Training To Fail: The Failurists

Posted on 05 Jun 2010 18:11

As I began writing this post it occurred to me that the process of writing is very similar to the process of training. At least the way I do it. Although I am new to writing about strength and fitness in a focused way, I am not new to writing in general and I have two primary methods. The first is to have an idea and to let it ‘simmer’ for a few weeks after which, through a largely unconscious process that I do not well understand, the idea comes out almost fully written.

Failing this, if an idea seems to have enough merit but the natural associations aren’t happening through method number one, I just sit down and begin writing. Getting some words down tends to focus my thoughts and this leads to better associations. Then it is simply a matter of getting everything down as it comes, to be edited later. And edited again. And again. If I have one primary failing it is that I am a terrible proofreader. I do think, however, that my failure to see the tiny flaws in my writing does not extend to the flaws in training!

I will let the reader explore how all those things I mentioned are similar to training. The similarity I want to focus on is visualization. Whichever method I use to write, it involves a visualization of what the end-product should be: its impact.

This should not be a new idea to most of you. Forming a positive mental image of those things you want to achieve can be a very important tool in achieving them.

Well, what’s your mental image of your training results? Does your training fit that image? Chances are with the direction many experts take these days you are setting up yourself for failure. It’s YOUR mental image so how can someone else’s preconceived set of instructions paint that picture for you?

Don't be a Strength Training Failurist

The way most programs are written one might think that the strength and conditioning industry was filled with fatalists. Or, more accurately, filled with failurists. Yes, I made that word up. It’s an accurate word because most things that trainers call inevitable are simply a reflection of their failures.

Trainers fail to prevent injures therefore “Injuries are inevitable.”

Trainers fail to prevent plateaus therefore “Plateaus are inevitable.”

As a matter of fact, I think it is fair to say that the industry is obsessed with failure. There are huge, ongoing debates on failure. Failure is such a popular concept it has its own subcategories and pet-names. Failure training. Post-failure training. Beyond-failure. And there are never-ending debates on the relative merits of "failure". The prevailing mindset of the strength training industry, in fact, seems to be about "avoiding failure" rather than finding ways to succeed. There is a huge gulf between avoiding failure and succeeding. Yet, failure is the favorite debate between the two.

Funny I’ve never heard of a debate on success.

Is success built on failure? I think not. Failure has far-reaching consequences. A training environment that sets you up to fail sets you up to overcome more obstacles than you started out with. You visualize success and that entails approaching and overcoming obstacles in a sensible way that results in the ability to not only overcome the next obstacle but to be able to bring that experience with you and overcome it more easily and efficiently.

Most programs do not involve overcoming obstacles. They involve taking a running start and smacking into them. Then shaking yourself off, backing up, and smacking into them again, and again. That is training HARD. But it ain’t smart. Given, though, that [being smart doesn't mean less hard work is required].

The word inevitable should not be in your mindset. Whatever happens, you make it happen. That is a GOOD thing. It is a never-ending source of amazement to me that a trainer can become successful while telling his clients that their results are fated.

Sometimes you WILL fail. When you do, you will focus more on those failures than you ever did on your successes. As you progress, you build up a mental resume. Ideally, this resume should have more checks in the success column than the failure column.

I know that this message differs a great deal from what you have heard from many experts. They tell you it’s about attitude. And, that you should think like an athlete. What they don’t tell you is that athletes are not magically immune to doubt, stress, mistakes; any of that. Labels will not help you succeed. Empty words will not help you succeed.

I mentioned plateaus. To the scientist, a plateau is something you view on a chart. To the trainee it is a WALL. I have never envisioned myself as having reached a high point in my training when I plateau. While we're on this subject, may as well explore just what a plateau is, and how a plateaus differs from a stall.

For most of us it is a plateau or a stall is a LOW point. After all, you have failed to keep progressing. You have smacked into that wall I mentioned before.

Let’s imagine that your training career is a vast field covering acres and acres of territory. In this field there are many, many, walls scattered about. You have a great deal of choice in direction as you walk upon this field, but no matter what direction you choose you will eventually approach one of these walls.

The smart person is aware of his surroundings. He keeps his head up, his shoulders squared, and he sees the wall long before he reaches it. He is AWARE of the changes in his environment. The not so smart person bulls forward with his head down, shoulders hunched, and hands in his pocket. He never varies his direction or pace and doesn’t see the wall until he smacks into it.

The smart guy, on having noticed the wall on his horizon, knows he has three primary choices for overcoming this obstacle. He can go over. He can go under. Or, he can walk along the wall until he reaches its end, then go around. Depending on the design of the wall, one of these three choices will turn out to be the most efficient. As he wanders the field, he begins to learn more about the characteristics of these walls and therefore, what reaction will best suit each one. After some time, even seemingly unpredictable things become more predictable.

But the other guy, he only looks up after running into the wall. Then what does he do? He backs up, takes a running start, and smacks into it again. He “blasts through the plateau”. Any person who thinks trying to blast through a wall is a reasonable response is not a reasonable person.

There are a number of strength training concepts that set us up for failure. The next series of posts will deal with these. I will call these posts the Training to Fail Series, but their purpose will be to help you avoid the practices and concepts that lead to failure in the first place. This can also be considered a continuation of the posts I began when I started this blog: Misconceptions Abound: Strength, Fatloss, Skills, and Progression and Strength: Simple but Difficult?. My original intention was to give examples of kinds of programs and their underlying concepts but I have decided that the better approach would be to discuss the general concepts themselves. This way you will be better equipped to generalize the bad practices and recognize them when they rear their ugly heads in programs that "look good on paper" but don't play well with others when it's time to hit the gym.

See Part Two: Intensity Cycling and High Intensity Overtraining.

This page created 05 Jun 2010 18:11
Last updated 11 Feb 2019 18:49

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