Fundamentals of Training and Coaching
You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
-R. Buckminster Fuller
A simple question:
What makes a good training or coaching program?
Now this is where the problem starts. There are as many answers, if not more, as there are people. In more than 23 years of involvement with sports, competitive or not, I noticed that the fields of training and coaching are extremely broad and fragmented. Pretty much anything in your life can be a part of a “successful program.” As a result, ‘taking a holistic approach’ also seems to be an ever increasing word in the vocabulary of everybody, though without any real understanding of the concept. Coaches and personal trainers claim that training hard and recovery are paramount, nutritionists highly emphasise the need for a balanced and healthy diet, since you are what you eat, while therapists and motivational speakers put a great importance on the mind and the release of unnecessary tension and stress to name a few.
Regrettably and in some cases disastrously (for you), even the experts contradict themselves – short high intensity training is more effective than long low intensity, high carbohydrate diets are best as compared to high fat, or you should be extremely driven and motivated in order to succeed rather than just go with the flow and have fun.
Or vice versa.
If you are to make any kind of sense of the highly contradictory information you will end up in a (nervous) and confused mess, and if you just follow it blindly it is a rather haphazard affair – it may or may not work with a million of possible explanations on why or why not. Yes there are successful examples of each, though even when it comes to the most fundamental thing that we ALL share – time – a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day.
While there are laws of physics, axioms in mathematics that are universally true, yet the field of athletic training and coaching is a free-for-all jungle with occasional glimmers of hope, though still without an agreeing set of consistent of principles. In my search for fundamentals I stumbled upon some great ideas, though there was always something missing; great strength training coaches barely mention proper food habits, revolutionary nutritionists almost never mentioned motivational aspects, etc, etc. The most successful coaches had omitted the least amount of crucial information/application, though they still ignored or neglected some.
Further inspired by a great book, I set out to create a fundamental training and coaching philosophy. In order to be both logically and conceptually satisfied, I put out a number of requirements that the fundamental values must meet .
First and foremost any set of fundamental principles must be universal – they should apply to you, me and everybody in all sports and activities be it team, individual, etc. Furthermore those principles should be also be timeless – the principles would have worked for the champions of yesterday and can be successfully applied to the great winners of tomorrow.
Second, when put together, the core values must be complete – they should not exclude any elements. At the same time they should be interrelated while they all form a comprehensive whole.
Last but not least, by following the principles you must be able to get real-world tangible and positive results. You should be able to analyse your performance, identify challenges/areas for improvement and come up with workable solution.
The Core Training Philosophy
The three primary elements are : Mind, Body and Environment. Together they create the principle of Awareness.
Probably the most ignored aspect of training and totally dismissed by 99% of coaches out there. I separate it from the brain (more on that below). Paraphrasing Sir. Kenneth Robinson, all mammals have a brain, yet we are the only ones that have the Olympic games, write literature, compose music. The mind possesses boundless creative ability. Unfortunately this multi-layered complexity represents some of the greatest roadblocks for a good number of people. This is where the ego resides. Too often it is the ego gets in the way; for example by equating good results to happiness, one cannot help but sway between the extremes of elation and more often depression.
Repressed emotions and memories hidden deep in the unconscious can manifest debilitating chronic pain in the form of Tension Myosisits Syndrome (TMS). Most significantly the mind is the host of most limiting beliefs. The 4minute mile was deemed physiologically impossible, until Sir. Roger Bannister ran it in 3:59. Merely 46 days after this feat, his main rival John Landy also ran the mile in under 4 minutes. Almost a century later fast high school athletes can mange the once seemingly impossible accomplishment. Did people suddenly get faster? No, they allowed their mind to guide them. Sit Roger Bannister himself continuously practiced visualizing the record.
Once you stop believing something is impossible, it becomes possible.
The above examples are just a few of the vast abilities both positive and negative that the mind possesses. Therefore the mind represents the top of the triangle. though the mind would not exist without…
The body is the physical expression of how we carry ourselves in the world. The structural foundation that is the skeleton, fascia, muscles, etc. depend on the many biochemical processes that constantly go on and are responsible for everything from breathing to the billions of neural transmissions that even are responsible for the wide array of emotions and conscious human function. It might be a case of stating the obvious, though until science discovers ways to infuse our intellect/mind (in a different medium), this is what we have to live and deal with.
Since ultimately it is the body that we have to use in the various (athletic) activities, it is the most obvious choice on what to improve by training; and that is perfectly fine. However, there are two very important aspects that rarely get a mention – health and functionality. Proper workings of everything that is the human body is paramount – this is where health comes in. Sacrificing health even for short term results is not a path worth following. The second aspect is functionality or in short using the body in the most optimal way possible, the way mother nature intended us to. Mother nature is just another word for…
Quoting Theodosius Dobzhansky:
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
We are not separate from the environment and we evolved to deal with it in the best way possible. Evolution is a slow and steady process since when survival is on the table, quick fixes and hastily patched up solutions rarely represent sustainable solutions. The way Homo sapiens is today does not differ much from the final version that came out successful roughly 2 million years ago. On the grand scheme of things considering the celestial processes and even the age of the planet earth, it is a rather short period. However when viewed through the lifespan of the average human of roughly 70-80 years, our present form is quite ancient/old. Therefore it is quite unreasonable to assume that we can expect any significant evolutionary changes in our lifetime or that of our children; no matter what the media might be telling you during their advertisements of the ‘latest and the greatest.’
Another quite important aspect is that adapting to your environment as well as changing it to better suit your living and athletic needs requires both mental and physical energy. The current highly technological and fast pace society is vastly different than the African savannah where ‘we grew up’ and as such you should be overly vigilant not to let it overcome your extremely robust adaptation capabilities. This is one of the reasons why top level professional athletes can train at high volume and intensity (whether that is productive it another story…), while the aspiring ones of you are sometimes all too painfully familiar with overtraining. Therefore adapting your training to your environment (family/job situation, weather, traffic, availability of training facilities) is paramount. What you can’t change in your environment is not worth stressing about, period.
Your environment is unique. With that being said a significant part of it that deserves a special mention is the food you eat or the so-called nutrition. A highly debated aspect with a monster of a industry behind it putting millions into advertising pushing questionable products.
From the previous paragraph just remember
How did we evolve in a much tougher environment, without having all the advancements of the present times?
That and many other questions that result from the three principles of the Mind, Body and Environment is how you ultimately get to…
I strongly believe total and complete awareness is paramount for successful (athletic) life. Therefore I conclude this article with a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais’s book Awareness Through Movement.
We act in accordance with our self-image.
This self-image—which, in turn, governs our every act—is conditioned in varying degree by three factors: heritage, education, and self-education.
The part that is inherited is the most immutable. The biological endowment of the individual—the form and capacity of his nervous system, his bone structure, muscles, tissue, glands, skin, senses—are all determined by his physical heritage long before he has any established identity. His self-image develops from his actions and reactions in the normal course of experience.
Education determines one’s language and establishes a pattern of concepts and reactions common to a specific society. These concepts and reactions will vary according to the environment into which a person is born; they are not characteristic of mankind as a species, but only of certain groups or individuals. Education largely determines the direction of our self-education, which is the most active element in our development and in more frequent use socially than elements of biological origin.
Our self education influences the manner in which external education is acquired, as well as the selection of the material to be learned and the rejection of that which we cannot assimilate.
Of the three active factors in the establishment of our self-image, self-education alone is to some extent in our own hands.
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Cover image: The Vituvian man by Leonardo Da Vinci