17 days in to the year and you may already be off track. Your good intentions have fallen apart due to work or other commitments. Keep going, here’s what I have found works:
1 biscuit at a time
Avoid the catastrophe. If you set an “all or nothing” type goal, then it is likely you will fail. Remember that 5 minutes of something is better than nothing. Eating 1 biscuit does not mean “bugger it, I will finish the pack off.” Often getting the warm up done is enough to break the lethargy. Aim to get that done every day, then see how the rest follows.
Get help- supportive spouse, work colleague, training partner. Share your goals publicly with them and then help each other (My neighbour and I are garage training every Thursday night).
Be realistic. Deciding to run the London Marathon in April, with no training is silly. Aim for 3-5km runs, regularly. Training is a habit, get that right first and everything else will follow.
Starting a running programme on cold dark January evenings is hard going- I save mine until March when it is lighter and drier. Why not walk or do circuits instead?
Today we will look at some useful tools that can help change your goals into habits.
Specific is best
The more specific you can get, the more accountable you will become as it is easy to measure whether you have done what you said you would.
“Eating right” is vague. “Eating breakfast every day” is better. “Eating a breakfast that consists of organically reared chicken eggs, spinach soup and flaxseeds that have been harvested by a Zen monk on the slopes of Everest” might be a bit too much to start.
“Getting 8 hours sleep” might seem specific, but it is dependent on other factors.”Getting into bed by 1030 every night, switching off all screen devices at 1000” is better.
The next thing to do is to get yourself organised. If your goal is to “eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day” then you had best make sure you go shopping so that you have them in the house. That goal is easier to achieve with an apple on your desk than without.
That is why online shopping is useful: you can just leave your favourites entered so you never forget.
If your goal is to “run 2 miles every morning” then you had best have an alarm clock, wet weather clothes and a pair of running shoes.
A smartphone app such as runkeeper is also useful to help plan your training runs (special report here)
It takes about 21 days of continuous effort for a task to become a habit. If you break this down into 3 x 1 week sections, then it suddenly becomes very achievable.
In order to get this done use our Checklist pdf (here) to write down your set of tasks that you want to get done this week. Set yourself a reward for the end of the week once you have managed to do them for 7 days in a row.
Do that for 3 weeks and you suddenly have a new habit formed.
My last 3 weeks were set for “5 Healthy behaviours” which included: daily flossing, static stretch in evening for 15 minutes pre bed time; walk 30 mins a day; 5 portions of fruit and veg a day; pre breakfast exercise routine of 8 mins.
I fell off the waggon twice, but got back on it and now all those little things have become habits.
The next set was: no alcohol (quite easy); eat Vit D / fish oil capsule each day (easy); avoid foods with processed sugar (very hard).
For BHAGs, which take longer to organise and achieve, you might try Day Zerowhich has a 1001 day (about 2.75 years) count down tool. Here you can plan bigger projects or challenges and break them down into manageable chunks.
Where would you like to be in 1001 days time?
Don’t try and do this on your own. Let other people know what you are doing, get the household engaged (don’t bore your team mates with the “I am eating lichen after my foam roller conditioning session” though), and write it down.
This means having the family support your efforts (note to wife coming home with chocolate digestives!) and hold you accountable accordingly.
I use Habitforge which is a free online tool for reminding you about your tasks for 21 days at a time. It also allows you to share and be accountable with people who have similar goals.
Fatsecrets (hate the name, but good tool) is good for any food/ diet related goals. You can monitor food and exercise and it also reminds you of weigh in dates or other goals. You can share this with friends too who can help you keep on track.
I know that “success is its own reward” but think of the rewards as milestones. Every week or 3 weeks have a reward scheduled; but not a destructive one.
For example, if you are “doing my knee exercises daily” then the reward could be going to the cinema.
If your goal is “cut out chocolate” then the reward shouldn’t be “a chocolate orange” (I find it weird that people who can manage 6 weeks of behaviour change in Lent ruin it all in a chocolate binge over Easter).
