A lot of endurance athletes train slow in order to race fast. I believe the concept works just as well in business and life as it does on the Iron Man or marathon course.
Here’s the 1000 foot view of the theory –
Training slow builds your endurance capacity, when you intersperse your training with hard but short speed sessions, you tax your muscles and encourage growth. It’s essentially the same concept that weightlifters use when they push heavy weight and then back off for a few sessions. As a result, over time your slow sessions get faster and on race day, when the adrenaline kicks in you can hold a slightly faster pace through the entire length of the race.
By contrast, people who have not prepared themselves for the faster, adrenaline induced race pace tend to fade at the end. The goal on race day is to have enough left in the tank to run the last mile as confidently as you ran the first.
We can transfer this concept to business by incorporating what I call a JAM session into our routine. A JAM session is a short burst of intense work where all distractions are blocked out and we focus on one thing for as long as it takes. Turn off the phone, close the email and social media feeds, shut to door and go to work.
By doing these JAM sessions on a regular basis and when the situation warrants, we can increase our productivity and crank out some real quality work in intense bursts. Like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get at it. And it trains our brains to focus better when we aren’t jamming. The end result is greater productivity overall.
Try it and let me know how it feels.
Here’s a video I produced on the same subject just the other day.
Transferable Lessons from Athletic Training for Life During COVID19
Depending on when you choose to start counting, we are now somewhere around 20 days into the brave new world that is COVID19. As fate would have it, the morning before the province locked down the schools I went to my local public library, (the city locked them down the next day) and picked up a few books that I had been waiting for. I now have these books for an indeterminate time, so I’ve been taking a slower, more studious approach to reading.
The first book I read was, “Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports” by Dr. Marc Bubbs. I heard about this book on a performance podcast for triathletes and decided to check it out. Dr. Bubbs was interviewed by a triathlon coach that I follow, and I was intrigued by some of the things he was saying specific to triathlete nutrition, so I decided to get his book. Don’t tell my wife but, I’ve been considering hiring a nutritionist to help take my training to the next level, she already thinks I’ve lost my mind with all this triathlon stuff, I can’t wait to see her reaction when I start pouring bone broth into my coffee.
Dr. Bubbs is the Performance Nutrition Coach for Canada’s national basketball team and has consulted with professional NBA, NHL and MLB teams all over North America. What I was expecting to get out of the book was a lot of information about athletic fueling and while there was plenty of that what I really learned was more about training load and recovery strategies. It turns out you can’t eat in a vacuum all aspects of life affect your results.
Last night after a particularly stressful day managing our lives and businesses in this new world (we are both self employed) my wife and I each had a mini nervous breakdown. The stress of not knowing what to do or how long this is going to last finally got to us and as we talked it out, I noticed I was using the same language Dr. Bubbs uses to talk about athletic recovery.
Here are the terms I learned from the world of elite athletics that we can all apply to life during the outbreak of COVID19.
It’s a well-known fact that you build muscle and endurance by continually placing stress on the area you want to increase. That’s what lifting weights and running wind sprints are all about. Functional Over-Reach (FOR) is the act of continually pushing training to the razor’s edge of complete exhaustion and then backing off. By doing this repeatedly you can quickly build up muscle and endurance getting faster and stronger over a short period of time. Most amateur athletes and weekend warriors never reach the stage of FOR however and don’t get the full growth benefit of their training. In order to get to FOR you must push past the initial tired stage and find that next gear. Some people call it the second wind but even if you can find it very few people will push it all the way to total exhaustion.
Critical to the build phase, once you’ve completely exhausted yourself you must take adequate time to recover before going out and doing it all again. Recovery times vary depending on the athlete and what you are trying to build but the point is, stress and recovery go hand in hand.
If you fail to give yourself the proper amount of rest between heavy training days, you will inevitably enter a phase of Non-Functional Over-Reach (NFOR). Simply put, you’ll stop getting any growth benefit from your training. Your strength, endurance or speed will plateau, and you might even start to get weaker. NFOR is the alarm bell or blinking red light that your body sets off saying “slow down, we can’t do this anymore!” A coach or athlete that keeps track of their training metrics will recognize NFOR the minute it starts and go into a prolonged rest phase or ratchet back training to include fewer hard days. You don’t get a second wind from NFOR, there is no benefit to continuing to push a body that has stopped absorbing training. The only thing to do is rest.
