When Great Preparation Produces Lousy Training
Once again, my telepathic powers are working in turbo overdrive, because I know what many of you spend a lot of time thinking about.
You put a lot of time and effort into making sure your body is primed and ready for training on a daily basis. I’m specifically talking about how we all try to take care of the various things that can make or break us when we come to the gym and attack the barbell throughout the week. Know what I mean? Things like:
- Getting a healthy amount of sleep
- Eating the right meals on a consistent schedule
- Staying hydrated
- Stretching, or “mobilizing” as you new-generation folks like to call it
- Using ice, massage, chiro adjustments, and other recovery measures
If you’ve got a reasonable amount of training experience, you’ve probably figured out that you need to look for every possible edge you can find to make your lifting better. This sport is way too challenging to just stroll into the gym like a jackass every day without any kind of preparation. You can get away with that when you’re new and you’re not lifting heavy weights yet. But once you start pushing the edges of your physical limits, taking care of the “little things” becomes a lot more important.
Known fact, right?
Okay, this is where the subject gets juicy. I’ve been training for 30 years and competing for 27 of them. And as far as I can tell, there are basically FOUR different kinds of workouts. I want you to take a look at this, and see how many of these you can relate to:
Great preparation… great training: These are the times when you’re really diligent about your pre-workout prep, and it pays off. You eat well, sleep well, stretch well, yadda yadda yadda…and you go to the gym and burn the joint down. Excellent results, just like you planned.
Great preparation… crappy training: These are the times when you’re really diligent about your pre-workout prep, and you still train like goat vomit. You did everything you could to put yourself in a successful position, and it didn’t matter. You went to the gym and sucked a butthole.
Crappy preparation… crappy training: This one isn’t complicated. You come to the gym with no sleep, two days of nothing but Wendy’s and Krispy Kreme, bad hydration, and stiff joints from sitting in a work conference or whatever. And your training is pathetic, just like you figured it would be.
Crappy preparation… great training: Aaahhh, now we’re talkin’. Once again, your preparation is disgusting and there’s absolutely no way to expect a successful day in the gym. But for some reason, you go on a rampage and hit one of the best workouts you’ve had in weeks.
Take a second and think about how many of these you’ve experienced. If you’ve been in this business for a while, you’ve probably got stories about all of them. In my experience, the two that are most consistently reliable are these:
Great preparation… great training
Crappy preparation… crappy training
Usually, this stuff is a 2 + 2 = 4 equation. If you prepare well, you train well. If you prepare poorly, you train poorly. This is how it works the majority of the time.
But then it freaks the hell out of you when you have one of the Great preparation… crappy training workouts. These are the ones where you drive home from the gym screaming the F-word at your steering wheel and creating a whole new smorgasbord of vulgar insults for the other drivers around you. It…just…doesn’t…make…sense. You did everything right, and it didn’t matter. Your training sucked, and it’s really hard to figure out why.
The only thing crazier than those workouts are the Crappy preparation… great training. These don’t make any sense either, but you don’t care because you kicked ass. You did everything wrong leading up to the workout, and you got away with it. You don’t have to analyze anything because you set a new PR and you’re too busy giggling like a little kid who’s peeing in the shower for the first time.
A few months ago, I had one of the best Saturday workouts I’ve had in years. The day before, I was coaching at a track meet for 12 hours, sitting on hard metal bleachers in the 110 degree Arizona heat, eating nothing the whole day but hot dogs and pizza from the concession stand, getting home at midnight and getting 5 ½ hours of sleep. It was a textbook performance-destroyer kind of day, and I was on fire in the gym. Nothing hurt, my technique was perfect, and the bar felt like a broomstick. I’ve actually had quite a few of these over the years.
Listen, we’re all trying to control a lot of different variables in our training lives. You’re trying to make four or five separate systems perfect (sleep, nutrition, mobility, etc.) at the same time, and they’re all supposed to blend together at an exact moment to produce maximum physical performance.
This is tricky stuff, homie. With a lot of practice and discipline, you can make it all work together like it’s supposed to… most of the time. But don’t kid yourself, there are going to be times when 2 + 2 doesn’t add up to 4, and you can drive yourself bonkers trying to figure out why.
And hell, we’re just talking about physical factors. We haven’t even talked about the psychological angle of this. What are you supposed to do when you successfully plan and control every physical preparation measure that’s available to you, but you show up to the gym and your brain won’t cooperate? Because I’ve got news for you, this happens to all of us. Even the great ones have to fight to control what’s between their ears. Trust me, I’ve trained with some of the best athletes this sport has to offer and I can promise you something…nobody is exempt from mental days. They’re like rattlesnakes in the weeds. Sometimes you don’t even see them coming.
All you can do is the best you can do. That’s the whole point in all of this. You have to understand that getting perfect mental and physical performance out of yourself is a challenging process. And I use the word “process” to remind all of us that’s exactly what this game is. It’s a long road with a lot of twists, turns, bumps, detours, roadblocks, and crazy hitchhikers who want to stab you. If you want something that’s completely consistent and predictable, weightlifting might not be for you.
Having crazy, unexplainable training days doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you a normal athlete. Just keep banging away and you’ll be fine.
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