By making small incremental changes over time, you can achieve your big goal.
Conversely, your big training goal is unlikely to be achieved if your lifestyle is detrimental to the overall plan.
Habits and behaviours take time to form. Recognise this and think of how many “3 weeks of modifcations” you can fit into a year.
Change things one at a time, or along a theme (i.e healthy behaviours, sleep, breakfast, warm ups).
Recognise that you will not succeed all the time, but it isn’t a catastrophe, get back on to it, or find the reason why you keep failing at it (lack of sleep might be due to your facebook addiction).
As a coach, help your athletes along the way and be patient.
“Living without an aim is like sailing without a compass.”
In part 1 I set the scene of how athletes need help in adopting behaviours that will improve their sporting performance. Today I will look at how to set goals that will get them started.
“The difference between a wish and a goal is the act of writing it down.”
That is paraphrasing something I heard years ago. In order to make changes, a plan has to be put in place. The initial goal setting is where most people fall down in my experience.
This has come from years of working in a Health Club environment of the “I want to lose a bit of weight“ clientele (really meaning “I want to look good naked), and the “I want to be bigger” from young rugby players (really meaning “I want to look good naked”).
If you are not clear in what you are trying to achieve and honest with yourself, it will not work. You will set yourself up for failure, and then this becomes a habit.
Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)
Taken from Jim Collins and Jerry Porras excellent “Built to Last” book (1). These are basically very emotionally compelling and challenging goals. An example might be “play Hockey for England” or “Run a 4 minute mile”.
When looking at how successful goal setting is and how it changes behaviour, people with high levels of self efficacy respond well to challenging goals, they are better at setting the tasks that are needed to achieve the goal (2).
People with low levels of self efficacy do not respond as well to BHAGs, because they are less able to set the appropriate tasks.
However, modifying the goal slightly to “try your best” rather than focussing on the outcome can help.
Last year I ran a workshop that aimed to help young athletes plan their next 4 weeks. When asked if they new what SMART goals were, most of them nodded their heads and said they had done it in P.E. or with another coach.
When we tried to put it in practice, I quickly saw how they may have been able to recite the “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Orientated”but they struggled to put this down on paper.
This shows the problems of using acronyms in coaching, they can obscure information and limit understanding (see also S&C, SAQ, BHAGs etc).
The major difficulty the athletes found was seperating their wish (BHAG?) such as playing for England from a plan for the next month. In order to achieve their wish, they need to be able to identify a series of actions or smaller goals that can be achived in the measurable time frame of a month.
A junior javelin thrower wants to be able to throw 55m next year. He is currently throwing 47m. There are 6 months before the start of the competitive season. This is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Orientated.
However, how he goes about achieving that goal is now the key part.
He thinks he needs to be stronger and to work on his range of movement of his thoracic spine. He needs to plan each month (periodisation geeks give me a break: this is the real world) and have some goals to work on that help him achieve this.
The overall sub goals might include: strength work, eat right (to facilitate the strength gains) and mobilise thoracic spine. Rather than test/ measure his strength, I aim to get him in the habit of strength training and programme work that includes T-spine mobility.
If he sticks to the process, then the outcome will take care of itself. As a junior and new to strength training, I would be stupid to try and set a goal for him based on flimsy evidence now (note to S&C coaches:his aim is to throw the javelin further, not to get score x in the gym).
Goal setting theory is sound and has shown to be very effective. Where it falls down is in the setting of the wrong type of goal for the situation and if the goal is imposed rather than self directed or agreed.
Once the goal is established, it is the work that has to be done to achieve that goal that is crucial. Here planning and understanding of the real world are essential.
Do not try and do everything at once, break the plan down into incremental tasks that become habits.
In part 3 we will look at some useful tools to help sustain the habits/ tasks that are necessary to achieve your goals.
Goal setting can be a very effective exercise , or it can be a time wasting procedure. Here are 4 secrets that will help you achieve your goals.
Lots of the athletes I work with have done a goal setting for sport exercise with their various coaches in the summer. This can quickly become consigned to the dustbin of history once the first three matches of the season have been played.