Over Training Syndrome
Finally, if you miss or ignore the signs of NFOR you will begin to experience Over Training Syndrome (OTS). OTS is quite simply an injury waiting to happen. Stress fractures, cartilage damage and repetitive strains all tend to be the result of OTS. Since you failed to recognize the signs of NFOR and didn’t get adequate rest your body simply breaks down and forces you into an even longer period of rest. In extreme cases OTS can end your athletic career altogether.
So, what does all this have to do with COVID19?
As I explained to my wife, it’s as if we have all entered a phase of mental NFOR. The first couple of weeks we could push ourselves to adapt. It was tiring but we could go to bed and night, get some rest and be ready to go again the next day. But now, with no end in sight, and no escape it’s not fun anymore. We aren’t growing, we aren’t getting any better at adaptation and we might soon start to experience prolonged anxiety, depression and mental illness as a result.
We all need to take a break. Phone a friend, watch a good movie, go for a walk, take up a new hobby. Anything really that takes your mind off the news and your social separation. Do it as often as you need to. For me that means completely shutting down all news sources between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, texting a friend at least once a day, getting up from my desk to move around every few hours, and going for a walk every afternoon. Whatever it is for you find something that gives you a mental break. We can all get stronger through this, but only if we avoid mental OTS.
Keep your chin up! Don’t over train, we’re all in this together.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now. I started ramping up my training schedule for 2020 back on February 23rd with a goal of being ready to compete by mid-June but with the end of the big RRSP Investment deadline looming here in Canada and my desire to finish my thoughts on a few other business topics I never found the time.
Day jobs do have a way of taking precedence, don’t they?
My original plan for this post was to give a little summary of what I did in the offseason and lay out some goals and plans for this coming season. Now that health officials all over the world are asking everyone to “self-isolate” and help stop the spread of COVID19 my original plans and goals are probably going to have to evolve. I received notice this morning that my gym is closed for the foreseeable future. I was planning on moving most my training, except for swimming and strength work outside around April 1 anyway so the run and bike work shouldn’t be too affected, but I don’t own a wetsuit and the river is still frozen so swimming is definitely out and it’s kind of hard to practice deadlifts without a barbell.
Such is life, I guess. We must always remember that people are suffering with this illness all over the world. We all need to do our part to help flatten the curve.
But back to the offseason summary. I completed my first Olympic Tri (indoors) on January 20th in a time of 3:24:13. I definitely didn’t break any land speed records but as a first attempt I established a pretty solid baseline for myself moving forward. I had planned to take just two days off and return to the gym ready to work on some offseason maintenance beginning January 23rd but instead, likely as a result of over taxing myself and living in a cold climate, I got a bad cold and ended up in bed for the better part of three days. I didn’t return to the gym until January 27th.
From January 27th to February 22nd I worked on a low intensity offseason plan. Most offseason plans are built to run 8 to 12 weeks. In my case I shortened that to just four so that I could be ready to compete for most of the 2020 season. If you are coming off a regular season that ends sometime in late fall, 8 to 12 weeks is still the preferred time frame. As a new triathlete my body hasn’t been as stressed as much as someone who has just completed a full season so for me four weeks was just fine.
The goal of the plan was to keep my body moving while not over stressing the aerobic system and to slowing begin adding in strength workouts designed to promote flexibility and build lean muscle. Up to this point I had not done much strength work and I recognized that if I want to get faster and lose weight it’s time to drop my aversion to pumping iron and work on overall strength at least twice a week.
On Mondays I swam. Just an easy pace in the pool for no more than 35 minutes. I didn’t worry about any specific drills as the goal was simply to keep my body moving and maintain decent form in the water. The most I completed in that time was 1000m.
Tuesdays and Thursdays were strength days. I completed a circuit of 8 exercises, 4 upper body, arms, chest and shoulders and 4 lower body, legs, hips and buttocks. Since the goal is flexibility and lean muscle, not bulk, I stuck to a relatively low weight that I could push for 15 reps in less than 30 seconds. It took a little trial and error but by the second week I had a pretty good system down for that.
Wednesday was bike day. Every week was the same, 45 minutes with a goal to average 150 watts and 24 km/h. My goal on race day is to maintain a better than 30 km/h pace so this was a more reasonable and easy goal. Weeks three and four I travelled the exact same distance, 18.8 km.
Friday was run day. Again, every week was the same, 35 minutes with a goal of 10 km/h. I was never able to run the whole way but with a bit of intervalling down to 6 km/h and back up once my heart rate was under control, I was able to travel as far as 5.41 km on the last day.
I didn’t really have that many goals for my short offseason other than keeping moving, adding in some strength training and not gaining any weight. I did gain about a pound, but I can chalk that up to variance in clothing and maybe a bit more muscle mass more than anything else.
