I spent the much of my early life as a competitive athlete. My life revolved around sports. Looking back, it seems like I was always in the gym preparing for an upcoming event. I didn’t need exercise goals, as my goals were always specific to sports. For example, as a young boxer I was always focused on my next bout. I didn’t need motivation to train. I wanted to win so working hard in the gym was the only logical choice.
Unfortunately, as the years passed, my hands began to fail me. Injuries eventually got the best of me and I transitioned from athlete to coach. Exercise remained a big part of my life however, as I used it to fuel my competitive drive. I set difficult goals for myself and was always on the lookout for new challenges. As soon as I achieved one goal, I was ready to conquer another. I didn’t train because I enjoyed it. I busted my ass because my competitive thirst needed quenching.
Working from one goal to the next allowed me to overcome many challenging feats. My competitiveness certainly proved advantageous in that regard. Once I set my mind on a goal, I was willing to put myself through hell to achieve it. In some ways, you could say that I was my own worst enemy. I was competing against goals that I set for myself and the bar was always set high. I’ve always been my own biggest critic and I’m usually first to belittle myself if I don’t achieve what I set out to accomplish.
A Shift In Philosophy
I’m definitely harder on myself than I should be, but that is the only approach I ever knew. I had some excellent coaches as a young athlete who pushed me to my limits. I am forever grateful for their time, wisdom, and assistance. I would have never become the person I am without their guidance. I also wouldn’t be half the coach that I am today. Much of my own philosophy originates from those coaches that I had as a youngster. And I’ll be the first to admit that I am just as hard on my athletes as they once were on me.
In recent years however, I’ve slowly come to realize that there is more to life than constantly competing against yourself and others. I’m still as competitive as anyone you’ll ever meet, but my own training has evolved beyond constantly chasing down a new goal. In other words, I’m still open to challenges, but I no longer wait in anticipation for the next obstacle to present itself.
In some ways, I came to this conclusion by accident. I became so busy coaching others that I didn’t have as much time to worry about my own goals. Whether I lifted a certain weight was insignificant compared to whether or not my athletes were ready for their next event. Ultimately, I had to realize that I was no longer the athlete. Instead, I was the coach who put his athletes first.
Movement Is A Goal
Slowly, I began to recognize that getting up to exercise and move is a goal itself. Goals don’t always need to be so specific that they involve lifting a precise load or performing a certain number of reps. I’ve actually had some of my best training sessions by simply going outside and challenging myself with whatever is around me. One day I may be lifting stones, another day I might be running trails, and another day I may be performing calisthenics in the woods. I don’t always have a specific task that I’m working to achieve.
As I’ve grown older, my training goals have become much broader. It is actually refreshing to not always be chasing down a singular goal. I’ve come to enjoy challenging my body in a variety of ways without obsessing over any specific task. This isn’t to say that I’m not working as hard as I once did, but rather that my hard work is channeled in various directions. I am no longer racing to accomplish a specific task.
Don’t Confuse The Message
As a I write this entry, it is worth noting that I am not against setting specific goals. I still challenge my athletes to achieve and accomplish precise tasks. The real point that I hope to convey is that training for general fitness is different than training as a competitive athlete. If you are no longer training for an event, it is okay to budget in some enjoyable work (movement) within your schedule. You can still work hard and improve without always chasing a goal.
As for examples, I can provide one from earlier today. I set out to perform a conditioning workout but didn’t have a specific goal. Instead, I ventured into the woods and decided to run my favorite hill. I didn’t need a goal to push myself hard. I didn’t even count how many times I sprinted the hill. I’m experienced enough to know when my legs are shot. Once I hit that point, I knew that I had accomplished what I had hoped for (i.e. a quality conditioning workout). I don’t need to log how fast I ran or count how many steps I took. I know that I pushed myself hard and I’ll be better as a result of that work.
In summary, I reached a point in my life where I was starting to become burnt out by constantly chasing down one goal after another. The best thing I could have ever done was to broaden my focus and learn to enjoy the process. I no longer need a goal to get up and train. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long after I stopped competing to learn how to embrace movement without constantly analyzing and critiquing everything I did.
Hopefully there are others with similar backgrounds who can learn from my example. I’ve certainly enjoyed the gains that I’ve made by simply training hard without the pressure of any self-imposed deadlines. There is no doubt that the last few years of my training have been more enjoyable than the 20+ years that came before.
I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years bring.
“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” – Henry J. Kaiser