Are you really getting better?

So once again we are wrapping up cheer nationals where the athletes have practiced day in and day out for the majority of the past month. It is a trying time, but so is anything worth achieving. Now that we are finished I just wanted to look back a bit on what does “practicing hard” truly mean. This is going to be using some of Anders Ericsson’s work and other folks on mastery. You might have come across the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell talking about a number of different individuals that achieved great things seemingly overnight when in reality they had been working hard for years. This is done by practicing, and by practicing for a large amount of time. Erikson’s work came up with over 10,000 hours or deliberate practice was required to reach levels of mastery in a given sport.

Deliberate practice

Notice the first word there is deliberate. This means that you are fully focused in the moment and actively participating in what you are doing. You aren’t zoning out or giving less than 100% to the current task at hand. This is how you increase your skill, and a lot of people will let themselves be distracted. This means minimal side conversations and not taking yourself out of the moment with outside thoughts. This is obviously not an easy thing to do, but we aren’t done. It is very easy to be at a team practice for hours and yet spend little to no time actually getting any better.

Pushing your boundaries

In order to make yourself better you need to be continually increasing your abilities. This means to practice right on the edge of what you are currently capable of. This is not an easy task for a number of obvious reasons, but keep in mind that really improving requires you to do more than phone it in, or do what you have always done. Be careful that you don’t overshoot your current abilities too far or you can risk sending yourself backwards, which will undo a large amount of the progress that you are trying to make. Do learn to enjoy the struggle of constantly trying to improve yourself.

Being in the moment

This means that you are only focused on the task at hand. You aren’t thinking about things outside of practice or otherwise. You are simply going to hone in on what you are doing. You are going to feel your body through each step of the skill or really focus on the material at hand if you are trying to do some learning. This requires you to leave the other drama in your life and otherwise outside of it so you can truly focus on what matters. This means removing people from your life that could otherwise distract you from your goal and that is never going to necessarily be an easy thing to accomplish.

Summary

In order to truly build your skill in certain areas you need to focus hard specifically on only skills. A lot of people easily overlook the whole “deliberate” part of deliberate practice. You need to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to make yourself better at what you are doing if you in fact really want to improve your performance.  Take a look at what you are trying to excel at in your life and from there do what you can to enhance the speed of which you will improve by putting more energy in to each of your practices.

Overcoming the Travelling Chair Jail

Another fun fact of cheerleading nationals is the bus ride. The bus ride that typically takes 14 hours from where we start off at. This obviously gives you a great amount of time to read a book, chat with folks, catch up on work related materials, and slowly feel your ass getting flatter. Since we spend so much time riding, it is important to do a few things to help make the riding (or really any long travel trips) easier on your body. Here are a few things that I do.

Stay hydrated

In general your body is always going to like you more when you consistently hydrate. This not only lets your digestive system work easier, but also helps with the lubrication of your joints. It is easy to not drink enough water when you are flying or riding on a bus since getting up to use the bathroom can be a bother, but do yourself a favor and try to keep drinking water as much as you can. When flying ask for whatever beverage you want along with an additional water. When stopping on the bus ride do the same at whatever restaurant you use along with refill whatever water bottle you have. Bonus tip is that TSA will not take an empty water bottle from you, just fill it up once you pass security. You can even just bring your protein powder along with you this way and make a protein shake when you get on the other side of TSA because you don’t want to pay crazy prices for airport food.

Walk as much as possible

This is at each stop we make, or if you are flying during your layovers. Just go take a walk. Doesn’t require any equipment or get you weird looks from the average person. Just make sure you are moving to get the blood circulating and helping all of your tissues get some nutrients. You don’t need to make this a death march, but just think about getting out and going. Walking big circles around parking lots or through airports is easy and you get the bonus of getting to do some interesting people watching. I’ll walk with someone else or just put on a podcast and explore the area I’m at. You can always squeeze in a bit more walking as you go so do your best. On this trip I found a twelve gauge shotgun shell in a longhorn steakhouse parking lot in Georgia, it was a live round (I have so many questions).

