“Just have fun and enjoy yourself…” ~ A joke between Stefanie Tropea (champion strongwoman) and I leading in to the 2012 NAS nationals….we were NOT having fun.
So this was my first week of training in my 11 week lead in to the NAS Nationals…I have also seriously cleaned up my nutrition over the past four weeks (thank god for mammoth kitchen and GenTec nutrition ~ outstanding Australian companies who make this prep time so much easier for me and Jon Davie and Allison Nicoll-Matthews my nutrition gurus), which is essentially the icing on the “it is time to get serious” cake. I developed an 11 week calendar this week outlining every morning and afternoon session, for every day leading into the nationals. Jill Mills has provided the first part of my strongwomen event training and so the “fun” has begun….
I have a confession; when I am preparing for contests, Im not the best person to be around. Im ridiculously, single-pointed focused, structured with my time, I’m selfish, intolerant and generally not much “fun” as such I become stubborn and brutally protective of my time and emotional energy….I have taught myself to present for the most part, positive, when it comes to contest preparation. In saying this, on occasions I snap but I am human. Right now, there is a job to do, a plan for each and every session, with every hour accounted for in my days….but what is the REALITY of this time for me? Below, I outline the lows and lows of the 11 week lead in and why it does NOT always feel enjoyable and fun….I’m hoping those prepping for the nationals might feel a little bit more normal in reading this and for my friends and enemies, some insight into this time and why I become a demon….
I have spoken about this before in posts but this is the time that the grind becomes our daily existence. The simple fact is that training and contests are NOT always good times – it’s not always amazing rainbows and unicorns… Jim Taylor, Ph.D (http://m.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200910/sports-what-motivates-athletes) talks of a concept of “the Grind”. Taylor suggests that in training and contest you arrive at a point at which it is no longer fun. “This is the Grind, which starts when it gets tiring, painful, and tedious. the Grind is also the point at which it really counts…..How you respond to the Grind lies along a continuum….” this is where the strong focused mind is critical– how much do you really want your goal? How much time are you going to waste before you get it?
Approximately four weeks out of contest, every waking movement feels like a drag~ people will tell you to “just have fun!” however you will probably be thinking that your training is the farthest from fun possible. You will probably be dragging your tired body into the gym, dragging yourself through every session and dragging yourself home, you need to dig deep and get through your sessions because this is where champions are made but you probably will not be feeling much joy!
An extremely interesting perspective on the science of “the grind” is presented in an article on the neurobiology of the Central Nervous System, on the Avergage Broz’s Gymnasium site, with input from a neurobiologist ~ http://www.averagebroz.com/ABG/Q_%26_A/Entries/2010/5/28_Central_nervous_system.html. Essentially this article states that not only do the muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt to lifting but the brain also adapts to whatever stress you put on the body. The brain literally changes its structure and ability to deal with chemicals which relate to your physical activity. It states that when we start placing demands on the brain to lift maximum weights every day, the brain knows it has to adapt the body or die. This is when the brain goes through an adaptive period where it shuts down some functions and tries to upgrade. These are the “dark times” or “the Grind”.
These guys write that the main chemical in muscle contraction is serotonin. Serotonin is also the main feel good hormone in the body and directly effects your mood and mental outlook, your happiness and willingness to train. It also regulates how hard the muscle contracts, which is why only the heaviest weights seem to effect our mood, “the reason why people shy away from maximal lifting and the imaginary symptoms of overtraining.” So, when the body receives a demand to lift heavy things on a daily basis, the brain shuts down the serotonin receptors to upgrade them which may take a few weeks. This is why the dark times occur. Its the adaptive period that is needed for the brain and body to get to the next higher level. The body is trying to get us to stop the stress so it is not forced to remodel the whole place, but thats exactly what you want. Thats why its so important to keep pounding away through the pain and fatigue…
I am no neurobiologist but this makes sense in terms of how I feel at this time. For me the real indicator that I am working to my maximum ability is my tolerance levels. I do not suffer fools at the best of times however in peak training periods when my tolerance levels are low I am less likely to put up with ridiculousness. At this time it is critical to surround yourself with people who understand you and do what you have to do to minimise contact with people who “push your buttons”.
