Monday, January 25, 2016

Specialist Or Generalist? To Compete Or Not To Compete?

John's Thoughts:

Couch to competition?
With the obesity rate soaring and increasing trends in our society towards a sedentary lifestyle,  I think we can agree as a society we need a major overhaul in our physical culture. We are disconnected from our bodies and need to wake up! I hear excuse after excuse on a daily basis from incredibly capable adults about why they can’t find time to exercise, let alone compete in a sport or any physical endeavor beyond silly exercise videos, light family activity, or otherwise “safe” activities. Our society has created some kind of excuse bubble that keeps people from getting off of the sidelines to “just do it” as Nike saying goes. Time after time, I hear “I wish I was in the kind of shape I was in high school” or since I (fill in the blank with an excuse), it won’t work for me. At the same time, incredible new world records are being broken and more athletes than ever are competing and training in “extreme sports” like the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge, Crossfit, Strongman, and Highland Games at all ages. So the art and love of competition is still alive and well in our society. Unfortunately, lack of planning, general conditioning and poor fitness levels leave a huge gap that will take time to overcome for the average deconditioned American. Lack of planning and patience can easily lead to burnout and major injuries before an athlete ever reaches anywhere near their potential in performance or true appreciation for the art of competition in our modern sedentary society. The big question is how do we bridge the gap between the couch and competition?
From Couch To Competition

My personal journey has been a long one full of twists, turns, and utter failures. My quest began after I decided I was tired of being a scrawny, awkward basketball player in high school. Within a few years, I became a seemingly “bodybuilder type” of guy after gaining nearly 50 pounds of solid muscle, but I was burned out, broken down with injuries and generally lacking passion in my training once I had reached my early twenties.  I was training to basically look good and ward off major health problems, but this was just enough to keep me in perpetual motion of maintaining a decent level of athleticism and looking fit, but not truly satisfied with training or life. Fast forward 10 years now, I have found my training and ultimately, my life purpose. That is: to empower others to reach their physical goals through safe, effective movement and strength fundamentals, which ultimately transfers into all areas of their lives. In 2004, I stumbled onto a unique “fringe sport” that has changed my life forever. The Scottish Highland Games were my new purpose and little did I know, I would find my way to the top as a world record holder and professional highland games athlete in the sport. These accomplishments did not come easy. I spent several years as a lackluster, bottom level competitor before a serious level of commitment and competitive focus took hold within me. I finally “caught the bug”, but I still had to fight hard to stay competitive and injury free as a very specialized athlete.
I am not particularly gifted as an athlete or coach out of the gate. I simply found my passions and I never stop learning, doing and setting new goals.. Having a true, deep physical skill has made a major impact on my personal and professional life. I would never have trained to a peak skill level or known my athletic potential without finding this this sport. I now have a purpose to my
training that is greater and I can measure and feel the benefits in the gym and my everyday life.  During a competition I feel like the world stands still and I have total focus for a brief moment when I “step in and throw”.  Every ounce of energy possible goes completely into my throw. At the end of a long day of competition, I always feel a wave of emotions and perspective on life as I walk away from the field knowing I gave it everything I possibly could on that day. I leave the field with a clarity and appreciation for life that just seems to wash over me.

Clarity Comes From Competition

It's all too easy to get side tracked in our fast paced society or get overloaded trying to train at a high level in any sport. A quote from strength coach and wise masters athlete Dan John resonates strongly with me and gives me a reminder of my purpose anytime I lose focus “the goal is keeping the goal, the goal”. I have seen so many young professionals in the fitness industry and other athletes get sidetracked or even paralyzed  trying to do too many things at once or lose focus on the purpose of their training or life goals.   Knowing I can keep learning and bettering myself in my sport keeps me feeling alive, yet grounded in my goals and purpose. The pursuit of perfection in a technical, physical skill has continued to carry over to how I coach and approach life. It makes me better at life. It’s empowering to know that I can always get better with some extra focus, effort, or by learning from other coaching and athletes. This pursuit of perfection has been an incredible gift, but it has also been full of challenges and obstacles.
Now my daily life involves the new challenge of running and building my new gym from the ground up, while still competing as a top ranked lightweight highland games athlete. I often work 7 days a week and many long hours. While it does help to be able to walk into the gym anytime to train, the weights don’t lift themselves and I usually don’t have a consistent training partner or coaches around me to keep me accountable.  My life must be very structured and disciplined to make sure I have time for training, proper nutrition, and a healthy balance to life. This has become a welcomed challenge and defines who I am in many ways now. It gives me structure and discipline that I may not have if I did not have a training purpose. I have to stay focused with my time and efforts in all areas of life to stay competitive, especially going into my late 30’s. Why do I still train and compete you might ask?. It’s basically a “strong body, strong mind” approach that I believe we should all follow. I even structure the year's competitions and events around my life whenever possible, which to many may sound extreme. To me, it has become just a way of life. I have learned to enjoy the challenge and find ways to keep going strong despite many obstacles of time, money, and many other life demands.
Competition is a raw, vulnerable way to challenge yourself and put it on the line. When you sign up for a competition it gets real. You have a deadline and sense of urgency to complete the task. It’s time to rise up and take action like the Nike slogan “Just do it”. This can present a new kind of challenge and uneasy feeling for most adults, since our culture is so far away from truly supporting adult athletic endeavors or even general physical activity after the teenage years. Many of us live though our kids and lose touch with our own physical abilities, which is just not how it should be. This doesn’t have to be the case, but you do need to consider a few essentials before training for competition…

