After coaching for some time now, I'd like to list five things you should know before you start a serious training program. And by serious training, I am referring to training for an event, training as an athlete, training at CrossFit, or High Intensity Interval Training coupled with some type of strenuous lifting—anything that includes three or more training days a week and a mix of high intensity and volume using moderate to heavy weights.
First and foremost, each type of training I just mentioned is great in its own way and confers its own benefits. I don't want to deter you from intense training. My goal is to make you aware of the types of things that can happen when you train rigorously—and to let you know that it's OK. The body is a lot more durable and smarter than you think.
1. Be Wary of Distorted Views and Expectations
I want to put this out there for women and men who follow an intense training regimen. If you're worried about getting too bulky, you're misinformed; but unfortunately this is an incredibly hard concept to drop. On the flip side, if you think you're quickly going to develop the body and abilities of a professional athlete or a CrossFit Games competitor, you might be seriously disappointed in your results.
There seems to be a disconnect between how professionals look and what it takes to develop that kind of physique. Although you may train in a similar way, your intensity and time commitment is likely to be far less than those of a pro. As a coach, I get more females who are worried about becoming too "toned" by training three days a week and young guys thinking a few weeks of training will leave them looking like the Greek statues they saw in art history class.
Much more goes into gaining significant amounts of muscle than just working out, and it takes years to develop the kind of standout body that gym patrons are either trying to obtain or avoid.
2. Your Workouts Should Make You Uncomfortable
Training to reach a goal is different from going to the gym so you can check in on Facebook. Every day I see patrons come through the doors, and although they are there in person, they are not there mentally. Day in and day out, they go through the motions and rarely break a sweat, nor do they add weight to the bar or see any real progress. Then I have a few people who come early, listen intently, and do everything they can to make the most of their time. The only difference between the two groups is the level of discomfort they are willing to endure.
There are also two different types of discomfort, one relating to being under heavy weight and the other relating to performing at high-end heart rates. As the saying goes, "if it was easy, everyone would do it." That doesn't mean that to see progress you have to redline until you pass out every day. But you do have to do more than show up. Being comfortable with discomfort is a trait of all successful athletes, and it comes from within. I tell my classes in workouts to rest as needed, and it's easy too see who is catching their breath and who's taking a break.
3. Minimize Your Chance of Injury, But Don't Be Afraid of Intense Workouts
If you work out at a high intensity, there's a good chance you will sustain an injury at some point. We've all been there. As you push your body harder, there's a greater chance something will go wrong. The goal across the board is to train intelligently and try to reduce the chance of injury.
Training as an athlete and training to be healthy call for different protocols. One will improve your health while minimizing any and all risks, and the other will improve your health but put more emphasis on creating positions and stresses you will likely encounter in your sport.
If you want to train like an athlete, know that injuries are part of the process. Tight muscles, soreness, stiffness, tweaks, pinches—they all happen. That's just how it goes. When you train at high intensities, some sort of ache or pain will always linger. If it's not one thing it's another. This shouldn't scare you, since it is without question a risk worth taking. But you will not be alone in feeling less than 100 percent at times. Actually to be totally honest, it's quite rare to feel fully refreshed, and I'm sure everyone training next to you is in the same boat.
4. Do Your Homework
I understand that most people are not like me and don't have access to a gym 24 hours day. But like anyone else, I also have a full-time job and I am currently working on launching my own business. Needless to say, time is a factor. When you train intensely, you almost always have "homework"—stretching, getting a massage, prepping your meals, reading up on technique and skills, watching videos. I could go on, but the point is that training even four times a week totals no more than 6 hours. Completing hour homework makes things easier and allows you to spend more gym time training and less time stretching, mobilizing and learning.
5. You Compete Off What You Eat
Training alone won't change much by itself, although its a huge step in the right direction. I regularly hear comments like "I feel a lot better/stronger/healthier, but I'm not losing weight/gaining any significant muscle." My response is always the same: "How has your diet changed since you started working out?"
The answers typically involve a number of excuses. "Well it hasn't changed, I still eat what I want." Excuse. "I don't have time." Excuse. If you want to maximize your success, your diet and recovery methods must be in check. You may see some decent progress with exercise alone, but that will only carry you so far.
I love nothing more than working with people who truly want to succeed. I had an athlete upload a video where after she hit a PR, I showed her the goosebumps on my arm. I live for that kind of stuff, and I don't want this to come off as a rant or negativity. My goal in writing this is to make future athletes aware of what comes with rigorous training, so they won't be blindsided by its effects.
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