Monday, August 27, 2012

Top Ten Things Online Strength Coaches & Trainers Should Stop Doing Right Now

The internet has transformed the fitness industry. When I first started in this industry in 1997 there were very few sources of information. There were certification courses provided by a handful of companies, then we had magazines like Muscular Development, unless a coach appeared in one of these magazines they were off the radar; and if you were really serious there was the Human Kinetics catalogue, where you could buy a book and hope it was worth the outlay of cash.

Now there is information overload. There are websites, blogs, ebooks, pubmed. This has democratised the flow of information. Anyone remember the days when journals were only available in university libraries and you had to spend hours flicking through abstracts or down in the nether world of the 'stack' looking for a paper? (yes, I'm that old, in case you don't know what the stack is, its like the garbage crusher in Star Wars episode 4, and if you don't know what that reference is I can't help you).

Even though information doesn't now have to be filtered through official magazines, a couple of things have occurred. Firstly, most information regarding fitness is still really in the hands of a few coaches and websites (maybe less than 10). Secondly, there is an explosion of people providing information on the interwebz (yes, I'm writing this on a blog, the irony is not lost on me). This has resulted in many people regurgitating the same stuff, or resulting in certain trends, the same phrases which once seemed fresh are now old hat because they have been copied so much. It has also given rise to the internet coach, a person who has made a name for themselves purely based on their internet presence - which in many cases is not a bad thing. But in many cases, they have jumped the shark.

So without further ado, here is my rant.

1. 'bang for your buck exercises'. 

This phrase is trite and worn out. When the first person used it, it was a good way of explaining the exercise. But now a week doesn't pass without someone using this in an article or blog post. Yes, we get it, this exercise achieves multiple things, just find another way of saying it. Also when an American writes this it kind of fits with their language, British people saying it sound like try hards stranded somewhere in the mid atlantic. Note to some of the big online magazine/websites, if you get an article with this phrase in, edit it out. Lastly, they can't all be 'bang for your buck' exercises.

2. 'heck' and 'hell'.

Another phrase that is over used. For example, 'I've got nothing against isolation work, heck, I even do the occasional bicep curl' and 'hell, I've even been known to do some steady stated cardio'.

Its attempt to seem friendly, and folksy with the reader. Heck, I'm just like you. Again, if you're American this phrase might be something you use in every day life, if you're from anywhere else in the world, probably not. There isn't anything wrong with the phrase per se, it's just become tired from over use. Hell, we all have words we use too much, maybe I use the word maybe too much, I don't know but maybe. There's nothing wrong with trying to develop your own writing style, just don't copy everyone else. Great coaches aren't necessarily great writers.

3. Producing crap ebooks.

(Firstly, thanks to William Wayland at for suggesting this via a twitter conversation a while back)

I've bought quite a few ebooks and products over the years. Some have been excellent, some a rip off.
An example, of a good product is Evan Osars book Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction, basically an entire text book for $9.99, bargain.

Others have not been such good value, you pay $29.99 and when you get the book it's a 10 page double spaced pdf with no pictures or video links, re-hashing the same old information and 5 pages are blank exercise templates for you to fill in. You've been ripped off.

One time, I felt so ripped off by the ebook that I had purchased from a well known online strength coach I emailed to complain, and gave him several examples of other ebooks that I had bought for the same price or less which were superior and excellent value. At first, I got an email back from one of his back-room staff, saying I should be grateful that I had this secret information from such a world class coach and it was worth much more than I paid. I then emailed back, pointing out all the spelling mistakes, they hadn't even proof read it, and that even the exercise pairings A1, A2 etc had been printed wrong. To be fair, at this point, they apologised and sent me several other products for free. Note, this is the only time I've complained, and I've probably bought over $1000 of  fitness products over the years on the internet.

Take home message (another overused phrase) - if you produce a product, make sure its worth what you are selling it for, it should be professional and not be a re-hash.

