A big part of my personal journey recently has been about improving my training. I’ve come at this goal from a bunch of different directions and used many different tools and ideas from a wide range of disciplines and areas to make it happen. Not everything I’ll suggest is typical, but it IS something that’s improved my training on some level and that I think can improve yours too…
1) Set Goals – I talk a lot about setting goals. And I think goal setting is a HUGE step in the process of improving your fitness and improving your life. One of the best programs I’ve ever worked through on goal setting is “Time of Your Life” by Anthony Robbins. It literally changed my life. If you want to see the method I use to keep track of and refine my goals, check out this video blog I did on goals and creating a fitness vision. You don’t need to take it quite to that level – though I think doing so will greatly improve your results AND your life – but the process is something you can use to get yourself on track and get a vision for where you want to go that’s bigger than where you are currently.
2) Add Some Active Recovery Training – This can really be anything from yoga to basic stretching to joint mobility work to committing to using a foam roller regularly. Currently, my active recovery stuff is yoga, meditation and walking around the beaches here in Saybrook Manor (sometimes with a few pounds in my weight vest). The point is, you NEED to “put something back in the tank” when you’re training hard regularly and pushing your limits. I’m always amazed when I see people – particularly CrossFitters – who train themselves nearly to death in their workouts and do virtually NO recovery stretching or “body maintenance” type stuff to help the body recover and improve flexibility, range of motion, etc. If you need some suggestions for this area, check out “Yoga for Dummies” and “Yoga on the Edge” by Sara Ivanhoe and also mobilityWOD.com by Kelly Starett. BTW, things like yoga and mediation have some massive additional benefits that I talk more about in number 10…
3) Learn and Refine a Sport – For me, this is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and, to a lesser extent, Mixed Martial Arts. It can really be anything you want and are interested in though. I have a few friends who are into cycling, lots of friends who do martial arts, some who are into Olympic lifting or Powerlifting, etc. The point is, when you choose an area to focus on that has a “constant improvement” or “competitive” aspect to it, all sorts of good things happen. It also helps focus your training because now you’re training for performance in a specific area – it gives you “yardstick” to gauge your progress. If CrossFit or “Sport of Fitness” is your sport, you can still choose a “sub-division” to train, refine and specialize in for a period of time. Find a CrossFit cert that’s interesting to you or nearby and commit to training that particular area for 6 months to a year. For example, you could do a Rowing Cert, Running Cert, Oly Lifting, etc. and then train the techniques you learned. Either way, when you start really training yourself in a focused and specific area, your body and mind respond in a way that’s different from when you’re just “training to get in shape…”
4) Periodize Your Training – This one is HUGE for me. Like most “exercise addicts,” I LOVE to train. I feel weird and depressed when I don’t train and that makes it really hard to take rest days and cycle my training in a way that works LONG TERM. CrossFit is a place where this is particularly important because the usual idea is to “go hard” all the time. My opinion – and guys like Robb Wolf will back me up – is that you need to cycle your intensity by scaling workouts or changing the “perceived intensity of effort” in a regular way. If you look at the Powerlifting world as an example, you’ll see that NO Powerlifters train all out, all the time. In fact, they usually only “peak” their training poundages a few times a YEAR with an absolute maximum effort. Look at the Westside Barbell program by Louie Simmons or Wendler 5/3/1 to get a better understanding of what I’m talking about. Both of these programs cycle intensity and take a very long-term approach to progress. I’ve also talked about this topic at length in my blog posts “Strength Training and CrossFit” and “CrossFit Workouts and Becoming More Efficient.”
5) Clean Up Your Diet – This one is just SO important. By now, everyone probably knows I’m pretty much sold on some interpretation of Paleo. But, seriously, if you haven’t tried REALLY cleaning up your diet for 30 or 60 days – and I mean 100% CLEAN – you’re cheating yourself. I recently recommitted myself to eating 100% clean for a month and you know what happened? I felt so good when the month was over I committed to doing the ENTIRE SUMMER 100% CLEAN. I’m not even going to have a birthday cake for my birthday in July – I’d rather FEEL AWESOME on my birthday and the days after! Clean up your diet and you’ll see that commitment and focus expand into other areas of your life – and you’ll feel great besides. BTW, if you need some REAL WORLD information on diet – Paleo or just healthy eating in general – check out my eBook “The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link.” It’s over 160 pages of unbiased, hard-hitting, no BS information on eating for health!
