One of the things that I am passionate about is getting people to take ownership of their own training. When I say take ownership, I don’t mean that you have to do it everything yourself. What I’m talking about is taking responsibility for your own success or failure, and doing what you need to do to ensure success. A lot of people just go through the motions when they exercise. They don’t want to have to think about anything; they don’t want to have to turn their brain on; they just want someone to tell them what to do.
Now, you might wonder why this is a problem. Isn’t that what they’re paying their trainer or coach for? I’m going to use a quick story as an example of why I don’t like this approach.
A friend of mine is a GP. He was complaining to me one day about how people just wanted him to give them a pill to fix whatever was wrong with them. Nowadays a lot of people are sick because of lifestyle factors. If someone eats like crap, doesn’t exercise, doesn’t get enough sleep and lives a stress-filled life, then there’s not a magic pill that their doctor can give them. But that’s what people want. They don’t want to take ownership over their own health, they just want to be able to do whatever they please and then go to a doctor and have them fix everything.
This brings me back to training. If you think that YOUR health and fitness is somebody else’s responsibility, then – in my experience – you’re much less likely to reach your goals.
That’s just how life works. It’s just like if you view your education as your teacher’s responsibility, compared to if you see your teacher as a guide and helper on your way to learn.
So without any more waffle, I’ll talk about some concrete steps that you can take to deal with this.
Step 1 – Figure out what you’re training for. I’ve seen this one a bunch of times. Typically what happens is that a person comes in, and says they want to get fitter for their social touch footy, or they want to run a 10k. But then after a few weeks we’ll end up talking about how they need more x or y, and I’ll explain how that doesn’t really help their goals. After a week or so they’ll bring it up again, and after a long conversation it’ll turn out that they really just want to look better at the beach. Now, I’ve said this before, but just to make it clear – your motivations are your own. I’m not here to tell you what you should want out of your training. But it’s hard for me to come up with a plan when you’re not being upfront about where you actually want to go, or you haven’t put any thought into it and just agreed with the first option.
So have a good think about what you actually want from your training, not what you think you should want, because once you know that, we can start moving in the right direction.
Step 2 – Figure out what you need to do to get there. When it comes to training, people have shown that pretty much anything is possible. Guys like Alex Viada, who is an ultra-marathoner who squats and deadlifts 700 pounds, prove what can be achieved with sufficient commitment. Derek Weida competes in CrossFit despite losing his leg in Iraq.
The key here, however, is commitment. You need to figure out what achieving your goal will require, and then decide if that’s something that you’re realistically going to stick to.
Losing 40kg is definitely something you can do, but you’re not going to get there if you have a bottle of red wine every night with your pasta. If you want to set a national record in powerlifting, then that’s going to take years of dedicated training and sacrifice. If you’re not prepared to make the sacrifices required, then you’re not going to reach your goal. Don’t delude yourself into unrealistic goals.
Step 3 – Set up a plan. If you have a coach, this is where they can help you. BUT that help can only extend so far. I can write a program for you, but you still need to come to the gym to do it. I can’t organise your job/uni/life to ensure you have enough time to still train. If your goal involves losing weight, then I can talk to you about nutrition but I can’t stop you eating crap food.
So you need to come up with a plan to get around your stumbling blocks. If you keep skipping workouts, then maybe you need to find a training partner. If you don’t eat good dinners then maybe you need to get rid of all the unhealthy food in your house.
Story time: we had a guy who was really inflexible. He wanted to improve his squat, but he was too tight to get into a good position. I kept telling that if he wanted to start improving, then he needed to start stretching every day until he got better. Weeks and weeks went by without any progress, and there’s only so many ways I can say ‘dude, you need to stretch.’ This lasted until he one day woke up and decided that he needed to get on top of his weak point. After that he progressed in leaps and bounds.
Step 4 – Don’t just go through the motions. I call this mindless training. If you wander over to the warm-up area and thoughtlessly do a couple of quad rolls on a foam roller (even though you’re overhead pressing) and then wander back thirty seconds later, you are definitely not getting the same benefit as someone who pays attention to where they’re tight and spends the time required to fix it before they start their training.
The same goes for your training itself. People who jump under a bar and bang out a few reps before returning to their conversation about their weekend don’t progress as quickly as people who pay attention to every rep, and think about what they’re doing.
Step 5 – Take care of the little things. Here’s a conversation that I have multiple times per week.
‘Hey Shaun, how much should I deadlift today?’
‘I have no idea. How much did you do last time?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Well check you training diary.’
‘I didn’t write it down… so, what weight do you reckon?’
I’m not writing this to bash people, but it’s hard to do the big things well if you don’t take care of the little things. And the great thing about the little things is that they’re so easy. So write down your weights, make sure you don’t leave your training program at home, drink some water once in a while, and for god’s sake don’t come to the gym at 5pm having not eaten all day and then wonder why you feel weak today.
Step 6 – Educate yourself. I always try and get people to understand the reason why I want to do things. It’s human nature; if we understand why then we’re much more likely to follow through with it. Imagine if your dentist just told you brush ‘because’ and never explained that brushing and flossing every night is what’s stopping you from getting cavities. That’s why I put such an effort into explaining the reasons behind what we do in the gym.
Having said that, it always seems crazy to me that considering the effort people will put into things that don’t matter that much, most people never seem that interested in learning the basics of things like nutrition and mobility. Think of it like this, if you’re twenty-five, then you potentially have another fifty years left in your body – and you only get one. Doesn’t it seem like good value to spend a few hours learning how to undo the damage caused by sitting behind a keyboard for eight hours a day, or what to eat to stay active and healthy for those next fifty years?
So there you have it: six steps that will let you take ownership of your own training. Because remember, it’s your body and your goals so it’s probably worth some of your attention.