Real books too

This doesn't only apply to ebooks, there is one company famous for producing some very slim books with a ton of ad copy in the back pages for an exorbitant price. This made sense 10 years ago, when it was a small company, and no one was buying books on kettlebells (back when I first bought a book about it, there were no kettlebell videos to watch on youtube). But now, nearly all online coaches go on about this company's certification program and everyones got a kettlebell. So the book that cost me £30 plus back in the day, should really retail for £5 now.

BONUS: Sick of 10 pages of ad copy when you try to buy a product, me too. Just tell me about the product and let me buy it, I dont' need sentences highlighted yellow. Pages, repeating the same information over and over again. Apparently, this marketing approach works. Not anymore, telling me a product is worth over $450 and then selling it to me at $77 doesn't work, I know its never going to retail at $450 because its not worth it. And there is a good chance its not worth $77 either. Several times, I was going to buy a product but gave up because of the ad copy, and then when you press the buy button, suddenly you get offered some extra special bonuses. I don't want them! Stop selling fitness products like a Viagra internet scam.

4. Making me pay for stuff then giving it away for free.

So I've invested $75 in your DVD, and then as the months pass I see content from the video being posted for free. I'm not talking about people doing their own youtube videos of your exercises or illegal bit torrent. I'm talking about the actual coach or trainer who owns the video.

I always like to pay for the products I buy. Most strength coaches and trainers put effort and time into their products, and deserve to get paid for their intellectual property, they're not multi-billion companies.

But then don't give away the product for free that I have already paid for. Now this could be because the coach wants to sell more of the product, so puts out more clips and extracts to entice customers, until there is nothing left to know. Others might not have any new ideas, if they put their best idea or program in a paid for product what else have they got to drive traffic to their website or blog? Then others might suddenly get an opportunity to write for a big online magazine or print magazine, bingo, time to bring out their best program which you just paid for.

5. Taking videos of everything.

Now, there is nothing wrong with producing instructional videos on how to do a new exercise. I watch these all the time. 'Heck', I've even produced a few in my time as well. But some trainers seemed to be engaged in their own personal Truman Show. You don't need to film every workout, every lift, every client. And I don't need you to take a photo of every burger or steak you cook, I know how to use a grill thanks.

6. 'I am experimenting with...'

The finish to this sentence changes depending whats in fashion, at the moment it goes 'I am experimenting with intermittent fasting'. No you're not, your just trying it out. N=1.

This is a phrase that coaches and trainer use to sound more scientific than they are. Intermittent fasting is the classic example, for years, it was all about eating 4 to 6 small meals a day and if you missed breakfast you'd probably fall into a diabetic coma. But then intermittent fasting became the diet de jour. If you've built a reputation on doing the opposite, then what to do? Easy, you don't say you were wrong, and you sure as 'hell' can't just rip off  the people who have been doing it for years like Brad Pilon and Martin Berkhan. So what you do is start experimenting with yourself and your clients and you start getting great results from this new approach. And before you know it, they've written their own ebook on the subject. There is only so many ways you can say 'don't eat', but somehow they've managed it.

Now. I've tried intermittent fasting, I've tried 36 hours while only eating casein hydrolysate, and 2 days only eating vegetables. Note, I was just trying something out, I didn't realise I was experimenting, and at the end of it I didn't suddenly feel like I was an expert and could write an ebook on the subject. Personally, I felt terrible, but that's not the point.

Of course, some coaches have a measured approach and deal with the subject in the right way, see the way Neghar Fonooni and Nia Shanks write about intermittent fasting. Or if you live in the UK, watch the Horizon program about intermittent fasting, its going to tell you more than most ebooks.

Note, this is about intermittent fasting, its about coaches who 'experiment' with Olympic lifting, kettlebells, diaphragmatic breathing etc and then suddenly become an expert after a week.

