Spirituality in Training

Posted on 22 January 2009 by Jason White

Training in the morning light at Alta, Columbus Circle, NYC

Training in the morning light at Alta, Columbus Circle, NYC

It seems as though people are always struggling with what to do. And we’ve been talking lately about strategies for your fitness success. So, what I’d like to do is just review some of the things that we’ve been talking about and see if we can’t get you up to speed on some of that information and see if we can’t give you some things to do that might help you get closer to your fitness goals.

The very first thing that you have to remember when you are seeking something from your training, is that you must train with a purpose. I think of this as the World View Goal. And what this means is, you have to have an objective in mind and you have to be able to visualize it. You have to see it in your future. You have to see yourself becoming that which you already are not. And when you do this, what you do is you create an automatic system of decision making that guides your decisions day in, day out.

Without a doubt, fitness is one of the most difficult things in the world. If it were easy, everybody would be fit. We would live in a nation of super fit people. Everybody would run to work. Everybody would lift weights for their job. It would be an unbelievable country, but it’s not.

Because fitness is hard.

So when you set your objective, you create an automatic system by which you make your decisions and frequently, the decisions are between going towards pain or away from pain. And what I mean by that, is that as human beings, we seek comfort. We seek the comfort of a routine. We seek the comfort of our own bed. We seek the comfort of food that tastes good. And we try to avoid pain in our bodies.

Soreness, discomfort, stress…

We try to avoid all forms of discomfort including the immediate discomfort of working out. Working out is hard. There is no two ways about it. If working out is easy for you, you’re not really working out. You must be working out and pushing at the edges of your comfort zone in order to achieve almost any objective. Whether you need to lose a hundred pounds, whether you want to gain five pounds of muscle, whether you want to lose two percent body fat. Chances are in order to do that, you’re going to have to move into pain. And this is not something that you need to shy away from. This is something that you need to embrace.

There are two kinds of pain. There’s the pain that you should really pay attention to and it means stop what you’re doing. This tends to be sharp, shooting pain. This tends to be pain you feel in your joints. This tends to be electric shock type pain that comes with certain types of movement.

Obviously, you want to avoid those types of pain. But the pain that is the anguish of working out, the difficulty, the tightness in your chest, the soreness in your muscles, that’s the kind of pain that you want to move towards. And moving towards that kind of pain typically means that you have a really clear objective in your mind. And that objective needs to be so strong and massaged so often…. You need to think about it every day.

When you daydream at work, you need to daydream about your ideal body.

When you’re on your way to the gym you need to remember and focus on how amazing you’re going to look. How beautiful you’re going to feel. How confident, how strong, how much endurance that you’re going to have. And this is of such utmost importance, because not only does it guide your decision making process, but it also creates an analgesic.

It creates a pain reliever.

When you’re clear, crystal clear in your mind about what you want, getting there is easy. It’s no problem. You just get out there and do it. And then you begin to enjoy the pain, the anguish of working out. Then you begin to enjoy the difficulty of training. The difficulty essentially becomes transformed into an enjoyable challenge.

Does our collective memory go back as far as Apolo Anton Ohno, the short track speed skater from the Winter Olympics?

Can we even go back as far as the Winter Olympics of ’02?

When he competed in 2002, he was the start up, he had that little soul patch, you know he’s this young guy and he did really well, he was the hopeful, and everybody just seemed to swarm around him. I didn’t realize he had created such a media stir until they were showing clips of what his life after the 2002 Olympics was like.

Here he is in a suit and tie. He’s looks the best. He’s out there and he’s got endorsement deals. He’s meeting celebrities, he’s on red carpets…and what this was for him was really, really attractive and incredibly exciting. You know, going on the Jay Leno Show and this kind of thing. Really fabulous.

And you could tell he was really, really enjoying it up to a certain point.

But what happened was, he made a decision. He decided that what was the most important thing for him to do, the clearest objective he could accomplish in his mind was a repeat performance at the next Olympics.

Four years is an incredibly long time, especially from a training perspective. It could be easy for anyone to lose perspective. But if you want to be the best in the world, then four years is what you need to accomplish that objective.

So there was a period there where he could’ve rested on his laurels. He could’ve said, ‘That’s enough. A gold metal winner. That’s plenty. That’s more than most people accomplish in their lifetime.’ But he did something remarkable. He chose to push all of that aside and focus on the objective: Repeat Performance.