“Plans are the beginning of action. But competitive advantage is gained only by effective execution.” Sun Tzu
Secret 1: Hold yourself accountable and put a review time for each goal you set into your diary.
Other recreational athletes stumble from one week to another hoping for things to change, but never taking time to plan how. Getting sucked into the “back to school” vortex usually impedes any progress on anything apart from survival.
“Quality does not just happen. People who believe so, are people who trust in miracles to make their way through life. Quality excellence is an outcome of preparation and relentless practice. It is surely a given then, that there is time set aside routinely for this.” Frank Dick
Secret 2: Set time aside for 5 minutes each week to plan on how you are going to reach your goal.
Rather than wait until the New Year, I try and get our athletes to think about how to get better now. One unfortunate truth I share with athletes is that to get better at anything takes hard work.
“Mastery often involves working and working and showing little improvement, perhaps with a few moments of flow pulling you along, then making a little progress, and then working and working on that new, slightly higher plateau again.”Daniel Pink: Drive
This can be daunting at first, but setting small achievable goals and working on them until they are finished is the way forward. There is something immensely satisfying about finishing a task, no matter how small.
“When a task is once begun,
Never leave it until it’s done.
If the labour’s great or small,
Do it well, or not at all.”
Archie Moore (light heavyweight champion of the world).
Secret 3: Small achievable goals are the foundation of bigger ones; start and finish small goals each week.
Unfortunately this thing called life has a habit of throwing unexpected obstacles in our path. Very few people live in an ivory tower of just being able to do their sport with no outside responsibilities. The rest of us have to juggle work, studying, travel, family, and financial responsibilities.
“Something’s bound to happen to you in a tough fight, cut eye, broken nose, or broken hand or something like that. So you could make excuses out of anything, you know, but you got to keep on going if you’re a champ or a contender. This is what makes champs, I think the guys that keep fighting when they have things going against them.”
Jake LaMotta (Middleweight champion of the world)
Secret 4: Persevere, persevere, persevere. If you really want to get better, then you will have to learn how to keep going.
Those were the famous words issued by a friend of mine through a mouthful of cake, two weeks before he was admitted to hospital with a gall stone attack. His actions led to other people having to look after him: his wife, nurses and doctors. His children were affected as they were worried and concerned about his health. He had the liberty to do what he wanted, but lacked self-discipline.
This impacted our society.
Discipline may conjure up images of either jack-booted police states forcing people to work in gulags (or scanning tourists’ eyes who are adding money to failing economies!), or being forced to stand in a corner when being disruptive in class.
This is externally enforced discipline and the first example is dictatorship, not discipline.
DISCIPLINE > Liberty
“Discipline is a restraint on liberty, so most of us have a very natural inclination to avoid it.”
(Field- Marshal Slim (1)).
Slim was talking in a post war Britain that had been economically devastated by six years of fighting totalitarian regimes.
He then goes on to say “All history teaches that when, through idleness, weakness or faction, the sense of order fades in a nation its economic life fades into decay.” Sound familiar? Look at the UK riots in the summer of 2011 and think about our society.
Discipline can also come from within
Self-discipline is for your own benefit and also for others:
Getting up to go to work when the alarm clock goes off (self, employer, family).
Eating a healthy breakfast (self, team, nation).
Running that extra set of laps to get fit (self, team).
Avoiding a fiery response to a late tackle so you avoid giving away a penalty (team).
Washing your hands frequently so you stay healthy (self, family, team, nation).
Parking your car in between lines, not across two spaces (society you selfish driver).
Paying your taxes (self, family, nation).
This internal self-discipline is essential as it is that which you will draw upon in times of stress and need.
Unfortunately, discipline is often seen as a dirty word. The discipline of finishing a task you have set out to do. One local high school allows its female pupils to quit p.e. if they want to. Ill discipline is rife there (I had objects thrown at my car, swearing amongst pupils was left unchecked, pupils walk out of class and school at will!)