Training schedule, work and life lockdown
I use the term life lockdown to describe the phase of life I enter at about 12 weeks out to manage a crazy schedule of training, recovery and a hectic day job with the justice department. There are tasks that just have to be done, on a day to day basis. For me from 5am – 8pm daily, I am either training, working, training or preparing meals for the following day. There really is no time to be wasted and I am so so blessed to have an employer who supports my goals. The bottom line is, at this time you MUST make decisions about what is important to you – your athletic goal or wasting time and money on unfulfilling “things” that will be there in 11 weeks time? Make the call and results will follow depending on YOUR decision~ remember that the food, drink, nights out will be there after the contest and will be way more satisfying if they are earned through hard work.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a fatty at heart~I love pizza and Cheetos and tequila. I know however that it is critical to eat and supplement for performance at this time (as much as it hurts to say it). So this year I have bought in the big guns; Jon Davie and his Prepared 2 Win team. Jon suggests that “today’s athlete is more genetically gifted, faster, stronger and places a higher demand on their bodies both physically and mentally than ever before. We are pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible and in many instances finding ways to surpass what is deemed our limit. Sports Nutrition and supplementation for the athlete is about recognizing the demands placed on there bodies through there sport both biologically and physiologically then structuring sound nutritional and supplementation support to allow them to perform at their best throughout there career.”
I see Jon every two weeks and he puts my in a machine called the bodpod which essentially measures body composition; proportion fat vs lean mass. As Jon says, theres no hiding in the bodpod. Jon takes measurements every two weeks and adjusts my carbs, protein and fats depending on the result; it is precise and scientific, which is certainly what I need to take my performance to the next level. Every meal includes specific foods, weights and measurements to maximise performance including my pre, intra and post training supplements by GenTec. This really means business for me and tightens up my regime that extra 25%. Again, decisions are made at this time to either feed my inner athlete or my inner fatty. My inner fatty has subsequently been suppressed for 11 weeks. The key message is to eat and supplement for your athletic goal, or be prepared for less than optimal results – it really is that simple.
Friends and sponsors
This is really a time where you learn who your true friends are; they are those people who understand that you have a goal, do not question why you are doing it, and support you in the journey OR at a minimum are there after you enter the 12 week lockdown to celebrate. True friends do not question your intentions, do not question your plan and certainly do not sabotage the process. It can be a really testing time for you and if you want to be really honest with yourself ask these questions daily; how much do you want to achieve what you have set out to achieve? Are you willing to sacrifice instant gratification for a goal which is 12 weeks away? And are you willing to articulate this to friends and loved ones, to allow them to support you?
Needless to say, I have a very tight group of friends and have over time made some tough decisions to let people leave my life for the simple fact that they were not supportive or understanding. It is at this time that showing gratitude to those that support you in your journey is CRITICAL. I am absolutely blessed to have amazing sponsors who I can genuinely call friends, who are amazing athletes and provide outstanding products to the fitness industry; Ang Tsiougos, Nick Jones and Julia Jones (GenTec Nutrition), Zack Williams and Lisa Tresch (Mammoth Kitchen), Simon Colley (Pride PT) and expert assistance from Jill Mills (programmer and one of my favourite people in the world) ~ I Love and appreciate you guys, from the bottom of my heart!
Be grateful and try to keep friends in the fold however do not feel guilty about saying no to social events or circumstances that you feel will hamper your ability to perform and perform to your maximum ability in that 11 week period.
Be kind to yourself during this extreme time in your life. As mentioned above, it is highly likely that you are putting your entire being under high levels of stress right now~this needs to be balanced by caring for the body and mind whenever you can. Find a method/s that create this balance; massage, yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture. Try it and make an informed decision about what works for you; for me I get fortnightly massage and Osteopath as well as acupuncture as needed ~ and I sleep a LOT.
Finally, remember that what doesn’t kill during this preparation time is likely to make you the most amazing version of you that you can possibly be. To that end, do not let a day go by during your preparation that you are not focused on those seven 60 second events, in 11 weeks! Every action, every gym session, every nights sleep and every meal is going to either assist you to reach your goal or not….own your results NOW!