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Must have missed a wedding…

 

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Observed walking around in Florida

 

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Found Nemo on the bus…

Stretch out

On the bus full of teammates no one is going to judge you for stretching when you ride for that long in the aisle. Just hitting a few hip flexor stretches and hip rotator stretches can do wonders for keeping you from feeling locked up or tight in the hips from all of the sitting. I try to do this once every few hours. Just have fun and relax trying to hit what feels the tightest from your traveling. Doing this again when you get home or to your hotel room can be another boost to your recovery.

Summary

Here are three quick ways you can help make traveling long distances a bit easier on your body when you have long rides ahead of you. Congrats to all teams that competed at nationals and as always thanks for taking the time to read this and share it with anyone that you might think could get something out of this.

Is That Really Your Best?

So right now we are once again in cheerleading nationals practices. This means two practices a day of throwing a two and a half minute routine that requires frequent bursts of maximal effort. It is hard, the skills are advanced, and mistakes are made which cause people to fall on to one another or simply to the floor. All of this effort is made to simply perform the routine once or twice in front of judges. When this happens they will get scored and place accordingly to where they should among their peers. Some folks will be happy, some will be sad, but I’m confident that a number of folks will think they did their best, but really didn’t.

What is your Best?

When I was younger my parents would ask me if “I tried my best” on something after it was done. This could be something that I was successful with or unsuccessful with, but the question was the same: did you do your best? At that point I would always say that I had, but as I got older, I started to realize that what I did was nowhere near my best. I will note that yes I tried, but I had more to give.

My Best

It was early May of 2007 and I was competing in my second powerlifting meet. I spent the last two months dieting down to make weight at less than 198lbs from weighing 215, and I was going to take a shot at the junior Illinois USAPL state record in the deadlift. I had never missed a workout and ate on a clock to make weight. I did everything right with my prep and then had a solid meet on the squat and bench press making sure that I saved some energy for the deadlift.

I opened with a smooth fast 530 and then hit a second of 585 which was also smooth and fast. I was ready and fired up. I got to my third attempt and called for 633. This would be a PR attempt for myself, I went up to that bar and pulled with all I had. The bar broke slowly from the ground and the knurling grinded in to my hands. As I started to slowly inch it up I could feel my body shaking which only got worse once I managed to get the bar past my knees. The pressure was massive in my body as I broke blood vessels in my upper body and even in my eyes. After what felt like eternity I locked out the bar and then was given the down signal by the judges. At this point I let gravity do its work and take the bar back to the ground with my hands on it. I let go of the bar and turned to look at the judging lights. One white and two red lights flashed in front of my eyes. My lift was turned down and didn’t count.

Initially I was a bit upset, but then I just walked outside of the gymnasium into the open hot afternoon in Illinois and let the sun beat down on my skin. I stood there with my arms out wide, looked up, and smiled. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out, and I was happy. I committed my soul to that pull. I put everything that I had into not just that deadlift, but the entire prep leading up to it. I pulled that bar regardless of what the judges said. I did that lift for me. This taught me a whole new world about what does “doing your best” really mean. This isn’t just showing up, this isn’t just practicing a bit. This is truly deliberate hard work in every facet of your life towards the goal. This is doing your best, and really made me realize that I wasn’t in fact often in my life giving my best. This is what I want to get in to.

How much effort did you really use?

When you are looking at what is really your best, did you really do everything you could? Did you make sure that you leveraged everything that you could to enhance your performance? When you were at practice did you really do everything that you could to get better? Did you give every drill all of your effort and attention? Did you do everything you could outside of practice to get better? These are all self-assessment questions but I want to pose them as a way to improve our thinking

What can you do to make it to the next level?

In order to get more out of your work, practice, or education you need to make sure that you truly are focused on the task at hand. That you aren’t being distracted by something else keeping you from the task at hand. This means that you not only need to be deliberately practicing, but doing additional practice and work to develop these skills.

When it comes to outside of practice, now we have our nutrition and sleep that will affect how fast we recover not just physically, but also mentally. This is getting enough sleep not just the night before the competition but every night. This means not just eating one healthy meal, but eating right day in and day out for months at a time. This means not going out and partying so hard that you undo some of your hard fought work. You can lose your mind looking for little bits of improvement, but take a moment every once in a while to really see if you are doing everything you can to be the best that you can be.