7. Thinking who they train is normal or the same as everyone else.

A few years ago, a famous strength coach intimated that if you couldn't get a female client to do 12 pull ups with a few weeks of training you had failed as a coach. Of course, this was laughable, but it raised an important issue, the online coach might have a client base that is completely different from yours.

If they have always trained elite athletes or college athletes their idea of normal may not apply to you or your clients.

If you've only got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

A few years ago, training like a powerlifter was the way to go, then it couldn't just be powerlifter training, it had to be westside with bands and chains, and conditioning all had to be sprints and prowler pushes, then it got replaced with Olympic lifting. Many Olympic lifting coaches could not comprehend that certain people weren't suited to the lifts.

And if you happened to use a resistance machine, god help you, you would be a pariah for failing to keep true to the path. But what if you're client was a type 2 diabetic, morbidly obese, never been in a gym in their life, just had a stroke, had chronic back pain, was 2 months out from a hip replacement, or was just plain afraid of going into the freeweight area by themselves. Suddenly, the college athlete model doesn't work.

Yes, eventually some people might end up incorporating some of the techniques of powerlifting and so on, but don't be afraid to say that you know your own needs and your clients better than someone else.

Don't be dogmatic.

8. Driving traffic to your website with pictures of hot women.

without the internet I would never have found this picture of Pauline Nordin. The internet surely is a wonderful thing!
Of course, I'm hoping this strategy actually works, and it means I can justify the above picture.

9. Making top 10 lists.

Stop making top 10 lists, as well as top 5, 20 and 50. Its a lazy format. But then again I read they are some of the most popular posts on the internet. If you can't beat em...

Addendum : honourable mentions:

  • sending me constant emails advertising your friends products. Some coaches send links to newsletters, blog posts & content, others just want to flog you stuff constantly. Stop trying to smash a nut with a sledgehammer. 
  • Coaches who go up river like Colonel Kurtz. One minute you're telling me some relatively useful things, next minute you're telling me you can workout my hormone profile by doing a fat caliper test on my chin. Or literally telling me if I take the 'blue pill' the nutrients in my body will re-partition themselves. Snake Oil is the new placebo.
  • And you are not in the trenches, you are in an air-conditioned gym.

So there it is. Without the internet I wouldn't be doing half the stuff I do now with coaching and training people, and the amount of free information available is astounding. This is a bit of a tongue in cheek rant, but like anything its always good to try and raise our game.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Train Like An Olympian. Think Like An Olympian.

Over the last week we've witnessed some amazing performances in the Olympics. I was lucky enough to be in the Olympic stadium on day one of the athletics, where I saw Jess Ennis break the British record in the 100m hurdles on her way to heptathlon gold. Elsewhere, Britain continues to dominate in the velodrome, seemingly breaking world records every time we hit the wooden track. In the rowing more gold medals, and athletes pushing themselves so hard they had to be lifted out of the boat at the end by Steve Redgrave. (Yes, I'm British, so I am somewhat bias in all the events I have mentioned, to redress the balance in the weightlifting seeing a guy lift triple his bodyweight overhead and another guy squat jerk 204kg at a bodyweight of 77kg is enough to fire anyone up).

Did I mention I was in the Olympic stadium on day 1 of the athletics when Jess Ennis broke the British 100m hurdle record

But can mere mortals take anything from the way these athletes train and think, and apply it to their own training? I think they can. You may not have the luxury of being a full time athlete, and your goal might be to lose half a stone or run 10k in less than 60 minutes, but you can take certain principles and start using them straight away.

