Recently, I had a conversation with a climber who, like me, has a very limited amount of time available for her sport. Because of her work and family commitments, she is only able to climb once or twice a week. What fascinated me was that she doesn’t see this lack of available practice time as an impediment to progress and improvement. She told me that a couple of years ago she’d decided that to stop trying to find ways to cram in extra training. Instead she chose to focus on ways to support her climbing that she could do anytime and anywhere.
Now she prioritizes working on breath control, heart rate recovery, and visualization, as this can be done anywhere. Although she can’t spend hours on the wall practicing, when she does climb, she can buy herself time by slowing her breathing and heart rate and resting while she thinks her way through the next move. She wholeheartedly believes that her climbing has noticeably improved since she took this approach.
In the days after our conversation, I began to think differently about my own training. Instead of feeling guilty and frustrated at the lack of time I spend on the platform, I started to see a wealth of opportunities to continue my training away from it. Here are the things I’ve tried so far and would recommend to you.
As a coach, I can count on one hand the number of athletes I know who will willingly stretch on their own. Most only stretch when their coach watches them with hawk-like intensity. Generally, when we are at the gym, we just want to lift heavy, but it’s clear that stretching regularly will at least help you maintain flexibility by reminding your nervous system what your body is capable of. The effects of stretching are not permanent and your body will ‘forget’ the stretching benchmarks you set if they are not maintained. That means that the more you stretch, the less time it’ll take going forward—and the less painful it will be.
The real beauty of stretching is that you can do it anywhere, at any time of day, and for any length of time. Take heed of the last point. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to spend 20 minutes stretching every muscle group to see a benefit. Even a little bit of stretching will help. Why not bend at the waist and stretch out those hamstrings when you drop something? Or stretch out your wrists at your desk between emails? Your aim should be to stretch a little as often as you can to maintain flexibility between training sessions. How many 30 to 60 second moments when you could stretch something out do you have during your day?
Watching videos can be extremely useful in helping an athlete develop a sense of how their body should look and the timing of movements. As a coach, I believe the real power of videos is their ability to show in precise terms what words often fail to adequately describe. Furthermore, videos can be slowed down and examined in fine detail.
One of the most interesting reasons to start watching more videos is the way our mind and body reacts when we watch other people move. Research has shown that when we observe the actions of others, mirror neurons become active in our brains. These mirror neurons activate muscles specific to the movement we are observing. In layman’s terms: When we watch an elite athlete snatch and clean and jerk, our own brain is sending out messages to the relevant muscles teaching them to copy the movement.
While watching successful elite athletes do their thing is inspirational, I would suggest watching videos of yourself is just as powerful because it can help you develop a reliable sense of how you move. Often, it will create a stronger ability to make corrections when being coached. As a coach, I have found that athletes are more apt to have those aha moments when I show them a slow-motion video that demonstrates the movement or correction we’re working on.
Most weightlifters understand that quality uninterrupted sleep is beneficial to the training regimen. If you’re not drawn to read studies on the subject, then why not try a little self-experimentation? For two to four weeks, go to bed whenever it suits your work and social schedule without using any kind of pre-sleep routine. Make sure to record the length of time you sleep, how you feel training and any side effects that you can reasonably put down to tiredness. Then follow that with two to four weeks where you ensure you get nine hours of sleep after following a pattern of preparation for sleep (yoga, reading a relaxing book, a warm bath, etc.) at least an hour before you go to bed every night. I would bet the family silver that you will see an improvement in your training in the second period of the experiment.
The reasons you will train better after a good sleep are twofold. First, the demand on the body is lower during sleep. You’re not walking around, lifting heavy stuff, eating and drinking things, etc. so your body can divert resources elsewhere. Second, and of particular relevance to weightlifters, is the relaxation of muscles that occurs and the increased blood flow to those muscles that assists in the repair and restoration of tissue. The longer you spend asleep, the more periods of restorative REM sleep you can fit in, therefore the more you increase the opportunity for your body to repair itself.
Although the benefits of sleep for physical restoration are fairly widely known, the neurological advantages are not as well understood. However, it’s very likely that you’ve unknowingly experienced what I’m talking about. Do you remember when you were first learning to snatch and clean and jerk? Remember how confused your mind and body would get trying to coordinate the movements? And then do you recall coming back for the next session and finding that something had just clicked and you were moving better? This phenomenon is likely to be partly due to the way our brains sort through information when we sleep. Some studies show that memory is consolidated and recorded more firmly during sleep and goes from its initial fragile state to become more deeply embedded during certain parts of the sleep cycle. Other studies have demonstrated links between dreams and the day’s activities seeming to show that our brains carry on working through the day’s problems long after we’re aware of it.
Visualization is something that people either love or hate. The most frequent difficulty people cite is that they find themselves visualizing failure. When I explain that visualization can be as simple as daydreaming with intention, even some of the doubters get on board. Daydreaming, fantasizing, imagining, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t have to be complicated. However, there are a couple simple rules to follow. First, your visualization sessions should revolve around you and be positive. For some of the athletes I’ve worked, with this is a real challenge. For whatever reason, even imagining themselves succeeding is difficult and they become distracted by negative thoughts and feelings, thereby negating any benefit. What I suggest is that you begin simply by watching videos of yourself lifting at your best. Absorb as much detail from the video as possible. Watch it in slow motion. Recall the sights, sounds, smells and feelings you experienced when the video was taken. Use these memories to build a rich picture. This way you can replay the video in your mind whenever you feel like it. I’d also suggest sharing the video with friends and training partners, taking in their reactions, and committing their positive comments to memory to increase the feel-good factor surrounding your visualisation.
You should think of visualization as a form of rehearsal. Sure, you may be lying on the couch fantasizing about going six for six in your next competition rather than actually hitting those lifts at the gym, but momentum is gathering around the theory that visualization encourages the creation and strengthening of the neurological networks that you will actually use while weightlifting. All this from the comfort of your living room. Need I say more?
Elite athletes and coaches must utilize every possible tool to maximize returns from training. There comes a point for all of us when we just can’t gain anything more from our time in the gym… and when we’re injured and can’t spend as much time weightlifting. These situations are the perfect opportunities to train off the platform.
My philosophy is always to take as scientific approach as possible, so I would suggest you try one of the above ideas at a time for a month or two and record your findings. You could start small. You could work your way through the library of exercise videos on the Catalyst Athletics Website, or rewatch those videos of you lifting on a good day—the ones your coach or training partner posted to social media. Commit your best video to memory and recall it when you’re stuck in traffic and have time to daydream. The results may surprise you.
This article was provided by Peformance Menu and originally published on PerformanceMenu.com