By making that decision, by making his objective that much clearer, that personal, that intense, it created an automatic system of decision making.

And at that point it became a no brainer: “Install myself at the training center and do nothing but train until the next Olympics.”

I’ve seen his training footage…it’s like dormitory living at the Olympic training center. It’s not luxurious living. When those first Olympics were over he could’ve taken more endorsement deals and try to spin that celebrity thing into something, you know, making appearances and speaking engagements and this sort of thing and really try and cash in, but that’s not what he did.

What he did was he decided to train.

And he decided to train in such a way that would wilt most of us. We would fail miserably. We just wouldn’t have the mental stamina. The mental intensity to be able to accomplish that kind of objective.

But he did it.

And it was one of the most powerful movements I’ve seen in athletics in I don’t know how long. I don’t know if you remember, but when he got to the 2006 Winter Olympics he was unable to repeat a gold medal performance in the 1500m event but he did take the gold in the 500m race and he went on to collect two more medals making him one of only four Americans who has won three medals in a single Winter Olympics. During the closing ceremony (I will never forget) he talked to a news crew a lot about the spirit of the Olympic Games and about being involved in the spirit of the Olympic Games. You could see the training in his being. You could see it in his eyes. You could see it in the way he talked.

What he spoke about was the purity of training and competition. Of getting to this place where you’re resting on your training background. Where you’ve said, ‘I’ve trained enough. Now it’s time to let the body do the work.’ And he was there. He was there in his complete being, invested in the spirit of the games. Because the spirit of the games themselves wasn’t just getting there and competing. The spirit of the games was the manifestation, the reflection of all those years of training. Years of training! Six days a week, every day, twice a day some days I’m sure.

It was in the end, a really incredible testament to the power of decision making. All of us can’t be Apolo Anton Ohno but we can take a piece of that and make a priority out of what we want in our bodies and say, ‘I want my body to be this.’ And picture that in our mind and see it happening. And the more you do that, the more it informs your day to day decisions. And you’re going to need those day to day decisions informed, because every day you’re faced with decisions. Should I eat ice-cream or should I have something more nutritious? Should I eat something that’s going to help me towards my goal? Or eat something that’s going to hinder me in my process of obtaining my goal?

You don’t have to always, one hundred percent make it, but if you don’t have a clear objective, then that decision making process is so mushy and so unclear, that chances are more often than not you will be moving away from your goal rather than closer to it.

So, make your goal nice and clear. Make it super clear and that will inform almost the rest of everything you do.

Another thing that you need to work on and make sure that you do is you need to obtain an assessment. You need to get a baseline measurement of where you are. Typically in training we do this by measuring circumference of the limbs, your chest, your waist, your hips. We measure body fat percentage, get basic weight. You don’t have to hire a trainer for everything you do. There are some people who only workout with a trainer. That might not be right for you. But you should absolutely hire a trainer to give you an assessment. And there’s not a single trainer out there in the world that won’t give you an assessment for whatever their hourly fee is. And since an assessment shouldn’t take more than an hour, you can spend the rest of the time asking questions about how you should train based on your assessment.

There’s not a single trainer in any gym that won’t help you in this regard.

Make sure they have good quality measuring equipment and make sure you go back and visit them after you have an understanding of the things that you might need to accomplish.

Now, if you’re in a gym, you need to set up a program that challenges your body’s abilities in all planes of motion to your fullest range of motion. And there are many different ways to train. And they’re all contingent upon what is that you want. If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to be operating at an anabolic state. This means that you’re operating in a caloric surplus. And typically, we speak of this as about five hundred to eight hundred extra calories a day above and beyond which you’re already burning. This creates an anabolic environment and it allows muscles to grow provided you’re training in a manner that allows muscles to grow.

So, let’s take a quick look at some of the different training variables, whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, it doesn’t mater. There’s intensity and there’s endurance. And the way we speak of this in trainer language is, you can go hard or you can go long, but you can’t go hard and long. In other words, you can do a really intense maximal lift, let’s say a dead lift…let’s say, double your body weight dead lift. You can’t do that for five minutes in a row. Your muscles simply won’t take it. They’ll fatigue. If you lower the weight to less than a third of your body weight, you could probably do dead lifts for five or ten minutes straight if you did it at a nice even pace.