The basics

The first thing to note is that most athletes training consist of basic exercises and drills that anyone can do. Yes, there are a few secrets that they are not going to tell anyone, and in the case of British Cycling they really did have the Secret Squirrel Club working on these type of developments. However, the basics remain fundamental. The Chinese, Turkish, South American and North Korean weighlifters do essentially the same exercises as everyone else. They have to practice the clean and jerk and the snatch, and do some accessory lifts, but to get good at lifting weights you have to lift weights. It's the same with running, to be good at running you have to run, you have to put the time in. Whether you're Kenyan or Mo Farah or looking to run 10k, there are really three basic things you have to do

  1. Sometimes run long
  2. Run some hills
  3. Sometimes run fast, using intervals
This applies to fat loss, too often people search for the magic holy grail, obsessing about the details when they haven't even covered the basics (that green tea supplement ain't doing nothing if you're troffing a big mac and fries everyday). This article here by Nia Shanks covers the basics of fat loss and also contains this great quote from Dan John

"I think many of us think this way: If it’s free or simple or easy to understand, it can’t be as good as something that’s expensive, complicated and difficult to figure out on your own"
Consistency again, No one wants to hear about the hard work

After winning the 10,000m Mo Farah said this in his post race interview

"120 miles, week in, week out, long distance is a lonely event, what you put in is what you get out"
You can see the full interview here.

Mo Farah and his training partner, Galen Rupp, beat the East Africans, but they had to put the work in, they were still running 120 miles a week. It doesn't matter if you have the best coach in the world you still have to put the work in, no one is going to do it for you.

Geraint Thomas (member of Britain's winning Team Pursuit Squad in London 2012, that also happened to break the world record) said a very similar thing. The hours in the velodrome, sometimes from 7am to 10pm at night, the endless repetitions and hard work and grind.

So the question is how much do you want to achieve your goal, what are you willing to sacrifice? You could have a full time job and other family responsibilities, but if you want to lose that weight, if you want to run that distance, what are you going to do differently. How much time can you give to it? And on those dark winter days when no one cares about your goals, what's going to drag you out of bed to go for that walk or prepare those meals for the day? How about never missing a workout for a year or two years.

Decide how much time and effort you are willing to give to your goal, and then stick to it. And have a contingency plan, you know what barriers you have, you know when you might waiver and fail, you know when your busy times at work are. At some point you might get ill, then what? Have a plan.

At some point something or someone will attempt to derail you, be ready for it.

"The Aggregation of  Marginal Gains"

The above quote is by Dave Brailsford, Performance director of British Cycling. To quote from the team sky website

"We've got this saying, 'performance by the aggregation of marginal gains,'" Brailsford continued. "It means taking the 1% from everything you do; finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do."
In elite sport, 1% can be the difference between winning gold and being at the back of the field.

The problem with many amateurs is they start looking for the 1% gain when they haven't covered the 99% first. For example, the bicep curl is a 1% exercise. There is no point in doing it if you haven't got the basics covered; squat, deadlift, pressing movement and pulling movements. But a lot of young guys, especially, get it the wrong way around, they do tons of bicep curl variations and ask you how they are going to hit the outer head of their bicep when they can't do a chin up or a deadlift. I'm pleased to say I do see this gradually changing, where I work the squat racks and platforms are always busy with people doing squats and deadlifts and presses, and much of that can be put down to the coaches on the gym floor.

Don't chase the 1% until you've got the basics squared away.

But then look at EVERYTHING you do. The time in the gym, is it efficient? What you eat, what you do at work, your sleep patterns, the people you spend the most time with. Are all these things conducive to you achieving your goals. If not, how can you change them, will a 1% change be enough to reap rewards.

For more on the British Cycling approach see here, here and here

1% Flip it

However, there is another way of looking at the 1% if you are not on a pro cycling team and don't spend all your time in wind tunnels wearing lycra.

Jamie Staff, former member gold medal winning member of the British Cycling team, knew before the Beijing Olympics that to win he needed to improve his time by 2.78%, so he went about improving everything by 2.78%, improving his squat in the gym by this amount, dropping his bodyfat by this amount and so forth. In a NY Times article he states

 “When you break it down, it’s actually really small gains in all those small things that when added together make a huge difference”
You can apply this to your own goals. Say you want to lose one stone in weight, and for ease of calculation lets say you currently weigh 150Ibs. If you focus on losing just 1% of bodyweight per month (1.5Ibs) you would have lost the stone in 10 months, losing a mere 0.375Ibs per week, which is hardly noticeable, but over 10 months adds up. Of course, if you're in Biggest Loser territory you can lose way more than this just by doing the basics.

