There’s a right time for almost everything. There’s a time for peace, and a time for war. There’s a time for pizza, and a time for vegetables. There’s a time for celibacy, and a time for festive fornication.
In your weightlifting life, there’s a time for tunnel vision, and a time for training ADD.
Let me give you the definitions of those terms so you know what the hell I’m talking about.
Tunnel vision: This is a phase of your training where you’re completely locked in and focused on a specific discipline. It’s probably when you’ve got a pretty big goal in a particular area, and you’re going Terminator until you get it. You don’t branch out and dabble with any other sports or training methods during this time. You confine 100% of your efforts in one area. For example, if you’re an Olympic lifter who’s making a run at winning the National Championship, you’re not going to spend much time dicking around with any powerlifting, strongman, or CrossFit type of stuff. You have to snatch and clean & jerk as much as possible if you want to win Nationals, so you eliminate anything that’s not going to contribute to it. You look at your training like you’re staring down a long tunnel. All you see is what’s at the end, nothing else.
Training ADD: This is the opposite of tunnel vision. When you’ve got training ADD, you’re bouncing around a lot. ADD, for those of you who don’t know, is an abbreviation for Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s a condition that makes people have a lot of trouble focusing on anything for very long. With training ADD, you’ve got a primary training emphasis, but you’re also playing with some other stuff as well. For example, let’s say we’ve got a competitive powerlifter who’s in a training ADD phase. He’s still working on his squat, bench, and deadlift. However, maybe he’s also trying some Olympic lifts for fun. Maybe he’s experimenting with some mixed martial arts, that kind of stuff. Maybe he’s doing some running. He’s not getting too locked on any specific area. The ADD reference is just a silly way of describing a time when your training is easily distracted. It’s all over the place.
When should you have tunnel vision? And when should you let yourself indulge in some training ADD? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?
The bigger the goal, the more demand for tunnel vision. If you’re pushing to make the Olympic Team, there aren’t going to be many times when training ADD is a good idea. Sure, there are phases when Olympic athletes need to back off after a big competition and possibly use some alternative training methods for recovery. However, these are temporary and they’re still part of the big OL plan.
During the ten years when I was doing my best weightlifting, I did almost nothing else. My commitment was total, and the results were pretty big as a result. I think most athletes are the same way.
So… when is training ADD okay? Well, the first way to answer that is to ask, “Are you a competitive athlete?” If you’re not competing in anything, you don’t have any stringent deadlines staring you in the face. If this is your situation, you can basically do whatever the hell you want.
The same idea applies if you’re a competitive athlete but it’s more of a just-for-fun thing. A lot of masters are in this boat because they know their primes are in the past. They still compete, but it’s more for recreation and fulfillment. At this stage, there’s nothing wrong with mixing things up, if that’s what you want to do.
If you’re not a competitor but you’ve still got some kind of hardcore personal goal (I desperately want to snatch 200 lbs and I would slap my grandmother in the face to do it), then you’ll need some tunnel vision. If you really want to jump up two or three levels in something, you have to practice it like a maniac, regardless of whether you compete or not.
Are there times when serious athletes need an extended phase of training ADD? Well, I think that depends on how long their careers last. Let me explain that.
I’ve been a competitive lifter for 26 years. When you go this long, I believe you need to have an occasional bout of training ADD just to keep your sanity. Going 100% balls to the wall in any particular area is draining. It wears down your mind. There have been a few stretches where I backed off from the psycho OL tunnel vision and played around with some different disciplines, and it was the best thing for me. Powerlifting, masters track and field, and Highland Games throwing were my ADD avenues. I never became a top national contender in any of them, but that wasn’t the point. I just needed to do something to get some fun back into my life, and it didn’t matter much if I won any big championships. That was actually part of the fun… not having any pressure or expectations hanging over my head. And guess what? I eventually came back to weightlifting with some new fire. It all worked out in the end.
Now, there are a few words of warning that go along with this.
First, if you decide to experiment with a new sport or training style, make sure you know how to do it properly so you don’t get seriously injured. Remember the example we mentioned about a lifter dabbling in mixed martial arts? Well… you probably don’t want to “dabble” by strutting into a high-octane MMA gym and asking for a sparring session with a veteran. Your training ADD could turn into training DEAD if that sumbitch decides to roll you over and dislocate your elbow because he’s irritated and wants to teach some newbie a lesson.
Second, you might be working with coaches who have made a big commitment to helping you reach a huge goal. If you stroll in the gym one day and tell these coaches you want to change courses and do something totally different, don’t expect a happy reaction. They’ll be pissed off, and they have a right to be.
But if the time and situation are right, you might want to give something new a whirl. It doesn’t need to be permanent. And you never know… your ADD adventures might lead you to a new obsession. I know people who started with dabbling in something and eventually stumbled into a successful new career.
It all depends on whether it’s the right time, and there’s a time for everything at some point.