What breeds success in competitive fitness? While that can be a broad question, let’s pull it apart. First, we need to define success. We have to remember whenever we think of success we filter that through our own biases creating a personal hierarchy of what is better and admirable to aim at. So, one’s personal definition might not coincide with another’s. Thus, let’s choose a universal definition to create clarity across all fronts. Let’s define success via the Merriam-Webster definition: “The correct or desired result of an attempt.” And in the context of competitive fitness, “the correct or desired result of an attempt to qualify or win said event” (fill in with whatever event(s) you are aiming at).
So, what pieces go into moving someone towards that result, the desired outcome from an attempt? Great question. We’ve distill that down to three key pieces that are integral to any athlete’s ability to cultivate success. Those three pieces are:
- Program Design
We call this the Triangle of Success.
Like any triangle, each piece is instrumental to the strength and integrity of the system. If one piece is undervalued, the other two won’t be able to pick up the slack severely hindering and inhibiting the quest towards the goal. The beauty of this system is it goes both ways. The coach MUST have these pieces aligned with the athlete by educating them, showing them the value, and holding them accountable. While the athlete must continually work to refine and dial in their patterns of behavior that could negatively impacting their growth towards the goal.
One area that most people dismiss or look over are lifestyle pieces such as optimal circadian rhythm, winding down before bed, sleep cycle, sleep quality, sleep quantity, food hygiene, social environment, work environment, etc. (not an exhaustive list by any means).
To give a more concrete example of this, consistency and rhythm with life and training, I’ve included a detailed outline of what a current Games level female athlete’s Monday looks like, starting with her wake up, meals, training, winding down, and bedtime:
While it doesn’t clearly highlight the behavioral aspect I’ve been discussing, it shows it subliminally. Through clear purpose and alignment, this athlete has organized her schedule and day to optimize her growth towards the goal. She’s obviously an extreme example, as she is aiming at the pinnacle in the sport and her whole day is orientated around training and recovering. However, the principle of structure and consistency in her day can apply to all athletes reaffirming proper alignment with their behaviors to best suit their goal.
Let’s do a thought experiment and challenge this notion of balance amongst the three pillars.
- What if my nutrition and daily behaviors are on point but my program is from a template or a blog program?
- While great consistent nourishment and patterns of behavior are vital to our body’s ability to grow and adapt, we also need optimal stimulation and stress applied to the body. You could be getting this stimulation and stress from a blog or templated program and be making some progress as well. Some of those programs utilize sound program design principles in their training. However, a more resilient human will always be able to handle more chaos, think: 300 thrusters one week with 100 muscle ups, then the following week 200 deadlifts with 250 handstand pushups. With these types of athletes, their body’s will be able to adapt to anything thrown its way. Before you think you fall into this category, humans who actually fall into this category would be those competing at the Crossfit Games. The top 1% of all competitors. The anomalies. But, some of them aren’t as gifted and had to work relentlessly to be on that stage and I don’t want to take anything away from their hard work. We also have to recognize they are gifted a bit more than the rest of the population. For everyone else, those who are not as gifted in their ability to adapt and overcome challenges with chaotic exposure, your training program must be tailored to you in order for you to reach your potential. We all have unique needs, pieces we are strong at and pieces we are weak at. The ability of a personal coach to personally tailor your training towards what you need will afford you the ability to rise quicker towards your potential. In addition, the design of the training plan can ensure balance and adequate exposure to all things necessary for the sport while focusing in on the weaker points. A templated or blog program serving the masses has no idea what few things you need to specifically get better at. It has to tailor towards a general avatar and hope the people using it improve by extension. And hope is not a strategy. At the end of the day, if your training program is not unique to you, your goals, and your inefficiencies you will have a much more difficult and bumpy road towards your physical potential.
- What if my behaviors and training program are on point but my nutrition is hit and miss, can’t I get away with a bit of flexibility there?
- Sound behaviors and training are crucial to success, but if those aren’t supported with proper nourishment to recover, repair and grow, the body could be subjected to a constant state of mild inflammation. This will limit our ability to become anabolic, heal soft tissue, digest and assimilate our food appropriately potentially leading to malnourishment and weaken immune function over time increasing our susceptibility to illness both mild and extreme. If your training is coming from the greatest coach in the world along with all aspects of your lifestyle are dialed but your nutrition is pure garbage, you can bet your bottom dollar you are leaving performance benefits on the table and increasing your chance for a bigger issue down the road. When you sweep the little bug over the rug continually, that bug will eventually grow into a monster you can’t defeat.
- What if my nutrition and training program are dialed but my lifestyle could be better? I’m just so busy and don’t have time to sit down to eat or get more sleep, I can probably get away with it right?
- With someone who falls into this category, we first need to look at their goal and figure out if that really is their goal. One of the silent killers of success is improper alignment. In the end, if we aren’t fully aligned in ALL aspects of our lives with what we think we want, we will find all the obstacles in the way and use those as anchors to hold us back, most of the time subconsciously, from reaching what we assumed we wanted. So, taking time to sit down and figure out if that goal is what someone really wants is an important piece. Most people never ask themselves why they want to attain a goal, it’s just something they assumed they “should” do. Once we’ve uncovered the truth, we need to be educated on the benefits of optimal lifestyle choices outside of training to benefit our body’s ability to grow and adapt. The heaviest hitter, in my opinion, is sleep and by extension, circadian rhythm. Briefly touching on the value of sleep and circadian rhythm, Dr. Matthew Walker wrote in his book, Why We Sleep, “The rhythms in growth hormone and cortisol are strongly influenced by sleep characteristics, which are, in turn, affected by habitual levels of physical activity.” If sleep is not a foundational piece in one’s lifestyle, their ability to recover, utilize fuel efficiently, and be able to interact appropriately in the world, as emotional regulation is affected by sleep quality, will be negatively impacted.
- Great program design and “macro adherence” will never be able to make up for poor alignment and lifestyle. If you aren’t balancing out your “yang” energy (training) with “yin” energy (resting, recovering, sleeping) you won’t reach your physical potential and will have a much harder time achieving your goals. You can take that to the bank.
Let’s pull this all together. All athletes are aiming for their unique “correct or desired result of an attempt,” also known as success. For most, this can always be a daunting task as we quickly view the goal from a macro perspective and create an overwhelming sense of doubt. Fear not, we can break success down into three pillars that creates a formidable structure: Behaviors, Nourishment, Program Design. By aligning these three pillars, we will create a consistent rhythm and execution in our lives that move us closer to our goal one day at a time. Never forget, “Consistency over time yields results.” Continue to deconstruct that quest into something you can digest, apply, and execute on a daily basis. Before you know it, you might pause for a moment and realize you just achieved it.