How can we build a Nation on this? The teachers are letting the pupils down.
Politicians and coaches need discipline
In order for our team and nation to work, those people we elect need to have discipline too. We are trusting them to act and behave responsibly.
If they espouse “just do as I say” and then act irresponsibly we lose trust, respect and then our desire to act in a disciplined fashion. Examples might be:
Spending our tax money wisely.
Stop fiddling expenses.
Setting an example with our own healthy and ethical behaviours.
Treating all players with respect and courtesy.
Have a clear vision of what is trying to be achieved, and inform, explain and engage others in that vision.
“Serve to Lead”
This is the motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst . When I was there, it was drummed into us that it was our responsibility as future leaders to look after the welfare of our troops. If we failed in that, then we would be negligent in our duty.
This includes explaining and informing others of what we are trying to achieve, opportunities that exist , constraints that might stop us, and how we are trying to overcome them. It is then down to the troops, citizens, or team mates to fully commit and exhort every gram of effort into this common goal.
This comes down to discipline versus liberty. You can eat that extra cake, you can stop that run short of the line, you can park in that disabled bay, you can turn up late to your practice and you can give that defence contract to your old college roommate… but be aware it has an impact beyond yourself.
We are privileged to live in a free society.
The alternative is to be told what job we have to do, how many children we are allowed to have (and what sex), and what friends we are allowed to associate with.
“You can have discipline without liberty, but you can’t have liberty without discipline.” (Slim).
1 Courage and other broadcasts. Field- Marshal Sir William Slim.Cassel &Company LTD: London (1957).
Get the vibe right and intrinsic motivation will follow
I was training 3 athletes in the gym a couple of weeks ago, they were doing one of my usual warm ups, no music, no shouting, no distractions.
The three were focussed and busy. Another coach walked in, and said
“I wish I was training now, rather than earlier, there is a good Vibe.”
The three athletes were all teenage boys, and were good examples of how young people can train.
What is a Vibe? Is it something we can create, or something we can enhance.? If you are training where there is a good Vibe, then you will probably find that time passes quickly, and you get better results and satisfaction from your training activity.
Running in the country
When on holiday recently I was going for a morning run on a footpath from the campsite, through some woods along a coastal path. The path was uneven, with tree roots, steps and other obstacles.
I had to pay attention to every step that I was taking. The air was clear and fresh, the sun was sparkling on the sea, and I didn’t know what was around the corner. I was fully engaged in the run and was not thinking of anything else.
Compare that to walking into a commercial gym, stepping onto a treadmill and plugging in headphones and watching breakfast television, whilst trying not to listen to dance music or adverts in the gym itself.
The gym is telling you that the run is something to be endured, and that watching tv is a more beneficial activity.
Which run is more likely to create a “Vibe”?
Here are some tips on creating a Vibe in your training sessions:
Having a purpose helps motivation
It is next to impossible to get a good training session under way if you have no plan. For me, it always starts with the warm up, if this is done correctly then the session will follow well. Avoid giving yourself or the athletes an opportunity to ease into it. Have a purpose for the session and then make sure the warm up is related to it.
As a coach, if your programme involves sitting on a foam roller, then moving to a stationary bike, followed by some generic resistance machines and you let them wear headphones, expect your athletes to be bored, demotivated and unengaged.
Have an environment with no distractions
Easier said than done, but if there is a group of you, it is better to train in an empty facility with limited equipment, than a super duper facility surrounded by numpties.
Better to run outside, away from traffic, than on a busy road. Again, we are victims of circumstance and environment, but try and do what you can. That might mean going to the gym at quieter times, or earlier in the morning. Music can be part of it, but should be background, rather than overwhelming.
Get good training partners
Having training partners helps when it gets hard
You can train alone, or with other people. If you do train with others, then make sure they are there to work and improve too.
I train groups of athletes from different sports, but they work well together because they are all dedicated to improving.
Competitive banter is part of it, but avoid mickey taking. They can afford to make mistakes in the gym, because that helps them learn. The competition is partly with each other, but mostly for themselves.