Summary

Doing your best is not easy. Saying that you did your best is easy. It can be hard, but think about all of the ways that you could be doing better. What are you not taking care of that can make a big difference in your success in life? Can you search out someone to make you better? Can you take care of elements outside of you goal to set yourself up for success? When you are working on your skills are you 100% present giving your best effort every moment? These are the many hard questions that you need to ask yourself to truly be doing the best that you are capable of, and I hope that you truly discover and do your best. Thanks for reading this and have a great day.

New Years Resolution Club PSA 3: Week One

The time has come and it is now time to put up or shut up. This is meant to be fun (training is), but you might have some anxiety or fear about training and honestly you might not enjoy the first week (or month) of your training. Knowing that you are going to have some pieces possibly working against you, take the time to put things in order that are going to set you up for success.

Set the schedule

Things you schedule time for get done. So figure out which days you are going to train. Sounds simple, but when life gets crazy it is easy to skip out on your training. Block out non-negotiable time each week for you to go work out. Set this like an appointment that you wouldn’t dare skip. Make sure that it is a consistent time each day and preferably when you know you tend to have energy. If you are someone that likes to sleep in and have a hard time functioning in the morning then you should probably try to work out in the afternoon or evening.

Find the time

We all have time, but don’t like to admit it. The obvious first mistake we have is that we sit down and watch TV for too many hours. Now, to start with your exercise program maybe you just walk on a treadmill at the gym watching the same television that you would watch at home (a win is a win right?). This will at least get you out there doing something. Look at your schedule and try to find out where is the waste? Since my concussion I tend to try and go for about an hour long walk each night. Aside from the evening where I teach night school this is easy since all that I do is cut out the TV that the wife and I might watch otherwise.

Set minimums

Don’t make your goal to be full blown rocky training montage out the gate. Your only goal when you begin is to start simply and slowly progress. If you currently don’t lift weights at all, one set of 10 repetitions represents a monstrous increase in training volume. Any one that squats after not having squatted for a long period of time knows this since the first time that they lift they are sore for days after because their body is not used to this type of stress.

The first week you are working out just go to the gym for ten minutes. You can just say you are going to walk 5,000 steps. You are going to do one set of push ups. Set a low bar that you can quantify (measure the number of) and you will find out that most of the time when you come in to train you are going to go above the minimum and really get some solid work in.

Slowly increase your minimums

After you have conquered the walking 5,000 steps each day increase that number to 5,500. Follow that number amount for a week and then increase it again. Keep moving it upwards or add another goal like doing 5 pushups. Build on your successes slowly but surely and you will hopefully also be seeing your body change consistently with time.

Find something you enjoy (caveats)

Training (or at least parts of training) should be fun. Find the exercise, workout, or piece of equipment that you enjoy training on and add that to each of your workouts. Maybe you like to elliptikillit, or ride the not-so-excite-bike, I don’t care. But find something that you will enjoy doing that does make you work hard and in ways that will actually help improve your health and fitness. If you like walking on a treadmill at 1mph while drinking a Gatorade, congrats you are now literally and metaphorically going nowhere. It still needs to be stressful in a way that makes your body improve with time. You can go dominate all of the curls at the end of your workout, but make sure that you are still balancing that work with, oh let’s say, all the other muscle groups on your body. This might also be finding a sport activity that gets you moving and working hard, just be careful about going to hard in the sport right out the gate.

Summary

It is week one, the goal now is to schedule your training and make sure that you can find the time to get that in. Once you get that done make sure that you are setting some simple goals in the beginning that will help you build some positive momentum and keep building yourself up with time. Remember you are starting on a journey here. The goal isn’t to blow yourself out the first week with being incredibly sore, instead think of yourself like a snowball rolling down a mountain in that your goal is to keep building more and more momentum so that eventually you can’t be stopped from training hard. Good luck on your fitness journey and I just keep staying with it regardless of what the lazy voice inside you might say.