Competing In "The Highland Games"
Am I willing to put in the time to train, learn, and develop the necessary skills?
Do I have a qualified coach and can I use my resources to prepare well?
Am I able to plan ahead and possibly let training revolving around life, at least for a few weeks leading up to the competition?
Do I have any serious injuries or health conditions that would make it unsafe for me to commit to this competition?
Have I considered the other obstacles that I might come across?
If you truly dig deep and can’t commit, then don’t compete! You really can’t lose if you can answer “yes” to these questions, because you will get better and learn a great deal about yourself. Say “yes” and find every reason to compete, turn the tables on your own mindset. I truly believe that we all have an athlete and warrior inside of us that wants to come out. Everyone should want to get better every day.  So show up, do work, and  learn hard.
Have a plan, stay the course, and step into the “arena”.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Almine's Thoughts:

John's words ring powerful for me.  Last year, I tried my hand at competing in Jiu-Jitsu.  It was a year I explored my "inner competitor," what she could do, at the belt level she was at.  I decided to stretch my boundaries, and explore a different facet of myself.  I did this, all the while, continuing to climb, and do "CrossFit."

I'm a personal trainer, and "CrossFit" coach.  What that means is that I'm comfortable in writing training programs, and workout programming to meet goals.  I know when to increase a particular activity to meet a certain goal, and when to decrease others.

I have the capacity to see the end goal, and program according to it, giving myself a time table to increase/decrease various activities.  You could think of it like an "on" season and "off" season.

Typically, in the spring and summer, I decrease my olympic lifting, focus on climbing, and increase more MetCon and/or body-weight placement exercises (to enhance my climbing).  In the winter, when climbing rock at "Smith" is not a consistent option, I increase my strength training, and decrease my cardio/MetCon.   This gives my body a seasonal way to "rest" from specific movements and exercises, and to increase others.   This type of training schedule takes a lot of attention paid to it, watching the ebbs and flows of specific gains, one wants to see, to meet specific goals.

A perfect example of the mental game that climbers move through, when on "The Sharp End" (Sender Films, 2009)

I believe in the ebb/flow of training specific movements, and the ebb/flow of competition.  For my personality type, I need specific "rests" in my training, so that I can absorb the benefits of my hard work, re-focus on goals, and dream bigger dreams.

I don't believe many people can maintain the type of ongoing training schedule I uphold (and have for years).  They would "burn out."  I think a lot of it is genetics.   My paternal grandmother, and father are the same way.  In his late 60's my Dad's greatest joy is still being able to pull a "double" (one activity in the morning, one in the evening).  This is how he operates 6 days a week.  He's never been otherwise.

Climbing is a high adrenaline sport.  There is no doubt about it.  Particularly when you're on lead (a.k.a. "The Sharp End").   I know it would string my nervous system out to climb the way I like to, and compete in a separate sport, year after year.  I let myself ebb/flow, according to how I feel, from year to year.  Maybe I choose to focus my energy (adrenaline) towards hitting climbing goals one year (like this year).  Maybe the year prior I compete in Jiu-Jitsu.  I don't peak in both sports, and hit them equally as hard in the same year, however.

I've had many ultra-runner friends of mine say "You would be an excellent ultra-runner.  You have the determination, and tenacity for such a distance."  I agree with them.  I do.  I'm what you term a "Mult-Sport Athlete," however.  I'm not a "Mono Sport Athlete."  They each have their pros and cons, but I'm much better suited to "Adventure Racing," where multiple sports are required on the same course.  I'm a diverse, dynamic, eclectic athlete, and I also credit that with being a huge reason (in addition to nutrition, etc.) I have next to no injuries.  I make, not just my muscles cross-train, but my brain also.  My brain has to focus in a completely different way in climbing, than it has to while trail-running.  Jiu-Jitsu requires a totally different mental pathway in my mind, versus lifting weights.
I think cross-training your brain, along with totally different movements, is one of several keys to longevity.  They say doing cross-word puzzles, and card games keep older people's thinking faculties sharp.  Couple various ways of challenging your mind, with body movement, and you have a recipe for youth.  That is why I'm an advocate of doing multiple sports, with completely (seemingly) unrelated body movements.  

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) @ "Clark's Univ. Of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

Climbing a steep overhanging route is a completely different series of movements than passing the guard in Jiu-Jitsu, is completely different than a deadlift.  Or, is it?  The reality is, even though I increase one type of body movement, and decrease another, seasonally, they all enhance one another.  They all involve getting the hips through, a strong core, and focus.  They all benefit one another.

The main thing for me is body awareness.  This entails listening very closely to when my body is asking for me to shift gears.  They body does talk to you.  You just have to know how to listen.  I knew 2016 was my year to downshift from competition, and increase my climbing.  I will listen, season by season to see if this changes.  When it does, I will be ready to shift my training programming again.  Fluidity is key.  Flexibility is key, if being a mult-sport athlete interests you.  Developing body awareness is key.

"NW Fit Games,"

Be willing to dream big, smash goals, and then move on to the next.  Opportunity has a funny way of presenting itself when you least expect it.  The question is:  "Will You Be Ready To Shift Gears?"

Handstands In My Home Town, Newport, OR., "Agate Beach"


John is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Clinical Exercise, and owner/head coach of his gym Empowered Strength in Bend, OR. John has a diverse background in the fitness/wellness industry, having worked with clinical cardiac rehab patients, high school athletes, and employee wellness programs in Longview, WA for 11 years before "retiring" to Bend to start his gym and online coaching programs. John is the current world record holder in the 42lb. weight over bar as a lightweight athlete in the Scottish Highland Games and finished #3 in the world at the Lightweight World Championships in 2015. John's newest pursuit is the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge and competitive Olympic Weightlifting in his off season from the Highland Games.
Contact John or learn more about him here..

Learn more about the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge here..


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