Finish on a good note- well done, good job, and then some points to take forward for the next session. You can pat yourself on the back, and then think how that has helped you become a better athlete.
I had never thought about creating a “Vibe” until someone else pointed it out to me, but it is something I try and focus on now. I hope you can get the Vibe soon too.
“If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.”
Training hard is one part of fitness training, but any idiot can get tired (or indeed make you tired)!
I want to give you ideas that will help you get fit for your purpose.
That may be to run faster, get stronger or jump higher in your sports arena.
It may be to get you fitter so that you can deliver the goods at the end of a match, or for life in general.
Here are the key points that I have developed over the years that work with people just like you.
Knowing where you are going is essential before you start out on your journey (I have covered this previously in The power of goal setting). You need to know what you are trying to achieve this month, this week and today in your training.
#Key tip 1: write down what you want to achieve for the month, for the week, for your next training session.
An example might be “I want to be able to run 5km in less than 20 minutes by the end of January. This week I will do a time trial and 3 other runs. Tomorrow I will run 1km fast, walk for 2 minutes and repeat for a total of 5 times“.
Your resistance training programme must be more specific than “best workout plans” gained from a magazine. Now you know what the aim of your session is going to look like, you can plan your warm up accordingly. Start with the end in mind.
If your session is running, or lifting weights explosively, then by the end of the warm up you should be performing activities that resemble that.
But, at the start, you will probably be feeling tired, stiff or lethargic after a day of school, work or from previous sessions. The picture of me is doing a pre track warm up, using hurdles to help warm up my hips.
#Key tip 2: You need to increase the range of motion, speed, and complexity of movements gradually in your warm up.
This is the meat of your training session. What changes are you trying to make in your body? If it is to get stronger, then what movements are you trying to get stronger: a push, pull or a squat? Are you trying to develop speed? Then you need to be putting fast work in here.
If your goal is to increase speed, then what aspect of speed: acceleration, deceleration, maximum speed, repeat speed, reaction speed?
Here is where your exercise choice, equipment choice, rest periods and amount of work done need to reflect the aim of the session. It is a common mistake to see a new exercise or new piece of kit and then jump straight into using that, without knowing why.
#Key tip 3: Make sure your choice of exercises reflects the aim of the session, rather than dictates the session.
For example, you read about Mo Farah’s 120 mile a week training and you see that he does a circuit in the gym. You copy that circuit without knowing why he is doing it, or even if it helps him. Worse still, you are a 15 year old runner with very little training background, you are in danger of getting hurt!
Here are two example session plans for rugby players (other sports can follow the same principles), one in the field and one in the gym:
I have left the sets/reps and loads blank because that is down to each individual. But the adaptation theme is for lower body strength in the gym, and for acceleration up to 20 metres on the field.
I usually recommend using only 2 major lifts, plus minor lifts around that in the gym. The exercises in brackets will be lighter loads and are complementary to the major lifts. This allows you to practice those movements in what otherwise would be down time. (Picture is of hurdler Becky Brown doing the power snatch).
#Key tip 4: Makes sure you work hard on the adaptation part of the session, allowing adequate rest between the major exercises (unless work capacity is your goal and rest will be reduced).
This is the dessert of the session, or indeed the week. It is very,very easy (and common) to get caught in a numbers trap in the gym or field.
But, unless you can apply your new found strength, speed or endurance on the field/court/mat or track what is the point?
An example would be squash players only running on treadmills to improve their VO2 max (aerobic endurance) score to satisfy the physiologists who are unable to measure endurance where it counts: on the squash court!
Your body has undergone some fatigue in the adaptation part of the session. It will remember this fatigue: you will be slower, weaker or more tired after this (every time you put a barbell on your back you move slower).
Now you have to teach your body how to apply better movement that resembles or even better, replicates movements in your sport.
This may mean getting out of the gym to run, jump or throw things! (picture is of Modern Pentathlete Greg Longden doing some hurdle jumps after squats).