Presently I am 3 weeks into a 16-week program to be ready for my next Olympic Tri. The original plan was to be competition ready by Jun 14. I was then going to repeat the last 4 weeks of the plan 5 more times thus completing 6 Olympic Tri’s by Nov 1. With COVID19 closing my gym indefinitely and forcing me outside a month early that plan seems to be in serious jeopardy now. I might be able to make up a week or two but if I’m out of the pool for more than 2 weeks I’m afraid I’ll have to push everything back accordingly. Hopefully these things can be resolved quickly and life can get back to normal soon but if the price I have to pay for global health is one or two fewer tri’s this year, I’ll gladly pay.
I hope everyone in your circle is safe, healthy and able to continue earning an income. Keep positive, stay moving and don’t forget to wash your hands.
You decide how much you want to improve by choosing how many roadblocks to remove so economy improves past a certain threshold – one where you’re suddenly performing your best at any age. – Philip Maffetone; The Endurance Handbook
While training for a triathlon I came across the above quote. Philip Maffetone is a world-renowned medical Dr. and trainer of high-performing endurance athletes. His patients include Olympic and World champions across several endurance sports including, marathon, ultra-marathon, Ironman and the Eco-Challenge adventure races.
Much of what Dr. Maffetone teaches centers around the importance of nutrition, rest and long-slow endurance training that builds up muscular resilience and trains your body to use its natural fat content for fuel over long distances. When he talks about removing roadblocks he is mostly talking about changes to behaviour and mindset that allow his patients to think differently about themselves and the training process in order to go to the next level.
Life, especially the life of an entrepreneur, is an endurance sport.
The more I get involved in the triathlon world the more I recognize the similarities between disciplines involved in endurance training and those involved in business and entrepreneurship. Here are just a few that I have observed so far.
Eating right reaps benefits across a broad range of activities. Carbs and simple sugars are responsible for most weight gain and general fatigue. The easiest way to lose those love handles and increase your energy is to cut out the carbs. Foods heavy in wheat and potatoes like bread, and chips are the most obvious culprits but don’t forget pastas and cereals too. Just stopping the late-night bag of potato chips for me was worth at least five pounds. I’ve since virtually eliminated breads and most potato products from my diet and I’ve never felt better, both physically and mentally.
A close second to eating right is getting enough sleep. Your body needs time to recover and repair itself after a long day and hard training. Nothing provides that time better than a good night’s sleep. Your brain needs it too. Falling into a rem state allows your brain to sort through all the sensory data it received throughout the day and never had time to process. Chronic fatigue leads to mental stresses and physical aliments with some studies even linking a lack of sleep to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Consistently getting eight hours of sleep during the week might not be practical in our hyper connected and high-octane world but a modest goal should be at least 6.5 – 7 hours from Sunday to Thursday with time to catch a few extra hours on Friday and Saturday nights. I even like to go for a catnap of 20 minutes or so on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, for me there is nothing better than the feeling I get from catching a few extra zees when I come home from church on a Sunday afternoon.
3. Take it slow
Endurance training isn’t about knocking out your personal best every day. Incremental improvements come by consistently working toward a better time, but you are also training your body physically and mentally to handle the demands of the event. That means slowing down enough to listen to your body and allow your brain to communicate with your muscles. Once they know how to talk to each other, then you can push for a better time but that only comes after you’ve developed a solid understanding of what your body needs.
The same is true in business. You’re not going to sign the big deal every day. Especially in a planning-based business like mine, you need to be comfortable and confident enough in your process to take it slow and let the client’s needs and understanding evolve over time. Slow and incremental development leads to a plan that the client both understands and takes strong ownership in. Without that ownership your client could move with the whims of the market. The more your client takes ownership in the process, the less likely they are to leave you when times get tough.
4. Go Far
Endurance racing is all about the distance covered. Tell just about anyone that you ran a marathon and they won’t care about your time so much as they will be impressed that you finished at all. People who have never stuck with something that is hard long enough to see it through will usually look at you with a combination envy and adoration.
In business, going the distance means setting a lofty goal and then working tirelessly to achieve it, sometimes for years. When talk about the fact I was involved in 3 Juno award winning projects (Canada’s Grammys) during my days in the music business people are impressed. But nobody cares about the 12 years of late nights in the studio, smoke fills bars, hundreds of thousands of miles on the road, long days working the phones and endless rejection that preceded that first win. Or the second win. Or the third win. They only care that I was part of something amazing.