That’s a little quick example of the difference between intensity and endurance. And this is also recognized as power and endurance or strength verses stamina. Now, if you want a complete body, depending on your objective, you want to favor one side of that continuum. If you are a triathlete, you want to favor your body’s ability to endure. So most of your training is going to be about endurance. But endurance doesn’t come in and of itself, it also comes with strength.

So you want to be able to train for strength and you want to be able to incorporate that into your training routines so that you have periods of strength development and you have periods of endurance development.

Now, on the other side of the spectrum, if you just want to get bigger muscles and you don’t really care about the cardiovascular component, you want to favor lifting heavier and heavier and heavier weights. This insures that your muscles adapt, your bones adapt, your ligaments, your joints adapt.

When done properly, this means with good form, with good control, you will invariably get bigger muscles by lifting heavier and heavier weights. Now, it’s not always true that you can just lift heavier each and every week and expect to obtain infinite progressive results. You need to be able to vary and modulate your program so that occasionally you’re doing things that are more on the endurance end of the spectrum and certainly, you want to encourage rest periods that allow your body to recover.

Speaking of rest periods, once you’ve got your world view goal, once you’ve got your assessment, once you’ve got an essential understanding of what kind of training you’re going to be doing, you need to be able to manage your recovery.

Managing recovery means you need to have periods of low stress built into your life. Now, as hard as you can train, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always a good idea to train hard. As hard as you train, means you need to recover with the same kind of intensity and fervor. So, if you go crazy, all out, lifting super heavy weights for one week, you’re probably going to need a week to rest, relax, recover. Each time you workout with intensity you challenge your body. You break down muscle tissue. You challenge the systems by which muscles contract and your body needs time to adapt to that. So you need to recover.

Recovery means no stress.

Sleep is a great way to recover, because you’re not stressed when you’re sleeping providing all things are equal, you know, you have a clean comfortable bed, it’s cool, it’s dark. You have uninterrupted sleep for, you know, six to eight hours. You need to have that regularly. Above and beyond that, you also need to factor in lower periods of life stress. This is why things like mediation and yoga are a real benefit to body builders and athletes. Even people who are just trying to get into better shape. You need to have periods of low stress.

If you have a very high stress job, chances are this is going to make your fitness progress very difficult, because exercise is a form of stress and you need to be able to recover from that stress. I know there’s a lot of travelers out there and I know that if you travel away from your hometown to a different town for business for three days on end, by the time you get home you’re probably pretty well drained emotionally, mentally…you’re fatigued. This is a form of stress. And this type of stress makes it more difficult for your body to recover from exercise stress. So you need to have periods of recovery built into your training program so that you can reap the benefits of training otherwise you’re just going to run your body into the ground. You’ll get sick, you’ll be really crabby, you’ll be tired.

These are all symptoms of over training by the way. If you have a really poor attitude towards working out, you’re dragging yourself to the gym, you don’t want to go, you feel tired, you don’t feel happy, you don’t feel like yourself…these are also examples of adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal exhaustion comes from too much stress. Repeated bouts of intensity. And that can come emotionally from your family. That can come from people at work. That can come from the amount of work that you have to do. That can come from the type and amount of exercise that you do. So you have to be able to manage recovery.

I know it seems like a lot to wrap your brain around, but the more you think about your body and meeting the challenges that make you feel better, stronger, leaner, the more you will feel this purity of training and the personal power it can develop.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Frank Dolan Says:

    Love the part about Apolo Anton Ohno!! It is an amazing feeling to be in that space of complete preparation. From the feeling in your body, to the confidence, clarity, and peace in your mind… It is something I have missed since leaving competitive sports… I think the key for me is to create something like that to get passionate about again to really get that feeling back. Even though I train athletes all day, and workout on a consistent basis… there is a difference when you are preparing to compete in something you love. When really what I loved the most was the training and that feeling…. Guess i could do without having something to work towards?

  2. Donovan White Says:

    Im impressed with how long your posts are. You are really compassionate, and you dedicate a lot of time and energy to helping us. That effort does not go un-noticed. Its helping us change our bodies…for the better. Keep up the good work.

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