One of my biggest fears is that I am wasting time.
I hate the idea that what I’m doing at a given moment is not driving me closer to my goals.
Every time you enter the weight room, step on to the field, or show up to practice you are hoping the effort you put in is going to show up in results later down the road.
But how do you know?
Do you have a way to know what you are doing is working or are you hoping that because you put the effort in, good things will happen?
Here are four ways to make sure your hard work won’t go to waste.
Where Are You Trying to Improve?
Why do you show up each day and put the work in? What exactly are you looking to get out of this?
Is it to become stronger, faster, and more dominant in your sport? Which skills exactly will help you do that?
Linear speed might be more important for a running back than an offensive guard, for example, while grip and upper-body strength might be more crucial for the latter than the former.
Think about where you struggled in your sport last season. What areas did you feel overmatched? Having a conversation with your coach about this topic and then asking your strength and conditioning coach how you can improve in these key areas can be very productive.
It’s also important to set the appropriate goals for your aspirations. Say you want to play D1 and you’re already the strongest and fastest kid on your team. But are any of your teammates going to play D1? If not, then that might not be the competition you should measure yourself against. You can look up combine results for your sport to see where the top performers stand and give yourself a goal to chase and, hopefully, surpass.
When it comes to how much weight you’re moving, this article outlining some common “athlete benchmarks” can be very helpful.
Do You Know Your Baseline?
To set realistic training goals, you must know your baseline.
You’ll never know where you’re at if you aren’t regularly testing yourself with max-effort lifts or drills. That means you need to push yourself.
Your baseline could be strength, speed, movement quality, whatever you choose. But to know which goals to set and understand how you can achieve them, you’ve got to know exactly where you’re at. If you have a goal but have no idea where you are starting, then you have no way of knowing if what you are doing is getting you closer to your goal.
If you see that most D1 baseball players Hang Clean 225 pounds for a one-rep max, and your current max is 155 pounds, then that’s an area of opportunity for you.
How Much Effort Are You Giving on a Daily Basis?
Once you know where you want to go and where you stand, then you can start working toward your goal with confidence.
But how do you know if you’re working hard enough?
A couple key guidelines can keep you on the right path.
For strength-based goals, you should always focus on the quality of the movement and form first. When you finish a working set (meaning not a warm-up set), you shouldn’t feel like you could’ve done a ton more reps. You should feel you could have squeezed out 1 to 2 more quality reps, but if the number is well beyond that, you need to push yourself harder (obviously, when finding your one-rep max, you want to find the most weight you can move for a single rep).
During working sets, if you feel you could have gotten five additional reps, the weight is too easy. If you think you could have gotten no more reps, the weight is too heavy, for even though you are focusing on strength, you still want the weight to move smoothly and at a swift, efficient pace.
For speed-based goals, you must remember that to produce peak speed and power, you need to be fresh. That means that running a bunch of sprints with just 10 seconds of rest between them isn’t working on top speed. Once the movement you’re training starts to slow down, you are no longer working on top speed, but rather a subset of speed.
To get the best results, you should time each set and get ample rest between each set. Young athletes rarely understand this, but less is usually more when it comes to building speed.
For example, say I run a 40-Yard Dash in 4.9 seconds for my first two reps, and then my next three reps are timed at 4.97, 4.99, and 5.0. Once you start getting beyond 5.0, you either need to stop completely, or perform just a couple more reps but with more rest in between. Because once your results are slower than a 5.0, you’re no longer really working on true speed.
Experiment with your rest intervals to find what works best for you. You don’t want to take 10 minutes between reps, nor do you want to take 10 seconds. You want to find the most efficient rest interval possible that still allows you to work on your top speed as opposed to your conditioning.
Do You Re-Test and Evaluate?
Once you have been training for 4-6 weeks, you need to re-test. See if your training has gotten you closer to your goal. If you have gotten closer, you can be confident you’re doing the right things.
If not, you seriously need to re-evaluate your approach.
How often were you working out? One or two times a week? Perhaps you need to bump it up to three times a week.
If you were working out five times a week or more, perhaps you’re overtraining. How is your recovery, namely your sleep and nutrition? Your results are always going to be heavily impacted by the quality of your recovery. Most teen athletes simply do not eat or sleep enough to reap the full rewards of their hard work.
Once your results stagnate, it’s time to make some changes and repeat (if you’re working in a program provided by a good strength and conditioning coach, these changes should already be a part of the program).
Simply asking yourself these basic questions can give you a better idea of how and why you’re training and if you’re training the right way.
It is not always the amount of effort you put into something that leads to success, but where you direct that effort. Don’t confuse participation with progress. That leads to a final question that will dictate the scale of your results—are you training with intent?