Thursday, August 7, 2014

Train for your life, not for the gym

The hardest lessons are those we learn from experience.  But they're also the ones we value.

For me, my hardest and most valuable lesson was this: train for your life, not for the gym.  When I first got into training seriously, I got pretty obsessive about logging every workout, every time, every weight.  I could tell you off the top of my head my time on a dozen "benchmark" workouts and how many seconds I thought I could shave off next time.  I knew my 1, 3, and 5 rep maxes on every lift, auxiliary lift, and assistance lift.  I tracked each minute bit of progress on an array of gym skills.  I was very serious about my performance in the gym, and I would rehearse workouts mentally before doing them.  But what did all this really mean?

Nothing.  It meant nothing.  What really mattered is that as I got stronger and in better shape, I walked around feeling better, more capable.  I was more aware of how I moved.  I could do things I couldn't do before, from taking up new recreational sports to picking up heavy things when I needed to.  I was mentally tougher, and I liked how I looked too.  All of this stuff is real life.  Your max unbroken burpee box jumps is not real life.

So you might say, what's the down side to tracking your every move in the gym, if it gets you results?  Well, it may get you results in the gym, but it doesn't always get you results in the real world.  There are several scenarios where this approach can go very wrong.  Scenario 1: you wear yourself down to the point where you don't feel good day to day (overtraining).  Scenario 2: you get injured and can't do the recreational sports you love.  Scenario 3: you get so wrapped up in what's happening in the gym that you forget about life outside - the whole reason you started training - and you live and die by what happens in the gym.

I am not an athlete.  I never have been.  I am just a person trying to be stronger and healthier.  Athletes compete in a sport and get paid (or get a scholarship) to do so.  This is probably not you either.  It's easy to get caught up in what you're doing in the gym because it seems so clear, and the kind of progress you make in health and real life fitness may be fuzzy, hard to detect, unpredictable, nonlinear.

I see a lot of gyms push for people to log all the details of their training, in log books or online.  This is not a bad thing by itself.  But I do think it can encourage that messed-up focus, where you start thinking that what really matters is how many pull-ups you can do and not how good you feel day to day, week to week, month to month.  I encourage people to know the basics about what they can do in the gym (yes, you should know your max squat) and to track progress on the things that matter to them, but I strongly discourage them from hyperfocusing on what they're doing in the gym.  Come in, train, and go home and enjoy your life.  More is not better.  Sometimes you need to set aside all the details, all the numbers, all the goals, and focus on the big picture of improving your health and being happy too.

As a coach, I am there to encourage you and to set you on a path to improvement, not to saddle you with reams of data and feed your neuroses.  Train, have fun, and feel better.