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The Myth Of Linear Progress

When I was kid, I used to attend a summer camp that was heavily rooted in outdoor and hiking culture. In 13 days we spent at least 4 of them on the trail, climbing mountains, trekking over terrain, or "ridge running" through the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

On many of these trips, we always encountered a familiar problem: False Peaks.

A False Peak was one of those bumps in the road that was always disheartening. You'd have been hiking for a long time, and all of the sudden you start going down again. You stop and wonder if you'd just gone over the top of the peak and had missed the view. Sometimes you'd even turnaround because you'd been hiking a while and you were convinced you'd be at the top by now. But you weren't, it was just a bump on the path, a small high point, followed by a drop off, and then a continual climb upwards.

Training is like hiking in this regard. We want progress to be linear. We always want the weight on the bar to go up, the pounds on the scale to go down, or the time it takes us to run that pesky 5k at Thanksgiving to be shorter. We want linear progress. We want to see that we're always going in the same direction.

But linear progress is a myth.

Training follows a certain flow. We take two or three steps forward, and then another step back. This is natural. We cannot always chase an adaptation without having to take time to recover. If we do, we end up getting hurt, sick, or burned out. And when that happens it puts our goals out of reach just a little bit more.

This is why training often has phases built in. Periods where we focus on different qualities. At the time of writing this, myself and several of my athletes are on GPP (General Physical Preparedness) phases where we build skills outside of the specific skill we're trying to develop. We are chasing adaptations that allow us to build more skill. When we go through these phases, we experience a few drop offs in other performance markers. We lose strength, we lose speed, or we lose power. It's not necessarily a bad thing. We need those dips. Those false peaks.

When false peaks are present they remind us that we've already gone somewhere already, but there is still more to be achieved. There's more output left on the table. There's more waiting for us to take hold of.

If you're struggling in your training, stop and consider your situation. Look around to see if you're on the downside of a false peak. Look ahead and see where you can go. If you turn back now you may never see the view. If you keep going, the view from the top will only be more satisfying.

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