Diligence in training: What you can really accomplish

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Sometimes I suffer from impostor syndrome as a coach. Unlike other coaches and gym owners, I am not an accomplished athlete. I never excelled in a sport, and I don't currently compete at anything. I'm competent at most movements now, but I'm far short of talented - things just don't come very easily to me.

However, I think what I do bring to the table as a coach that better athletes cannot is this: I'm an example of what a normal person can accomplish with consistent effort over time. I can share my story, and you can learn from it. When I started seriously training more than 7 years ago, I was slow at everything and not particularly strong, I had poor balance and coordination, and I had no proficiency or even experience with the lifts and body weight movements we do. Over the course of several years, I worked really hard. I attacked my weaknesses, and I developed strength and skills. I learned how to do pull-ups, ring dips, handstands, box jumps. I worked doggedly on the Olympic lifts to improve my form and plugged away at the power lifts to slowly increment my maxes. I learned to row and to sprint.

I'm not bragging about this. In my best shape (which is not right now), I'm at best a mediocre athlete. But I'm miles from where I started, and the way I got there was simple - consistent, focused practice. And I would argue that no matter where you are starting from, that is how you can improve and gain new skills, even if they seem very far away.

More specifically, what did I do? I came into the gym 5 days a week. I did the workout that was programmed. And before or after that workout, I did skill work. I'd set a goal, for example, getting a pull-up. And every single day, I'd spend 5 minutes or so working on a progression to get that pull-up. My first kipping pull-up took 6 months of work. My first strict pull-up was a few months after that. My first chest-to-bar pull-up was even later. When I got a goal, I set a new one and started working on that. This is how you make progress. There may be impediments - old injuries, weaknesses, inadequate athletic background, psychological impediments. But every one of you can take this approach and make progress.

The reason I am in this business is because I saw how hard work could transform me into an athlete, and I wanted to make that happen for other people. I want every single person in the gym to bring all their effort to the game, and I want every single person to make that transformation, to grow in ability and confidence. I want it so, so much - but I can't want it for you. So here's a little smackdown:

1. Let's start simply - if you're reading this, but you haven't come in and signed up to work with us, that's your first step. (I know you lurker-readers are out there.) The first step is to walk into the gym, put your excuses aside, and make the commitment.

2. If you are a member but you're not coming in regularly (you know who you are) - and I mean at least 3 days a week but preferably 4 or 5 - recommit. Make a plan and don't let other crap get in the way of your training. We have morning, noon, and evening classes; find one that fits your schedule and make it happen.

3. If you're a member who is coming in regularly, it's time to start setting and attacking goals. Pick one or two things to work on, and talk with me or Mike or Jordan about a progression to do in your warm-up time. It shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes a day. For example, if you want to get a pull-up, you might start with static hangs, adding 5 seconds every day until you get to 2 minutes, then switch to negatives. If you want to master the overhead squat, you'll start with the pvc pipe, then go to the junior bar, the women's bar, and so on. Don't worry about mastering everything at once - pick one skill, and when you have it, go on to the next thing.

You CAN do this. You can do things you never dreamed of. Don't set limits on what you can be. You don't know what you can really accomplish if you only half try. When I look at each of you, I am envisioning a trajectory of progress - she'll get a pull-up, then she'll master push-ups, then she'll start going after the Olympic lifts; he'll master rowing form, then he'll get a solid handstand, then increment his power lifts.

At Barbell Strategy, we often talk about how our workouts are efficient, how they don't beat you down, how less is more. But smart training can still be serious, committed, diligent training. Commit yourself and see what you can do.

Amy Santamaria