Setting PBs in the gym can be the same, squat is 150kg, increase by 1.5kg per month, and you've got an 18kg increase in 12 months. Of course, in reality, progress is rarely linear, and as a beginner you can make big jumps by improving technique alone.

You can also apply this principle to nutrition, change one thing at a time. One less chocolate bar per week, one less glass of wine, one more serving of vegetables per week, over a year these things add up. Exercise volume, its the same, 10 minute walk one week, increase by 1 minute per week over a year and you've got 60 minutes exercise per day.

But don't forget the basics.

And these things take time. You have to be patient. Increasing numbers of young guys are taking performance enhancing drugs, these are recreational lifters, with no desire to compete anywhere, but with anabolics easily available on the internet and an instant gratification culture, they will go for the easy route before looking at the basics, and then all the other 1% they can improve on. A clean rider won the tour de france (Bradley Wiggins), therefore this marginal gains stuff works.


What do Victoria Pendleton, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Jess Ennis and Lu Xiaojun all have in common. They all have a coach. And all of them have mentioned their coaches and support team in post event interviews (well, I don't know about Lu Xiaojun, but I'm sure he mentioned it when the Chinese state media interviewed him).

Jess Ennis has a coach - but maybe she wants a new strength & conditioning coach - I am available

And most of them have a whole team behind them, including physiotherapists, sports scientists, biomechanical analysis, chiropractors, psychologists and nutritionists.

The athlete also has to have total faith in their coach, their support team and their program.

But for some reason, the average gym-goer seems to think they can train themselves, write their own program or get their program from a magazine (or in most cases don't really have a plan or program, 'I think I'll do some chest and biceps today', 'I think I'll go for a 20 minute run today'). The only problem is, its very hard to assess your own weaknesses and strengths, what you need to work on, when you should back off and when you should push it and when you need to go back to the drawing board.

Coaches come in all different guises, some were world class athletes in their own right, for example, Mo Farahs coach Alberto Salazar,  Jess Ennis's coach Toni Minichiello seems to have always been a coach and was never an elite athlete  (I could be wrong, as there is surprisingly little information about him that I could find) and  it seems to be law that nearly all Olympic weightlifting coaches are an old fella in a tracksuit who will slap his lifters on the shoulders and if they are a female lifter on the ass as well!

The lesson here, is firstly a coach can really help. Secondly, don't be fooled by the appearance of the coach. Too often, in the gym environment the trainer who looks like a bodybuilder get the guys who want to bulk up (and the women sometimes who want to lose weight). I doubt Lu Xiaojuns coach has ever jerked 204kg and Toni Minichiello has probably never run a 12.54 100m hurdles, but they know how to coach and get the best from their athletes. Look for the coach who has got results and can prove it. Of course, athletes at the top of many sports are genetically gifted (save the genetics vs training argument for another day), so find a coach who has also got results with ordinary folk as well.

Kenyan coaching - a lesson

You might be thinking, this is all very well, but I don't have access to the facilities and support team that these pro athletes do, and you may be thinking that there is a 'special secret' training technique or drug that you don't know about.

Over to Kenya, the antithesis of British Cycling, in as much there is really no system or scientific high performance strategy. Of course, being born at altitude and spending your formative years running to school helps, and you can't change that, but this is true of many countries who don't win any long distance event.

If you want to go and train in Kenya, you can, there is no secret training camp. Adharanand Finn's fantastic book Running With The Kenyans outlines his time training there, and Toby Tansers book More Fire has several training programs of the elite Kenyan runners listed. And before going to the USA Mo Farah also trained in Kenya.

