What Are You Training For?

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This is one of my favourite subjects to talk about with other athletes and non athletes a like.

A lot of people ask me questions along the lines of ;

  • You do a bit of running right have you ever fancied a half marathon?
  • Ah you do triple jump don’t you have to be really tall?
  • So what do you bench?

If most people haven’t caught a glimpse of my now confused face my explanation could surprise a few people. If you have ever asked me one of those questions I don’t blame you and in many ways they are totally justified.

In the realms of Sport I think that there is a vast no mans land where we look at certain people and try and assess why they are so great at what they do or in other cases not so great.

In the cases of the great athletes we could delve in to genetics, environment, drugs. Which are all very valid points to why some athletes are better then others. Yet for me they are very good at explaining potential that doesn’t always turn into real results. What is the difference between the average and a great athlete, well you’d probably say that’s obvious their time spent training. Well that’s simply just not true. Training for a long time say 10 years does not guarantee that an athlete will reach a top class level in any field or be any better then anyone who may have trained for even half of that time.

Specific Skills

How does an athlete reach an elite level in any field then? the answer is a little more simple then you may think. Specific programming!

To explain better I will use myself as an example I have been a Triple Jumper for 4 years and in that time I have always looked fit and healthy, way above average in fact. My body fat has rarely being over 11%. Year on year because of my own conditioning I’ve got stronger and packed on a lot more muscle. Despite all of that progress my overall distances since I started Triple jump has only gone up by little over 20cms in 4 years!

How is that possible you may think, surely even training part time you could still make an improvement at a faster rate then 5cms per year. The answer is yes you could and to be honest my improvement only came when I started to prioritise my specific training in the last 2 years. In everyday life there are not any instances where you would be needed to run as fast as possible in a straight line and hop on to one leg so transferable skills are very minimal. In other words I could train and train as many times as I want twice, three times a day but unless I triple jump and trained my body in very specific ways I simply would not get any better no matter how much time was spent.The most elite, from a darts player to a sprinter are those who have spent the most time developing their specific skills.

Too much general

When we look at sports where physical activity is involved the lines between exercise, health, fitness and sport are blurred somewhat.  I say this because before we decide we want to participate in a sport we have to get our body ready to be able to deal with the stress of that sport and this is achieved through general training. In this phase of training for sports such as Rugby, Football, Tennis, Field hockey the training can be very similar. Gym training, longer cardio and circuits are often used, also they can be used to keep fitness levels up during specific training times.

This is where I feel comparisons between athletes in sport are made and there is a so called level playing field. Measuring power, strength and speed in a controlled environment is great for the assessment of athletes within a team, yet I feel irrelevant for comparison. The reason is that even though general training can help you be better at your sport it can’t be substituted for the sport and may or may not produce better results. For example having a footballer who is powerful strong and fast yet has no tactical awareness and very little ball skills wouldn’t do well despite the apparent physical superiority over their counterparts.

Another issue with the general phase is athletes losing the ability to see the bigger picture and get infatuated in achieving goals which actually have little to do with their event and time could actually be spent better honing specific skills. Something which I have being guilty of in the past using the gym to work on my strength in the squat and dead lift I am now one of the strongest in my group in terms of lifting weights, but  am I any faster? Not really. Can I jump any further? No. Now I’m really not saying that this type of training isn’t needed because It is, yet the amount of time spent on it was disproportionate to the gains I got in the triple jump.

So what are you training for?

Usain Bolt is the fastest man to ever run the 100m and 200m over these distances he is unstoppable, yet would I bet my house on him to beat Mo Farah over the 10,000m, definitely not. These two athletes are very in tune with what they are training for and clearly so, the results speak for themselves.

As an athlete myself I have now implemented a few tools to ensure that I do not veer off track and they come in the form of questions:

  • How will this help me as a Triple Jumper?
  • Do the benefits outway the time put in to this activity?
  • Will this take me away from actually jumping?

Basically… WHAT AM I TRAINING FOR?

Remember general training will give you a canvas but you have to create the art by finely tuning your body to create a masterpiece!

Keep that in mind and have fun.

Thanks for reading

-J