fear, worry, boredom, frustration are not productive in the training and racing environment. The most consistently successful athletes have a refined and specific focussed emotional mindset that works over and over for them. They bring it to practice again and again and they race in this same mindset, leaving non-productive emotions for another time. I am not saying to minimize your feelings, however, in the athletic arena, you may want to focus on a specific mind set that works for you.
A final note on fear. I believe that the path to any achievement is necessarily going to include some fear. New territory is a bit scary. However, heading straight into what we find uncomfortable and finding it not so scary after all - but invigorating - is an amazing learning. The repetition of being brave, small acts of personal bravery and courage build resilience and self-esteem. Every time you show up to practice even though you are a little scared, this is what builds character. You recognize that working through personal fear and finding space for it, alongside building skills and confidence: this is the true beauty of sport. It all comes down to choosing the path with ‘heart’. If your heart is in it, there is no failure, only experience.
Lucy Smith March 2018
While I don’t actually know exactly what makes YOU happy, I have been coaching athletes long enough to have observed a few things about happiness, satisfaction and success in sport. And from my own experience, things like prize money and winning races isn’t the magic formula to happiness. In fact, I was giving a talk a few weeks ago, reflecting on mistakes I had made in sport, citing a time when I pretty much ruined my World Student Games 10 000m because I went and ran a hard 10 miles with my idol, the current Canadian 10 000m champion - 2 days prior to the event. As I told the story, with a huge smile, I suddenly paused - because the memory of that run, which took place through 10 miles of gorgeous British countryside - was actually a happy memory, and whatever failure I had processed was now a positive thing, as this epic run I had done. Now I am retired I look back with gratitude at the whole career - the ups and the downs. I have been observing athletes, young and old, learn sport skills, and find sport success for over three decades and during that time I have won and lost a few big races myself. While we are all motivated by different things in life, I have found some fairly common themes of why people stay in sport and what makes them feel satisfied. I call this happiness or intrinsic joy.
This being the beginning of a new season, I guess the logical place to begin is with anywhere you think you should be, where you haven't arrived yet (As in, I should be running my training routes at this pace.) Throw those shoulds away, is my advice. Too loaded with unmet expectations and pressure to be better than you are now. My recommendation is to begin with where you are right now.
Take stock of what you have at the moment and start building a foundation of emotional strength that will take you into the year. While building your cardiovascular base and strength is crucial to success this year, so too is building your emotional fortitude and your mental powers.
One of the most helpful skills you form early season is the practice of the power of positive thinking every time you train. As the season progresses and the workouts get harder and more intense on your path to goal races, the discomfort level rises. Rising discomfort levels and greater goals will bring you your greatest challenge: the opportunity to become a better emotional athlete.
Before I outline a few skills of positive practice, let’s take a brief look at happiness and the athlete. In the field of positive psychology, positive practice is not about being blissfully happy or on cloud nine about life all the time. This isn’t realistic and it’s also exhausting. Life goes up and down. Positive practice is the expectation that things can and will go well and you have the power to make them so. So you are content about your path, not putting happiness on hold until you have a positive outcome. You show up happy to train; you don’t need a great training day to ensure your happiness. Please note, that I understand ‘happiness’ is just a word. It is a word I use to describe a calm, emotional state, akin to peace, contentment and acceptance. It is not the sort of overzealous mania that is overcompensating for a lack of confidence, self worth or inner peace. Positive is also just a word. A Positive (noun) is a constructive quality. Positive as an adjective refers to the presence of something (rather than the absence). Nor do I have this all figured out – inner peace and training are works in progress for me too!
How does this play out in your training? Show up Happy, don't wait for it.
Happy to be there, happy to see your training mates, happy for anything that you love about sport. And by happy, I mean authentically positive. Bring the presence of something that adds, do not leave it out. Be prepared. Put some thought into how you will be ready, how you will succeed. Be present and know that showing up and being ready is often enough to create a positive emotional state. Here are 3 of my favourite doable, positive practices:
1. Plan your rest, recovery and nutrition around all sessions, especially key sessions in the week. This is positive practice.