If it takes you 5, 10 or even 20 years to achieve your goal, so be it. Hard things take time, but they’re worth it.
In just about any endeavor, once you know what to do to achieve success, all you need to do is break it down into a repeatable process and just keep doing the same things over again. The first Juno took 12 years, we won the second one four years later, and the third just two years after that. It didn’t get any easier, we had just learned the process of recording, manufacturing, promotion and sales that would lead to success and were able to repeat the steps without wasting time on things that didn’t work. The same is true of everything worth doing, learn the process, cut out the redundancies, and repeat what works.
I am sure there are more parallels that I could draw between endurance training and business. Life is journey, not a destination. The journey is long. Eat right, get enough rest, take your time, go the distance and repeat the process and you will find success. That’s a promise.
Business leaders and professional athletes share similar mind-sets. This isn’t surprising because elite performance requires plenty of determination. The gift of physical talent is certainly the ticket to get into the room, but it is these characteristics of performance that help drive the talent toward real and lasting success. – Matt Dixon; The Well-Built Triathlete, Turning Potential Into Performance
I’m a triathlete. Why? Because it’s hard.
When I first started going to the gym, I got bored. There is nothing more boring to me than getting up at 5:30 in the morning, putting on shorts and a t-shirt to going to lift weights or run on a treadmill for an hour. When my Dr. told me that I needed to lose weight I joined the gym, but I was so bored after just 3 weeks I almost quit.
It was then that I realized something about myself. I need a goal. Not just any goal. For me to stay interested and motivated over a long period of time I need a specific, measurable and most importantly a lofty goal. In short, I need what Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and other business case studies calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).
So, I decided I was going to run a half-ironman triathlon before I’m 50. I’m 47 now so I’ve got about 2 and half years to go. After that I just might shoot for a full ironman but one BHAG at a time.
As part of my triathlon journey I’ve been studying up on the science and technology of athletic training. Reading a lot and listening to podcasts. One of the surprising things I’ve noticed is that there are an incredible number of parallels between athletes and business leaders.
With the help of Matt Dixon’s book, I have identified at least 10 common traits. Here they are in no particular order:
1 – Be goal-oriented
All top performers, be they athletes or business leaders, have a clear and distinct vision. Goals may evolve over a career or a lifetime but you can’t achieve positive results without creating and then chasing a vision or set of goals.
2 – Commit to ongoing assessment
Staying on track is key and the best performers are great at personal reflection and self-assessment. But they also aren’t afraid to look for outside guidance and advice. It takes courage to regularly assess yourself and let others give you advice. It takes even more courage to make the necessary changes to your approach.
3 – Train for specificity
Great athletes have the ability to develop laser-like focus and carve through the noise to execute their plan. Great business leaders do the same.
4 – Be resistant to adversity
Managing and overcoming adversity is a major shared trait between business leaders and athletes. It’s not going to be a smooth ride, things will come up that threaten to derail your journey and navigation through hard times is the price of admission.
5 – Have patience
You have noticed I’ve been using the word “journey” to describe the path to success? I do that because it doesn’t happen instantaneously. Behind every overnight success is many, many years of hard work. Patience is a key attribute of every elite performer.
6 – Feed the passion
Achieving good results leads to a high that is unparalleled, but the high doesn’t last long and it won’t create the will to embrace the struggle. You have to fall in love with the process as much as the results to excel.
7 – Embrace support
No athlete or business leader can go it alone. No one has all the answers, the best performers are humble and spend time building an inner circle of experts who help drive the bus and maximize performance. Mentors, guides and a strong support team are common to elite performers across all disciplines.
8 – Achieve balance
Avoid dwelling on either failure or success. Celebrate victories but keep your emotions in check – yesterday’s achievement can quickly disappear and be forgotten in the face of new challenges. Life goes on, tomorrow always dawns with a clean slate regardless of what was written yesterday.
9 – Take calculated risks
A willingness to take risks comes in many forms. It most often involves a willingness to expose your weaknesses and being unafraid of failure. The best performers are willing to take risks with a purpose to strive for the next level.
10 – Make time for recovery
Establish a strong platform of health and recovery. You only have one body and if you don’t take care of it, it will fail you. Learn to appreciate the value of recovery and recuperation, get enough sleep, eat right, and don’t neglect your family and fiends, they are the people who will be there for you long after you have achieved everything you set out to do and are enjoying the fruits of your labors.
I’d like to hear from any other athletes/business leaders out there if there are any other common traits I may have missed, let me know in the comments.