The most successful distance running coach in history is Brother Colm O'Connell, an Irish missionary with no background in coaching before moving to Kenya. So don't be fooled by appearances. With nothing more than a stopwatch and a track of rubble, they have dominated until recently all long distance events.

The secret is there are no secrets, do the basics every day, run, get up at 5am and run, run in a group, eat and run and rest, run long hills, do punishing hill sessions and go easy and back off when you need to. If anyone has taken to basics and turned them into an artform, it's the Kenyans.

Personal Training or Coaching

What is the difference between a personal trainer and a coach. This is my take on it. People employ a personal trainer because they need extrinsic motivation, they want someone to make them come to the gym, they want someone to count the reps. Sometimes there is balance of power issue with a personal trainer and client. Its not unusual for clients to tell their trainer that they don't want to do this or that, and they want a new program after two weeks because the current one isn't working. There can be a fair amount of second guessing the trainer, especially if the trainer is newly qualified or is trying to build up a client base, they are financially dependent on the client and sometimes do things to please the client rather than get results.

The coach is different. Yes, there is a dialogue, but the athlete must have complete faith in their coach. The British Cycling team and Rowing team have complete faith that they have the best coaches and system, there is no second guessing.

A few days ago Dave Brailsford was interviewed on BBC Breakfast news, yes he said you need talent and commitment, but without commitment talent was no good and he also stated

'fundamentally it's all about coaching'
Intrinsically motivate yourself

In a study by Connaughton et al (2008) they interviewed elite, world champion  and Olympic athletes to find out what type of mindset they have. They found athletes had three attributes regardless of the stage of their career

  1. Having an unshakable self-belief in your ability to achieve your competition goals
  2. Having an unshakable self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents
  3. Having an insatiable desire and internalized motives to succeed
In short, all the motivation quotes and pictures in the world aren't going to help if you can't motivate yourself

And two underlying mechanisms were cited again and again

  1. Coaches' leadership
  2. Social support
 Find a support team, a coach if you can, who will show you what you need to work on and what you can ignore.

Ultimately, you have to have no doubt at all that you will succeed in your goals.

Time for another Dave Brailsford quote, this time from an interview in The Independent newspaper

"You have to work out, is this athlete intrinsically driven? Is there that burning desire inside them, to continue to compete, to continue to improve, to continue to go through all the pain and the hard work, the nutrition, the lifestyle, the sacrifices you have to make. If you look at all the great champions … it's not to do with anyone outside, it's what's inside them, they're special in that respect. And if you haven't got that, it doesn't matter how much talent you've got, you're never going to get sustained success."

A good coach gives you belief and confidence. But you must have an internal drive, and as we will see at the end of this article, it is possible to cultivate that.

Over training

Many beginners are fearful of over training. Somewhere along the line, someone told them that if they did weights two days in a row or went for a run for two consecutive days they would explode, their muscles wouldn't recover and they would get injured.

Olympic athletes show you how much you can train and how much you need to train. Now, I don't expect you to run 120 miles a week or weightlift for 3 sessions a day, but lets face it, those 5 hours a week you're doing probably aren't going to lead to over training. The average Kenyan school kid is doing more.

But build up gradually, and you'll be surprised how resilient your body is.

At the other end of the extreme are clients who want to smash it every session. They do hours on end. As the old adage goes (I think it was Charles Staley who said it first, but I could be wrong) - stop chasing fatigue, chase performance. If the fatigue doesn't make you faster or stronger or lose weight, then why are you doing it?

The classic example, is when people start using plyometric drills as metabolic conditioning. They start jumping around with awful technique and not really creating any plyometric effect. This is where the coaching part becomes relevant, if they can't do it properly there is no point in doing it. Its also making the client aware that elite athletes rest 2,3,4,5 minutes between plyometric exercises. Its about maximum power and explosiveness, always know why you are doing something.

