11 May Training: The Anchor In Your Day
If there’s one insight I’ve gained in lockdown, it’s just how powerful the physical focus is as the vehicle in my life. I’m not the only one either. My team and I have discussed this at length in our weekly Zoom calls. Our clients are talking about it every week in their check ins.
When there’s uncertainty, new routines and different environments around us, there’s one element still in our control: how we move our bodies and what we put inside it. This sense of control, when nothing else is guaranteed, is empowering. It’s why for the last decade training has been the anchor in my day. In the past 12 months, when business has brought with it more responsibility, opportunity and workload, there’s one sacred time in my day that will never be taken away: training.
I train now more than ever before. Six days of weight training with six cardio sessions on top of it. Is it optimal for a productive investment phase? Probably not. But it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. It’s my drug of choice. My outlet. My anchor.
Without training, the rest of my day would fall apart. I’d be chasing my tail, feeling anxious, and off my game. Training keeps me sharp, focused and confident. There’s something about the orchestrated suffering of physical challenge and mastering the body that transcends into all areas of your life. It’s where you learn how to control and open your mind to greater limits. David Goggins, in his excellent book Can’t Hurt Me, talks about this beautifully:
‘There’s so much pain and suffering involved in physical challenges that it’s the best training to take command of your inner dialogue, and the newfound mental strength and confidence you gain by continuing to push yourself physically will carry over to other aspects in your life. You will realise that if you were underperforming in your physical challenges, there is a good chance you are underperforming at school and work too.’
The physical is the vehicle. The aesthetic benefit of training is great. So are the strength gains. In an article I wrote a few years back titled Why Do We Do This, I talked about the question of why I still train after all these years. I battled between reasons of progressive overload, a certain feeling, aesthetics, the process and stress relief, with the end conclusion being that there’s no specific reason. It’s just what I do, and it’s fun. Two and half years on, I still agree. But I’d add to it by saying it’s my anchor.
Lockdown has taught me that the type of training is irrelevant. Bodyweight, bands, light weights, running, and so on. The type doesn’t matter. What matters is the effort, intensity and orchestrated suffering. Training all out hardens you and makes you better at life’s challenges when they come your way.
Being in lockdown is definitely one of those. And I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people who’ve said that training, and a strong physical focus, is what’s keeping them going. There’s never a better time to learn the power of the ultimate anchor; having a plan and getting after it for 30-60 minutes of your day can be transformative in your life in ways that transcend the physical.
The beauty is that it’s independent of your situation. I’ve spoken to working mums who are now juggling working from home with home schooling children and looking after the house, and all they say to me is ‘thank God for training’. I’ve spoken to business owners who’ve had to go through furloughing over half their team, and on the verge of losing everything – all that’s kept them from panic is training. I’ve spoken to people on furlough who now have more time in the day but are at serious risk of boredom, bad habits and losing purpose – training has saved them. It’s a non-negotiable. You won’t always get the perfect time. Your 3Ss (structure, strategy and systems) might be different to your norm. You won’t have the ideal equipment. You can’t wait for a clearing. This is it. This is the time to hold down your anchor and use the physical as the vehicle.
You might only have 10 minutes. About 4 weeks ago I had a client tell me he was working 18 hours a day flat out on a new healthcare project for the NHS, so he couldn’t train. He was losing his anchor he relied on, felt his 3Ss slipping and was worried how he’d cope. I asked, ‘have you got 10 minutes?’ Everyone has 10 minutes. So we came up with a ‘one lift a day’ plan. Every day whenever he had one 10 minute slot spare in between calls, meetings and deadlines, he’d take one lift (with his minimal equipment), ramp up to a good weight and crank 1-3 sets to failure. That’s all, 10 minutes a day. Is it optimal? Probably not. But practical beats optimal when it comes to holding down your anchor. Practical beats optimal in the real world.
Training Anchor Checklist
When you find your slot in the day to train, it’s time to make it count. If you want to use it as the ultimate anchor, here’s what you need to do:
1. Have a pre-training ritual. This doesn’t need to be anything significant; all you want to do is differentiate it from the rest of your day. Set your training clothes, play a specific playlist, go to a different room, or have a certain meal. It doesn’t matter exactly; the key is to have a pre-training ritual. I’m lucky enough to be able to train at the same time every day, so I have a pre-workout meal 60-90 minutes before, and then I go for a 30 minute walk (of which 20 minutes is now running), put on my headphones, open up my logbook, and get to work.
2. Count your tempo during your lifts. You may be lacking heavy enough weight at home for your normal 6-12 rep range, which is where tempo can be so powerful. I’m not usually a massive advocate of counting it because it can take away from the intensity of the set. But if your loads available are a little light, and/or you’re struggling to internalise your focus in the midst of a new training environment, tempo can be useful. Having a metronome in your head can force you to slow everything down and really focus. If you don’t want specific numbers, think slow on the eccentric, pause in the hard bits, and squeeze the concentric (don’t explode if you’re not using heavy weights).
3. Count/track your rest. I’ve enjoyed this training phase of higher reps, stricter tempos and most of all, tighter rest periods. When you’re going hard and heavy, you often take 2-3 minutes to ensure optimal performance between sets. That’s great when loads are high, but in order to create a training effect with minimal equipment, keeping rest short and tracked can drive the internal focus that brings so much value.
4. Put your phone on airplane mode. To truly make your 30-60 minutes a sacred anchor, you have to treat it like so. Flicking through social media or messages in between sets isn’t going to cut it. You won’t get the same effect, and you won’t finish your session feeling the ‘reset’ you thought you would. Put your phone on airplane mode and get after it. It’s not a long time.
5. Take a written logbook and track your progress. I like to go old school and use a pad and pen, but anything works – an app, Google Sheets or your notes folder can do the trick too. The key is you’re tracking it down. Use the logbook as your objective measure week to week, and let it give you those pre-workout nerves that anyone who lives for progressive overload knows all about.
6. Push your sets further and higher than you did the session before. This feeds off the previous point. If you can get yourself into a state whereby you’re completely in tune with your mind and body, and your sole focus is to improve your performance, you’ll enter a trance like state. I feel I’m able to enter a meditative trance when I train, especially when all of this checklist I’m going through is ticked off. When I position all the variables to facilitate greater performance, I’m able to go within, connect with myself and use the physical as the vehicle.
Holding Down Your Anchor
It’s difficult to lock your 3Ss in place when the world is constantly changing. We have to be adaptable and live by transferrable rules to ensure self-care remains a priority. One of the rules that be a best friend to you in these times is the non-negotiable practice of training. Train hard. Train frequent. Use it as an anchor and hold it down. Don’t let time, responsibilities and priorities affect it. Don’t chase perfection here. The goal is to find that slot in your day, 6am or 10pm, and get after it. Shut off from the world for a bit, challenge yourself and go to your sacred place – you won’t regret it. This lockdown has taught our clients and our team the power of the anchor, I hope it brings you the same.
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