By Michael Krueger
Contrary to what many people in my life believe, I do not always feel like training, working out, or even just exercising. Some days, my body isn’t thrilled with the prospect of doing the training that is scheduled, particularly when that schedule calls for a tough workout (which is always). Some days I’m just not in the mood.
Some days it’s physical; it may be due to a previous really hard workout or perhaps to some recent poor eating or sleeping. On the upside, I don’t remember the last day I gave into my body’s whining and complaining…
…but on those days. when it’s my head objecting, that can be a battle.
This Is Only a Test?
I have written down a couple of goals, and if I’m serious about them, I must train on a very specific, progressive schedule that requires me to work very hard on a regular basis. I have daily training goals, which may or may not be maximum physical efforts depending on where I am in a cycle, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. I also have some regular tests that are tough, they are “do or die” experiences, or sometimes they are both!
This morning, the test was the dreaded 2,000 meters on my Concept 2 rower. I do this test to estimate my VO2 max so I can quantify the effectiveness of my training. This is by far the hardest thing I do in my training; it is simply an all-out, everything-I’ve-got row. I do it every eight weeks and, as the date approaches, I can feel it lurking and waiting, gnawing at the back of my mind; yes, it’s that hard.
Today, it took me about an hour to convince myself to actually sit down and do the row. I found so many distractions to avoid it that even I was impressed. There were e-mails, minor chores, taking stuff out to the compost, chatting with the neighbor, taking a photograph … you get the idea–anything that I could find to get in the way I allowed to get in the way.
Finally, I got down to business. I warmed up, and 7 minutes 32.8 seconds later it was done. It was as awful as I had anticipated (perhaps a little worse) and I was exhausted, nauseous, and hurting all over yet totally pumped because it was a new personal record and that showed me all the hard training of the past eight weeks was paying off. Now, why can’t I remember that feeling leading up to the workout so I can approach it with excitement and enthusiasm? The fact is I can, but I can also remember the effort, difficulty, and pain of the actual event, and since I’m only human this creates a conflict.
Looking back, I know going into it that physically I felt good; I was ready. I had been doing some consistently tough interval training, and I was really interested (maybe even a little excited?) to see how much improvement I had earned. I did some light pulls, stretched, and foam rolled and all was in order. I drank some water and reviewed my log. I knew my goal time and I knew my intended splits so I sat down, strapped in my feet … and stared at the PM5 monitor until it blinked off and I had to reset it. Now, that’s not a physical issue; that’s my head messing with me, and my head is my toughest opponent.
I have a need to understand why I do what I do; it’s very important to me. I need to know what motivates me or, in this case, what was demotivating me. Even though I knew I was ready, I still hesitated … that’s frustrating to me and makes me feel stupid and weak. So, I looked back at comments I had written on previous occasions when I was faced with a difficult test.
I think it’s mostly fear that causes my problems. Perhaps, I’m afraid I’ll fall short of my stated goal. Now, why I’d be afraid of that is beyond me, because I usually fall short of my goal (today I missed my goal time by 2.8 seconds). Goals are made for that. They are out there in a scary land where you’ve never been before and when you reach one, you don’t get to stay and revel in the moment for long; you set a new one and begin again. So, since I understand how goals work, that can’t be it.
Perhaps I fear that I won’t put forth the effort needed to do my best. It’s a terrible thing to work hard, fall short of my goal, and know I didn’t work as hard as I could have. I have a mantra I run through my head when a row gets really hard: “I haven’t come this far to only come this far.” It helps to focus my mind on my goal and on the task at hand, and it helps to distract me from the physical discomfort, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Now, I can’t understand why I would I think it would ever be any “easier” and besides, why would I want that anyway? I know I’m stronger and my heart and lungs are more efficient than they were those eight weeks ago. I know this because I worked my butt off with that goal in mind. I do the test only to quantitatively prove to myself that the effort wasn’t wasted. If I only went hard enough to match my previous performance, then perhaps it would seem easier, but I know that the last time was by no means easy either, so I can’t imagine why I would do that. I absolutely hate just equaling a previous performance almost as much as not improving. As I mentioned, I missed my goal today, but I did better than ever before. That is vindication of my training methods and of my effort, so I’m pleased with that … not satisfied, but pleased. I have no qualms about falling short of my big goal so long as I meet my short-term goal of always improving.
To be truthful, I can’t recall the last time I didn’t put forth the effort that the workout called for. As I said, it’s not always a maximum physical effort, because not every workout of a cycle calls for that. But every workout calls for maximum mental effort and an emotional commitment that ensures I’m present and engaged and not just wasting my time.
It’s now a couple of days since I started writing this column. I did a tough interval workout today and I’m pleased (not satisfied) with the results. Intervals are incredibly hard but not as hard as the 2,000-meter row; it’s always nice to have something worse to put a hard workout into perspective.
Physically, I approached today’s training as my routine requires. I drank some water, warmed up, and foam rolled. Mentally, I settled my mind as best I could. I knew I was up for the challenge ahead. I acknowledged that the coming workout was going to be very tough, but that I’m tougher, and I put any and all negative thoughts out of my mind and got down to business.
I guess that’s what training is all about really: Have a goal, prepare a plan for achieving that goal, execute that plan …
…and don’t panic.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]