#Key tip 5: Get your body moving faster, further or in a complex pattern at the end of your training session.
This video shows an example of a good application exercise: the fire hydrant start.
Finally we come to regeneration. This includes physical, mental and emotional recovery, repair and renewal. The cool down in the session should gradually restore your body to its resting state, rather than stop abruptly.
If your training session has included a lot of one type of movement, then you might need to do some of the opposite movement in the cool down to restore balance. This video shows an example of what to do ensure your shoulders and back stay healthy.
You need to think about what food and water you consume immediately post training, and later that day or evening (you will have prepared this previously of course!)
You need to think about showering or bathing (I work with school age rugby players, so please forgive me as assuming this is a given is a mistake) as this can help speed the recovery process.
But, what is often forgotten is the fact that you need time away from your sport (and especially team mates) so that you return to training refreshed and invigorated. Of course, for some of you, your sport is your time away from work/ family and is your chance of regeneration.
# Key tip 6: The most important recovery tool is sleep, and all your post training activities should be designed to help increase the quality and quantity of your sleep.
I hope this has given you some insights into how to take charge of your fitness training. These methods work with the athletes I coach, whatever their sport.
(This does apply to females too, read more from one female coach here)
The detail of each session is changed according to the sport, but more importantly to the individual person.
If you would like to benefit from this type of training, then you might want to use the programmes contained in my 3 books:Run Faster, Get Stronger or Jump Higher (all are readable on tablet, or pc and contain detailed training programmes with video clips).
Or, if you want individual advice please contact me here
“If you ask me how I want to be remembered, it is as a winner.
You know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something.
It doesn’t mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they’ve given it their best. That’s a winner.”
Walter Payton NFL Running Back
In the current climate of “because I’m worth it” generation of young athletes who expect a lot, but maybe don’t realise the work involved here are11 questions every athlete should ask themselves.
Do you have a goal or a wish? Lots of athletes have idle day dreams, but taking the time to write down your goals and set up a plan is crucial.
Do you have self -discipline? That is the discipline to make every training session, to do the little things well, consistently. The discipline to follow a plan even if you are tired or busy.
Do you get quality sleep? Sleep is the foundation from which you can recover. It is also an indicator that there is balance in your life: too much stress, poor diet, or poor lifestyle can all impact on sleep quality.
Do you fuel yourself properly? After sleep, this is an easy way of distinguishing between those who are serious about performance and the also-rans. The 3 step approach to fuelling properly will ensure consistency.
Do you have the 4 cornerstones of training in place? It is easy to do what we are comfortable with, or what seems most urgent. However, you need to have all 4 cornerstones in place to be most effective.
Are you mindful: of others, of your body, of your strengths and weaknesses? Mindfulness allows you to focus on one area at a time. It will help boost your immune system and reduce blood pressure. Being mindful in training means you are less likely to get injured and more likely to improve.
Do you train to gain an edge? It is often easy to get the big things in place, but the little things accumulate over time and soon add up. If you are doing them daily, then you will be gaining an edge over your opponents who are resting.
Do your sessions have purpose? Or are they organised despair? There is a big difference between doing “stuff” that gets you tired and training with a purpose so that you get better.
Are you getting stronger? Strength in some form underpins all athletic movement: posture, stability, power, balance and pure strength all require a strength training plan of some form.
Do you challenge your technique? “Skill is technique under pressure” so do you seek to improve and develop your technique in different circumstances and environments? It is easy to be good when training at your own club: very different in the maelstrom of away fixtures under pressure.
Have you given it your all? This may be hard to quantify, and you can only give the best that you are capable of at that time. If you look in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I had a little bit left” then how will you be able to cope when that choice is taken away from you? Sometimes you have to empty your tank and train beyond your reserves.
Walter Payton is an NFL legend, who knows if you are going to be as good as him? But , as an aspiring athlete, if you answer Yes to all of these questions, then you are well on the way to making the most of your ability.
(Pictured are Dan James, Jenny McGeever and Tom Baylis: 3 of our current athletes who answer these questions).