How Does Training Apply to Real Life?

I was speaking with another trainer at my gym the other day about squatting for better Olympic lifting performance, and he said, “That’s the idea: do certain things so that you get better at other things too.” In the gym that makes sense in some very straightforward ways: increasing your strict pull-up strength will get you closer to being able to do a muscle-up, increasing your squat should help with cleans and snatches, and gaining more overhead shoulder mobility will help with… everything.

What if we step back and take a 30,000-foot view of the situation and ask, “How Does Training Apply to Real Life?” That is, your real life outside of the gym. Many people, especially in the world of CrossFit, get so caught up with WOD’s and PR’s that they rarely stop and reflect as to whether or not their toils in the gym are paying any dividends outside in “the real world.”

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How Does Training Apply to Real Life?

If you were to ask the average gym-goer this question, they would most likely respond with some clichés about discipline, hard work, sweat, and maybe even that saying “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I’d like to argue however, that there are way more benefits to physical training than simply learning discipline and hard work.

1. Do what you say you will do.

One of the best pieces of advice I could give to someone growing up and becoming more mature is, quite simply, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” In the realm of physical training, this can be translated into, “Do what you say, and say what you do.” If you walk into the gym with a realistic intention of squatting 300 lbs that day, then you better do what you say you will do. Similarly, if you leave the gym and only hit 295 lbs, then you better say what you did, no more and no less.

By committing to a regular fitness program, you have the opportunity to reinforce this habit every day, and that can have multiple benefits outside of the gym. Did you tell your boss you are going to get that project done by Friday? Great, now follow through and do what you say you will do. What about that time you had a few too many drinks and told your best friend that you actually want to quit your job and follow your passion into a new career? Ha! I challenge you to do what you say you will do, in all aspects of life, both inside the gym and out.

2. Digest information, plan, and chunk.

It is very easy to get intimidated by workout routines nowadays. One of my coaches recently sent me an outline of one week of training, and it was about 7 pages long! Many people in this situation might get frustrated, freak out, and think, “Where do I start? How do I begin? This is too much!” However, this is a golden opportunity to practice useful life skills like digesting information, planning, and chunking. In a CrossFit setting, this is directly applicable to long workouts like a 20-minute AMRAP or a multiple-round chipper. Figure out what the task at hand is, make a strategy, and then take it step-by-step.

This triad of skills might be most relevant when you start a new project or job. There’s so much already going on, and you barely know what to do. If you have years of physical training under your belt, however, then you should have had plenty of opportunities to practice digesting all the information that is available to you, planning so as to create a basic strategy of attack, and chunking things out so that you can start achieving small steps towards your end goal.

3. Stay calm in stressful situations.

The ability to stay calm in stressful situations is what separates the men from the boys when sh*t hits the fan, so to speak. Anyone who has ever practiced jiu-jitsu knows this, at least indirectly. Your opponent sweeps you, gets to mount, and is now putting his entire bodyweight on your chest. You can barely breathe, and he’s attacking your arm… what do you do?! Stay calm, slow your thoughts down, breathe in, and play some defense on that arm.

The ability to stay calm in stressful situations is perhaps most applicable to scenarios where something goes wrong during travel. For instance, you arrive at the airport only to find out that your flight is canceled, thus causing you to miss your connection and be late to your seminar. Or maybe you are in the middle of a 12-hour car trip when you get a flat tire and don’t have a spare. In either of these situations, the damage is already done, and stressing out will not help a damn thing. Rather, those who stay calm in the face of stress will be better equipped to make clear, rational decisions about what needs to happen next in order to solve the problem at hand.

Okay that’s it for today, thanks for reading!

What Are We Really Training For Anyway?

Every now and then in a fitness program you have to stop what you’re doing and think, “What am I really training for anyway?” Are you registered for an upcoming competition of some sort (CrossFit, triathlon, Olympic lifting, grappling, etc.)? If so, then great! You are one of the lucky few people in gyms nowadays who have a clear vision of what they should be doing: preparing for and practicing your sport.

However, if like the majority of gym-goers, you do not have any particular event on your calendar for which you are training, then why do you push yourself in the gym on a daily basis? Let’s go through some common answers:

  • “I’m trying to lose some weight.” – Here’s a super secret fitness tip from an insider: the guaranteed way to lose weight instantly is easy… just cut off a limb! Voila, weight lost! Oh… that’s not what you meant?
  • “I’m trying to lose some body fat.” – The good news: you have great intentions. The bad news: studies show that exercise alone is not all that effective at losing body fat. Ouch, sorry.
  • “I’m trying to build some muscle.” – Okay cool, this is something I can get behind, and you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to want to build muscle. Simply put, increasing your lean muscle mass helps prevent aging, not to mention getting that much closer to being both jacked and tan.

Okay, so all kidding aside, what are we missing here? How about the simple fact that humans are meant to move! If you haven’t yet watched Daniel Wolpert’s TED Talk “The real reason for brains,” then please do so immediately. If you engage in a structured physical activity or fitness program, then please acknowledge the fact that MOVEMENT needs to be a higher priority in your life.

Let’s work through a specific example. CrossFit, in its humble roots, is a GPP program: General Physical Preparedness. Taken from the CrossFit.com website: “Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”

Towards this end, CrossFitters often talk about “work capacity,” i.e., the ability to do a given amount of work in a given amount of time. It is precisely this theoretical underpinning that justifies the emphasis on quantity over quality that is present at so many CrossFit gyms. Who cares if those push-ups didn’t look good? You got 1 more round of Cindy than last time, so you are more fit!

*Raises hand* “Excuse me, but how exactly do you demonstrate work capacity in the absence of doing specific movements?” For instance, if your Fran time improves, then you very well may have just gotten better at the specific skills of barbell thrusters and kipping pull-ups. Or maybe you knock a minute off of Diane, in which case you probably just level’ed up at the skills of barbell deadlifts and kipping handstand push-ups.

What is my point? These are all specific skilled movements. There is no such thing as pure unskilled work capacity. CrossFit’s version of GPP is actually more like SPP: Specific Physical Preparedness. Why do so many CrossFitters choose dumbbell snatches and shy away from kettlebell snatches? Because snatching a kettlebell requires practice! Why work on your static handstand hold when you could be doing something sexy like handstand walks? Because static holds are harder!

To wrap up this long-winded rant, I propose that we, as fitness generalists with no specific attachment to any one competitive sport, adopt a new mindset and purpose for why we train:

Train to learn new skills, gradually and progressively, so as to become capable of and masterful in more complex movements.

Intrigued? Good, there will be much more to come on this topic in the future. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Ido Portal for the inspiration for this post:

Addendum: It occurred to me after publishing this post that I absolutely must also credit Erwan Le Corre and his Movnat system of movement for inspiring some of these ideas as well. I recommend you read, “The 5th MovNat Principle: Vital,” and study this Venn diagram:

Romanov on Perception

Today I watched Dr. Nicholas Romanov discuss teaching vs. training.

Training is “developing physiological abilities,” or developing the systems for movement, whereas teaching is “developing perception,” or developing the movement itself.

Are you training or teaching? The answer probably depends on the athletes, students, class, discipline, rehearsal, movement, sport, game, song, weather, etc.

Dr. Romanov says, “I am not teaching people to think. I am teaching them to perceive. … This is a huge difference.” Stated similarly, Bruce Lee says, “Don’t think! Feel!”

Thoughts?