2. Visualize your optimal mental state: calm, energized, happy, relaxed. Meditate. This is positive practice.
3. Be mindful of your whole journey through sport and know that this right now, these people you are with, this road you are on, is the reward. Don’t wait for the end, in order to be happy.
How does this positive practice play out for your season or your race goals? How does it play out in your day to day life?
One of the best ways to prepare for the mental challenge of race day is to practice during training. Practicing good habits in the training when the stakes are low creates an opportunity to cement them. What does your perfect racing emotional state look like?
Confident? Calm? Powerful? Happy? Smooth?
In control? All of the above?
Don't limit yourself. You can be all those things. And the easiest way to visualize your peak performance and ideal mental state is to do it while you are relaxed. This is why training can become zen like and have such amazing flow at times. Your training will have some intensity that mimics race intensity, but without the actual stress of competing. This is the ideal time to practice positive mental race skills, because you can visualize your perfect race while executing the skills needed to achieve it. The best athletes manage to be powerful, strong, and fast and focused while being relaxed. That’s because they have practiced being relaxed and positive over and over and over again in training. Whatever it is that you want to feel in races now is the time to practice it. Since the body follows the mind this is an invaluable tool if practiced consistently.
Give it a go!
Run For Joy coach Lucy Smith has had a successful professional distance running and multisport career that has earned her 3 University Championship titles, 19 National Championship titles, and 2 Silver World Championships Medals. She has won the Victoria Time Colonist 10K 6 times and has inspired hundreds of local runners with her speaking. A Lululemon Ambassador, coach, author and mother of two, Lucy shares her passion for personal success by volunteering in the community and coaching athletes all over the world.
That's not a very heavy log by the way....
This blog on strength is not going to be what you expect. Generally, articles on strength for runners and other endurance athletes, are called ‘5 Exercises that all Runners Should Do” and consist of a 5-10 exercise program called Functional Strength, Core Workouts or Bodyweight Strength, the cornerstone of those programs being the Plank, and versions of it. Nothing wrong with any of that, but I want to deliver something with a bit more grit and sound science behind it. What you are going to read, following my personal narrative around the importance of strength for endurance athletes, is not about getting your abs stronger or more defined, or making your core burn through insane mountain climber plank, but a way of creating strength with an intelligent system of training - without going to failure, fatigue or what we call burn. Save the burn for the last 200m on race day!
I am not a strength coach or expert, but as an endurance coach, I encourage athletes to take strength seriously. A good strength program will help build endurance and resiliency for your activity, keeping you injury free and will help your performance. Intelligent strength training doesn’t mean spending hours on machines at the gym watching other people text between reps. Intelligent strength training supports your endurance training, takes only 60 minutes per week, and makes you feel strong and awesome. Not only do you run better, but you are stronger for all your daily activities - lugging groceries, lifting your kids, or putting your dog in the back of the car. What follows is an article from an expert. I can tell you that I have been stronger and faster, on less run mileage since beginning a good strength program, but you might as well get the science behind my story. Strength is not just for elite athletes, the special forces or Olympic powerlifters - strength is for everyone who wants to feel strong and maximize their potential for movement.
Current Concepts on Strength Training
With thanks to guest contributer Dave Smit, Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator
Attendance at a recent seminar on strength development for endurance athletes challenged the current views on enhancing endurance performance using strength training. It confirmed my anecdotal findings regarding the need for specific strength qualities for endurance athletes, as well as military and law enforcement operators.
Without going deep into the scientific jargon, strength is the ability of the athlete to contract a muscle, cause a muscle action and or ‘fire’ and is measured using lab force platforms and field based methods that include percent of (IRM – 1 repetition max) .
The goal for endurance athletes is to improve performance on the track, road, mountain or other escape route from the gym floor. Strength training done effectively mitigates internal muscle breakdown, critical to the endurance athlete. It will improve endurance performance, mobility, and recovery.
