This past weekend I was at gym in Long Beach competing in a strongman competition. There were may other people around the gym who were not participating in the event but were training and working hard. It was great to see such a gym that had so many of the tools that can make people better and so few of the things that are generally a waste of time. As I caught my breath between sets and events I noticed a young kid doing some burpees in the corner. This young man was no doubt dedicating his Saturday afternoon to being a better high school football player as his t-shirt indicated, and I respect that very much. However, I felt bad for him as he labored through his burpees and some running around the building at an incredibly slow pace. This got me thinking about the difference between really owning a movement, or more so conditioning in this case, and just doing something. How much value is there in laboring through or just getting it done?
Sport practice immediately comes to mind. If I’m a coach, do I want my players practicing and going almost in slow motion because they are so tired? Probably not. I feel like they would be better served moving at a fast pace, closer to game speed and if not, it’s for the purpose of learning. As it relates to specifically to training, there is a difference between performing a near perfect get-up or an explosive set of snatches and laboring through the movement, but still completing it (the set). One is owned or dominated as I like to say, while the other, well, you did it but it may have been a little ugly. I feel this scenario applies to many other situations as well. Think about it. Most often, not always, the quality rules over quantity. I think the easiest way to determine this when it comes to training is the shit test. If it smells like shit and looks like shit then well, it’s probably in fact shit. Find a way to make it better.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think it is important to test yourself physically sometimes and see what kind of mental fortitude you have. Two situations come to mind. As I saw this previously mentioned young athlete, I was on the other side of the gym competing with what some might call questionable form at times. I think that’s ok as long as you are training the “right way” most of the time. This allows for competition style performance and some maximal effort at specific times. I’m not a boxing or MMA coach but would I want to push my athlete so far during practice that he is practicing throwing slow sloppy punches in the ring? Even in a conditioning scenario I think where technical failure happens is when things can be shut down. Own those punches. Keep them crisp and snappy. I’m not a runner but it’s my understanding that most marathoners don’t actually run 26 miles in practice. They prepare knowing that come “game day” it’s inside of them to push that much further. I understand that not every day is going to be a personal best performance. Trying to get better or be better is the goal. However in the above scenarios cutting it off when performance severely suffers might be best. Then next time you can still try and surpass the previous effort.
It might take a long time, it might not, but progressively and incrementally building your ability to push further/harder will allow you to dig deep on game day. That’s your competition where maybe your “form” doesn’t have to be perfect but you’ll find a way to get things done. I don’t believe that your training needs to be like that very often, just finding a way to get it done. That to me is going to look like that poor kid in the corner doing burpees. It looked like shit and well, it was. Instead, dial it back and own it.
– Mike Baltren