Even Kenyans take it easy...sometimes

In the excellent documentary 'Born to Run - The Secret of Kenyan Athletics', the presenter Eamonn Coghlan travels to Kenya to see how they train. In one scene, David Rudisha (edit: now Olympic champion, 800m world record holder, first man to run under 1.41) goes back to train with Colm O'Connell at his old school. Not only, does one of the greatest middles distance athletes of all time train with school kids, he does exactly what his coach says. The session is surprisingly easy, they practice running with tempo and rhythm and being completely relaxed, they do a long easy warm up and then do a few laps around the school yard and that's it. The presenter Eamonn can't believe how easy the session is. As Colm points out, not all sessions have to be hard, yes, they will have some very hard sessions, but other session have different goals which in the long term make the athlete better. In another scene the athletes do yoga and stretching. I highly recommend watching this documentary if you can.

The take home message is, training can undulate, when you train hard, train very hard, but when you need to recover, then do so.

Even Chinese lifters warm up with the bar

While watching the weightlifting at the ExCel live and also on TV, I noticed that before the clean and jerk even the top lifters warm up with the bar. That's right Lu Xiajun and Lin Qingfeng, gold medal winning lifters still warm up with the bar. Then I saw one of them put just 40kg on the bar to continue the warm up. The reason they are so technically good is they practice the moves over and over again. If the top lifters in the world still do a warm up with the bar and practice the movement then you probably need to as well.

Lu Xiaojun squat jerks 204kg at 77kg bodyweight. Unless you were born on Krypton and now live on a planet with a yellow sun then I wouldn't attempt this. Oh, and he still does bar work to warm up.

Under training

The opposite of training all the time and never undulating or varying your approach is not training enough. Some people seem to think that the once a week gym session is going to help them lose that weight or transform their bodyweight. Please don't ask me why you haven't lost weight when you do Pilates once a week, go on the treadmill for 10 mins and don't modify your eating habits.

Put some effort in. If you can't commit time to your goal then you will fail. A few sets of bicep curls with a 5 minute chat in between aren't going to cut it. In Olympic weightlifting, if you follow yourself you only get 2 minutes rest between maximal efforts. Get the job done. Focus.


While I was watching the heptathlon high jump in the Olympic stadium (did I mention I was in the Olympic stadium?!) it struck me that all the athletes keep jumping until they fail, they end on failure. You have to be willing to push out of your comfort zone, find failure and then learn from it, what could you have done differently. Learn to fail and use it to drive you on.

It was the same watching the weightlifting, lifters fail all the time, they go out, fail a lift and then compose themselves and go again. It was surprising to me how many lifters failed an attempt and then came out and got it the second time, or even put the weight up and then got the new weight. Even those who had already won the event, would often come out for their third attempt and try for a PB or world record when they had no need to. Push yourself, compete against yourself.

Train with people who are stronger than you or faster than you can help, as can having a coach, pushing you past levels that you previously thought were your limits.

As Dave Brailsford said 'you will lose more than you win', but you have to keep trying.

Lin Qingfeng. The look of a man who will win at all costs. He doesn't use the door, he just walks through the wall, unstoppable.


Okay, maybe you're still thinking, that's all very well, but I have a full time job, I can't afford a coach and I'm not moving to Kenya. Well here's a non Olympic example for you. Scott Jurek, American ultrarunner, won the Western States 100 mile run, Badwater 135 mile run, Hardrock 100, Spartathlon 152 mile run. He had no coach, for most of his early career he was working in a running shop or as a Physical Therapist, and was in a sport with no prize money and in the early years of his career no sponsorship. He would train by running to and from work, and at weekends, with no money and in debt before he became the face of ultrarunning. I highly recommend you read his book Eat & Run.

If you want it enough, you'll do it.

As If

I recently finished reading a book called Rip It Up by Professor of Psychology Richard Wiseman. I highly recommend it.