After attending Pavel Tsatsouline’s Strong Endurance seminar in September 2017 it became clear that when conducting strength training endurance athletes should be careful and avoid subjecting their system to ‘acid baths’. Many current strength training systems have athletes performing sets and reps that cause significant disruption of the muscle cell thereby compromising the ability of the athlete to do what they really want to – compete aerobically.
Prevailing views suggest the only way to develop strength is for athletes to reach desired degrees of fatigue – whereas, technically this training should be used sparingly, in peaking situations for example. High acid baths incurred frequently result in a decrease in work capacity and force athletes to ‘put up’ with the unpleasant sensations of fatigue. In a nutshell this training disrupts many physiological processes that support improved aerobic endurance performance. Enter the Strong Endurance System.
The Benefits of Strong Endurance:
1. The Strength Program will reduce cell destruction and optimize endurance capacity and long term aerobic performance. Strong Endurance ensures muscle cell health.
2. The Strength Program will increase muscular efficiency(relative strength) without any weight gain, reduce soreness, improve hip explosiveness, reduce injury rates and increase ‘core’ or more responsibly termed trunk stability.
3. According to Russian Sport Scientist Verkoshansky (1988, 2011) it effectively allows the endurance athlete to improve on their specific sport, whether it be running, cycling or any other type of movement.
A strong proponent of this system is Al Ciampa, US Air Force Department of Defense Physiologist. With contributions from Ciampa, Pavel and Strongfirst developed and implemented what now is Strong Endurance.
Strong Endurance Strength – Nuts and Bolts
1. Implement strength training 3-4 days per week. This strength is done before you do your endurance training, or during your day off from endurance.
2. The strength exercise we will use here is one primary movement – the "Two handed kettlebell swing” using an appropriately weighted kettlebell. If you are unfamiliar with swinging a kettlebell, hire a competent kettlebell instructor. It is a movement that needs to be done with precision, and one hour with an instructor is all you need to start. Most gyms have kettlebells.
3. Do the sample program outlined below for 6 weeks. The table below will outline the volume of sets per session. You are doing 5 repeats (or two handed swings) for each set. This is a maximum of 10 seconds of work per set, with about 30-40 seconds of rest. (For instance on Week 1, Session 1 you are doing reps of 5 swings, 16 times, for a total of 80 swings. With about 30 seconds rest between sets, or whatever you need to recover). Do not go beyond 10 seconds of work per set. Your goal is to avoid lactate build up and sugar burning, therefore using the alactic system. Navigate recovery as needed and how you feel. If you use a heart rate monitor, once heart rate has dropped below 75% of heart rate maximum you are recovered and can continue with the next repeat.
4. As Al Ciampa states “push it, but don’t push it”. Be wise, the tachometer should not be in the red, it should be FAR from it. Avoid any burn, lactate or other sensation like it.
5. Warm-up using Goblet squats, halos, and a few getups and you have the perfect strength program for your aerobic sport! Seek expert advice on instruction please.
Tips for the Swing
1. Hinge, don’t squat as the swing is NOT a squat.
2. Be explosive with hips not the arms. The hips provide the power to get the KB up in the air, the arms are just there for the ride. This is an excellent video on technique.
3. Protect the back, pull shoulders back and down. If in doubt hire a qualified KB instructor. See www.strongfirst.com for instructors in your area.
4. Use the right load. Women at 16kg, and men with 24kg, adjust up accordingly.
6 Weeks Kettle Bell Strength Training
(Adapted with Permission from Al Ciampa, US Air Force Department of Physiology.)
Total Number of Sets per session (each set is 5 two handed swings):
Week Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4
1 16 20 10 18
2 20 20 12 24
3 20 16 12
4 26 12 28 20
5 8 18 28
6 20 30 24
In conclusion, the Strong Endurance protocol is based on the idea of improving your level of conditioning by using short but powerful bouts of work, coupled with sufficient recovery periods, for an extended overall duration.
Dave Smit, M.Sc. CSCS, Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator
Certified StrongFirst Instructor.
Dave is a former elite level triathlete, and has worked extensively with both strength and endurance based athletes from high school to Olympians.
Dave is available for instruction and strength programming on request.
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.