6) Choose a Short-Term Focus Area – I touched on this one a little bit above. Choose an area you’re going to focus on for a 3, 6 or 9 month period and work it HARD and CONSISTENTLY. It could be Pull-Ups, Double Unders, Gymnastic Skills, Running or a certain technique in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu like Arm Bars or Side Mount. This particularly effective when it’s something you currently SUCK at. The point is, if you “drill down” into a specific area or two, you can likely become nearly expert at it in a relatively short time period. It’s just a matter of focusing your efforts. When you focus on a technique or skill or two like this for a time period you’ll actually make much faster progress than if you try to train “everything” for the same period.
7) Choose a Long-Term Focus Area – This one is different from what I was talking about above. You need to also decide on your LONG TERM training focus. This is your MAJOR area of focus and is probably going to be the area you’re most passionate about, the best at and the most committed to improving over a lifetime. Especially when into “everything” like I am and lot of others are, you have to decide what you’re going to become OUTSTANDING at. For example, if you’re a Martial Artist and you’re into Kettlebells and CrossFit, you might decide that Martial Arts are your lifetime focus area where you commit to becoming world class over the course of your lifetime, kettlebells are something you excel at and CrossFit is something you enjoy the benefits of because it improves your other training and makes your Martial Arts better. I talked about this topic in detail in my post “You’re Only as Strong as Your Foundation.” The point is, you simply CAN’T be awesome at everything you do and you need to choose where to focus your limited resources. I think it’s also really important to take Seth Godin’s advice and choose an area that you can actually become THE BEST IN THE WORLD AT. Read his incredible book “The Dip” for more on this and check out this tiny little post by Seth called “Make the World Smaller.”
8 ) Do Technique Work – This goes along with 3, 6 and 7 and has a lot to do with the blog post I mentioned in 4, “CrossFit Workouts and Becoming More Efficient.” It blows me away when I see people training movements like the Powerlifts or Olympic Lifts and they have ZERO understanding of the technique fine points. Do you REALLY think – because your “trainer” or “coach” showed you how to do a movement for 10 quick minutes as part of a warm up before the WOD – you actually “HAVE” that movement and don’t need to practice and refine it? Some athletes spend AN ENTIRE LIFETIME perfecting movements like the Front Squat, Deadlift, Clean and Clean and Jerk. A freakin’ lifetime! There is ALWAYS room for improvement. If you don’t believe me, check out this short little article by Coach Glassman called “Fundamentals, Virtuosity and Mastery.”
9) Create Hard Deadlines – This is a great one to put positive pressure on yourself to really deliver over the short or medium term. This can be anything you want. Enter a local CrossFit competition, commit to a 30 0r 60 day Paleo Challenge at your box, enter a Powerlifting competition or whatever. I just recently did this when Jason Lambert from the UFC was coming to teach a seminar at Modern Self-Defense Center last month. I committed to eating 100% clean and being in the best possible shape I could be in for the seminar – and I organized my training for the 5 weeks leading up to the seminar accordingly. When you have a hard deadline to be in shape and feeling good, you make different decisions and you bring a greater intensity to your training.
10) Learn to Quiet Your Mind – This might be one you weren’t expecting. I’ve been working with the concepts in Eckhart Tolle’s incredible book, “The Power of Now,” for over a year – and they CONSTANTLY take on new meaning for me and lead me to deeper and deeper understandings of myself, my spiritual side and so many other things. If your mind is constantly “chattering away” and you’re not in control – or at least conscious – of your behavioral patterns, motivations and, particularly, the places where you screw yourself up, you’re going to have a really hard time making progress. Beyond that, I think TRUE HEALTH happens on EVERY level – Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. There’s a lot more to being healthy – things like having a life you love and being able to function in your work, your friendships and intimate relationships. Health isn’t just about having abs and a good Fran time…
That’s if for now. Below is a little bonus for you if you feel like picking up a new book or two this week.
Three Books (That Have Nothing To Do With Training) That Will Improve Your Training…
- “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
- Some good fiction like “The Dresden Files” series by Jim Butcher – I first received the advice of reading fiction at night to wind down from Tim Ferris in “The Four Hour Work Week.” I am a HUGE fan of light fiction reading at night to reduce stress and improve sleep!
- “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zin