Why You Need To Play The Long Game In Training
It's the end of the year this week. Actually, it's the end of the decade as we close out the "20-teens." It's always around this time of year that people make crappy resolutions, cut things out of their life in "cold turkey" fashion, and start flooding gyms or fitness centers worldwide.
At the training facility where I serve as the program director, we are all too familiar with resolutioners and "off-season" wonders. We work primarily with kids, but when mom and dad foot the bill for training their tends to be some sense of urgency that comes with the winter months of training. This year, we tripled in numbers between November 1st and December 1st, and more and more people are asking about one month training commitments for their kids.
This is largely a societal problem. We set a goal in mind and then treat it like a purchase at a Sam's Club or Costco. Put one big payment down and it's yours. But that's not the way training works, and it sure isn't the way athletic development works. In a culture that wants things instantly, we forget that the best things take time, effort, patience, and dedication.
I'll give the following example from my time away from coaching, when I was working at a summer camp. I was asked frequently what I was doing to stay in shape and keep my strength. The answer? Nothing. But then again, I paid for the ability to take six weeks off training with no major consequences with the 10 years of 5-6 training sessions per week. If I only had a year of training experience, that six weeks of no training probably would of put me backward a long way. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and it sure as heck didn't fall in a day either.
For adults, this actually means a slower start towards your goals than you think. Gyms get flooded in January with people wanting to lose weight or gain muscle, most of whom won't be there by the end of February. They make drastic lifestyle changes and burnout when really all they needed to do was show up 1-3 times per week and slowly make diet changes.
Unfortunately, these people who are crashing the gym are also parents who think the same lifestyle change will make their kid faster or stronger. When we look at athletic development, it's still the same long term process. Yes, what your kid does at seven is important in the long term, but what that activity is would surprise you. Instead of buying a seven year old a month long training membership to the local "speed school" (which I work at, so I'm not being snarky here), perhaps take them to the local park more often. Maybe enroll them in gymnastics or in a new sport. It doesn't have to be a major commitment, but something that promotes moving in multiple ways. Travel sports at seven is a stupid concept anyway, and between travel and overuse injuries will likely cost more than that college scholarship you're pursuing for them (italicized for a reason).
We also need to consider that once a kid is ready to train, usually around the age of 11 or in the odd case 10, we also don't need to crash course them on lifting weights. Training twice per week is usually enough, especially if you commit to that on a year round basis. This is great advice for adults as well. If you want to get technical as to why it's better than training 4 times per week for 2 months of the year, or even 4 months.
2 hrs training x 52 = 104 training hours per year (assuming each session is 1 hour)
4 hrs of training x 8 = 32 training hours per year (assuming each session is 1 hour)
4 hrs of training x 16 = 64 training hours per year (same assumption)
Now I don't know about you, but I bet a lot more can be done in 104 hours throughout the year than can be done in 64 training hours. I'd also bet that not doing anything for 4 months (roughly a season) will not hold onto to progress made during that two months.
Here's a great example of consistency though, because understanding what this looks like over time. I have a young athlete who has shown up at least once per week for the past year and a half, working primarily with one of the other coaches in the facility, and then with me on Saturdays. In season he showed up once per week, and out of season up to 5 times per week. In that time he's shaved a second off his 20 yard sprint, gone from lacking the ability to hang above a chinup bar for 3 seconds to knocking out 6-10 chinups consistently, and added 240lbs to his trap bar deadlift. He doesn't show up as often as most of the kids do per week, but he shows more during the year. He's treated training as a priority, and not like it's something he can just pay for once.
This is where I encourage you, regardless of what the resolution is and who it's for, to consider the role of consistency. The training game is a drag race, it's a marathon. It's the climbing of a hill. And the best way to make it to the top is to consistently show up and go.