It is based on a principle first explained by philosopher William James over a hundred years ago

'If you want a quality, act as if you already have it'
 Common sense tells you that your emotions cause behaviour, for example, you are happy so you smile, or you are an extrovert therefore you have outgoing behaviour. In fact, research has show over and over again that the reverse is true. Behaviour causes emotion, if you smile you will feel happier, if you adopt a 'power posture' you feel more confident, and if you tense your fist hard for a minute your testosterone levels will go up. This is the opposite of positive thinking in many ways.

If act like you are an elite athlete, train like an athlete, look at every aspect of your life like an elite athlete, then you will take on some of their attributes (now this doesn't mean your are going to run a 9.63sec 100m but it does mean you will attack your own personal goals in a more professional manner and are more likely to achieve them).

Elite athletes have a coach, get one if you can, or even just get someone to write your training program for you. As one of the athletes in the study by Connaughton said

"When we got into the elite standard of training we were very structured in our training. My coach and I would plan out the training month by month."
In summary to train like an Olympian and think like one

  1. Work on the basics, practice, put the time in
  2. Once you've got the basics, think about everything else you can improve, the 1%
  3. Get a coach or a support network
  4. Internalise your motivation. When its dark and cold and you need to get up and train, only you can motivate yourself
  5. Act as if you are already elite in the way you approach your training and goals.
Final thoughts - slaying the dragon

One of my favourite athletes (and commentators) of all time is actually a sprinter - Michael Johnson. If you don't know who Michael Johnson is, you probably live in a cave somewhere, but in short Olympic 200m and 400m champion in Atlanta and the most insightful commentator on athletics with a no nonsense approach; not sugar coating and not dumbing down for the audience. His approach to training and attitude always really appealed to me, the results spoke for themselves.

In his book Slaying The Dragon (now out of print, but you can pick up a second copy for a couple of quid) he covers many of the techniques that helped him become a champion, one of these areas is crafting self discipline. If you have set yourself the target of doing 50 press ups or 10 intervals, then do 50 not 49, do all 10 intervals not 9; apply this principle to all aspects of your life and not just your training. Also, importantly remember that the journey can be hard, yes you should enjoy your life, but cutting calories is hard, pushing away that cake is hard when everyone around you is eating it,turning off the TV and putting in another training session when you feel fatigued is hard. As Johnson says

"Ask yourself: 'Why am I doing this?'....when it comes to practicing self discipline, don't fool yourself; go ahead and admit that fat free cheese doesn't taste as good. It only works if the end is something you really want. Remember, this is a decision you consciously made. Remind yourself why."
(Of course he wrote this before everyone went high fat and low carb and then intermittent fasting crazy, because what is the point of low fat cheese - hello taste?!).  Remind yourself on a daily basis why you are doing what you are doing.

Michael Johnson - 'Do the 50th push up' and check out that satorius muscle on his leg!
"after you have stared long enough into the dragon's eyes, there is nothing left to do but slay the dragon. For each of us, that dragon is the thing closest to the center of our lives. It is our core, our ambition, and our joy." - Michael Johnson

In an interview on BBC Breakfast Dave Brailsford mentioned 2 other things, get a decent pillow so you sleep properly and use handwash so you have less chance of picking up infection and then not being able to train. If Brailsford says it, I'd probably do it!

British Cycling - they use round wheels, decent pillows amd hand wash

Further Reading

Connaughton D et al (2008) The development and maintenance of mental toughness: Perception of elite performers. Journal of sports sciences. 26:1, 83-95
Finn A (2012) Running With The Kenyans
Jurek S (2012) Eat & Run
Johnson M (1996) Slaying the Dragon (out of print)
Tanser T (2008) More Fire. How To Run The Kenyan Way
Wiseman R (2012) Rip It Up


Further watching

Kenyan running doc

for those who can't access BBC website, here is Lu Xiaojun lifting 204kg

Julia Rohde - just because