Training to Fail Part 5: Focus and Pick A Program

Posted on 29 Jun 2010 21:20

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The last few posts in this series on failure were specific, technical, and practical, I hope. But I did warn you that some of the posts would be more philosophical and general. This is one of those posts. The next one will be chock full of sciency stuff, I promise. I think the subject of this one is just as important, though.

A prevailing message I've tried to get across in the earlier posts is that success in your strength training is not really about picking a program and sticking to it. "Stick-to-it-ness" is a great attribute but let's not go crazy about a euphemism.

We Must Focus

The idea is about focus and it's another message that gets misused. My eight year old can focus. In fact he could focus very well when he was five as well. Focus is used interchangeably with “attitude”. If we bring the right attitude to our program and focus we will get results. People go so far to say that a bad program done with focus and determination is better than a good program done with a bad attitude and lack of focus.

That’s sort of like saying that a Ford Focus can go like a Ferrari if you just really really want it to.

I for one do not find focus to be a problem. I have an almost unhealthy ability to tune out everything but the task at hand. When writing things such as this post right now that is a blessing. And sometimes in training it is a blessing. But that hyper-focus means that I can ignore my own discomfort. I can even forget to eat! I can in fact, continue, with absolute focus and conviction down completely blind and dangerous alleys.

The people who continue to bounce back and forth between the same bad programs while intermittently nursing injuries, constantly changing goals and never really progressing forward are actually displaying a sort of hyper-focus. You see, exactly what these trainees need is to be able to back up and see a wider picture of their training. Because hyper-focus means that we are cutting off our peripheral vision and narrowing our viewpoint down to a few bricks in the wall. While focusing all our attention on those few bricks we run right into it head first. There again we have the wall.

Focus alone isn’t everything. We must focus on the right things and be able to throw out the useless things. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my training career and one of the biggest is not to project my attitudes onto trainees. I used to be the guy to tell you “get over it. Focus. Stop complaining. It’s not supposed to be fun.” That said more about me than the trainees. It’s my attitude that needed the adjusting. This goes back to what I said in the first failure post about your visualization of your strength training. My vision should not be forced on you. It is a value judgment. That being said, my attitudes about strength training have undergone many changes since those days.

Do not stick to unproductive protocols. When something does not produce the results desired throw it out. If part of the results you seek is not to be miserable then do not allow someone else’s way of training to make you miserable! The ability to focus alone isn't everything. We must focus on the right things!

Pick a Program!

You'd think strength training was a card trick. Pick a card, any card. This message is related to focus. When someone wants to get into strength training they may tend to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research. Questions and research are good. However sometimes trainees are all questions and no action! The constant analyses before the fact becomes more of an academic exercise than a pursuit of information bent on formulating a plan of attack.

When the “experts” get more questions than they care to answer…or perhaps are capable of answering the most common response is just “pick a program and stick to it."

Pick a program is perhaps my biggest pet peeve of all advice ever given about strength training. Or bodybuilding as well. Cop out is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of it.

The advise to pick a program and focus on it is justified by the belief that trainees asking too many questions are over-thinking and over-analyzing thus creating “paralysis by analysis." Asking questions and thinking, however, SHOULD be taking place BEFORE you begin a training program. Yes, you can over-do it and get bogged down in more or less academic pursuit but the real paralysis by analysis comes when you question your actions after you have already undertaken them.

And there is another side to that coin. It’s called “paralysis by choices”. The fact that there are thousands of programs out there all of which are thought to be largely successful does not make it easier for a beginning strength trainee to break out of his or her seeming paralysis.The less the trainee plans and evaluates and, rather, just hurries up and picks a program, the more doubts he or she will have when they are daily reminded of all the great choices they didn't make! Every time they have a bad day in the gym it becomes a "should have" or "could have" occasion. In my opinion this kind of doubt creates more paralysis than some due diligence and planning before the program is chosen (or planned) and begun.

I’ve written a great deal about this in the past. The idea that more training choices makes for a happy trainee is flawed. Too many training choices makes for an overwhelmed and dissatisfied trainee who is always thinking about the program that could have been!

Once he has driven himself crazy trying to choose from all these wonderful cookie cutters he will finally just break down and let someone tell him which one to do upon which time he will feel unfulfilled and wonder if one of the other routines would have “worked” better.

The message is that strength training is about focusing and ‘completing programs’.

Strength training is about training to get stronger. Completing programs is about following instructions until you hit a wall or until the prescribed number of weeks is over. How could anyone feel motivated to sustain their strength training, in the face of all that hard work, if his or her primary goal was just to complete the next program? What does that have to do with getting stronger?

Of course we must develop plans and follow them. But that is a means to achieving a goal not the goal itself. Experience your training. Don’t be a spectator to it. Doing a program is basically going through the motions.

Do you remember the scene in Enter the Dragon when Bruce Lee is with his student? Just before the pointing the way to the moon part the student is practicing a side kick and Bruce Lee urges him that it must have “EMOTIONAL CONTENT”.

What does that mean? It’s not about anger or fear or any of that. It is about BEING IN THE MOMENT.

The same experts who yell pick a program yell about having goals and focusing on them. So which is it? Are we to pick a program and focus on it or pick a goal and focus on it? Maybe we are supposed to pick the goal the expert chose for us which is apparently to complete a program, any program…just get out of their hair?

Do you realize that most trainees fail to complete even that goal? Feeling like they have been given a direction they enter into some program with great enthusiasm only to drop it a few weeks later and change goals. It really doesn’t matter which program they might have picked because just about any program ever written is trumpeted as successful. Those from the most unknown forum guru to the most famous strength coach. Why Programs Work explains why that is.

This page created 29 Jun 2010 21:20
Last updated 21 Jul 2016 21:25

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