If you’ll excuse the bad pun our intention for this year is to highlight a theme at the start of every month and bring you content across all of our areas of expertise – training, nutrition, mindset – during the following weeks. It was only fitting that the first month – although there is only a week remaining – start off with a post about Intention.
We have spoken previously on goal setting and how to be intentional with your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals so we’ll skip that aspect for now and cycle back later in the year when it’s time for a reminder. Instead, we’re going to focus on training with intention, what that means and why you might be cheating yourself out of the results that you deserve.
Intention refers to a mental state that is concerned with carrying out a plan or goal. It seems silly to even discuss it, if we are headed to training it means we already intend to improve our health both physically and mentally. That may be true at a very baseline level but unless we’re holding ourself accountable, on every repetition, every day, we’re leaving something on the table.
Being intentional with our training starts well before we ever get into the gym, studio, lace-up our running shoes or clip into our pedals. What we do from a lifestyle and nutrition perspective sets the tone for our training session. Did I go to bed early? Did I eat properly? Have I drank enough water yet today? Is my mind in the right place? All these factors influence the quality of the training session and have nothing to do with the session itself.
Assuming that we have checked off those boxes and put ourselves in a position to succeed the next aspect of intention involves our mindset for the day. I should start every training session with a specific goal in mind and continually check back in throughout the session to keep myself accountable. If I’m working towards a half marathon a great goal for the day would be stride-length and ground contact. Perhaps, I’ve been working with a coach and he’s noticed that I have a tendency to over-stride which breaks my rhythm, causes me to decelerate, and is costing me energy. I set that intention and check back in every 5 minutes throughout the run to ensure that I’m remaining strict with my technique and re-wiring the proper movement pattern. If I lose concentration and revert to my old stride I’ll catch it again within 5 minutes and make the correction.
This may seem excessive so perhaps I’ll frame it in a slightly different way. You need fitness, there is no debate to be had. The alternative to fitness is an accelerated march towards death. This means that every day, week, month, and year you are going to have to dedicate time towards staying alive, and hopefully thriving. If you have to commit a lifetime to fitness why not put the extra effort in and excel at your chosen activity. Plus, have you ever noticed how a great training session carries over to the other aspects of your life? You often feel calmer, better-equipped to deal with adversity and in an improved mood. Exercise does a plethora of wonderful things for our body, most noticeably the release of Endorphins – biochemical hormones – that are responsible for a decrease in pain perception and the upswing in mood following a workout. It seems worthwhile to invest a little extra time in effort into something that has such great carryover to your day-to-day.
Although these are all examples of ways to implement intention into your training, the real focus of today is going to be on the time spent in the weight room and a few different ways that you can help keep yourself accountable. This refers to the workout on the whole but also each individual rep and set.
This process starts with a proper warm-up.
Of all the aspects of training that get overlooked none more so than warm up. The excuses fly fast and loose whenever it’s brought up. It takes too long and I don’t have much time. I don’t want to burn out before my workout. It doesn’t work for me. These are all the usual comments surrounding warm-up and why people choose to avoid it. Although nervous systems and levels of sympathetic (freeze/flight response) arousal are different for everyone, raising core temperature and potentiating (awakening) the body is valuable irrelevant of the population. It decreases the risk of injury and improves the rate at which muscles fire. Being intentional starts with holding yourself accountable in your warm-up. We want to check off a few major boxes. This could take anywhere from 5 – 25 minutes depending on our level of focus and personal physical feedback system.
Warm Up Check List
- Mobilize Stiff Joints / Areas
- Dynamically Stretch Muscles
- Raise Core Temperature – Tacky Skin
- Increase O2 Saturation – Breathing Heavier
- Improve Mental Alertness
Lifting with Intent
At this point in the training session, we’ve checked all the boxes. Slept well the night before, drank enough water, ate nutritionally dense food, and warmed up properly. It’s time to pick up heavy stuff and put it down but how we do that matters! When we discuss lifting with intent it means recruiting maximally for every repetition. This is especially important in the maintenance of power. As we age our ability to generate force at a rapid rate declines, this quality of muscular function is responsible for many of our basic life movements and must be trained. A bit of science to help explain.
That looks complicated but the takeaway for today’s article is that power requires us to move a Load with High Velocity which both requires and is a great way to teach training with Intent! This does not automatically imply a heavy load so please don’t worry about attempting to set Olympic records. All training is based on a Strength / Speed Continuum and power falls on that continuum, from light implement power such as Medicine Ball throws and slams to heavy implement Olympic Lifts and weighted jumps. What is important when discussing power is that every rep is performed maximally. We throw the ball as hard as possible, pull or push the bar with maximum effort and apply as much force as possible.
The same concept is applied when we shift further up or down the continuum. Even when lifting heavy – near maximal loads- it’s important that we try to move the bar fast as possible even if the load itself restricts us. When world-class powerlifters pull 800-pound deadlifts they are trying to accelerate the bar, it looks slow and labored but the intention is to rip it off the ground.
Why is this so important?
From a sports perspective, there are very few sports in the world in which Strength is valued more heavily than Power. In fact, most sports never see maximal strength output or approach maximal speed, it’s the nature of reactive sports. This is why power becomes so critical, we need to be able to turn off and on as quickly as possible to win the moment or exchange. Winning the battle for a loose ball, puck, or fumble can mean the difference between winning and losing a game or drastically changing a career.
The sport of life is no different, actions like rising from a chair, climbing stairs, throwing or kicking the ball with your kids all require power. A recent study out of Clinimex in Rio De Janerio Brazil has shown that power is related to all-cause co-morbidity, meaning the less Power you have the more likely you are to die. So if we want to live longer we have to move weights quickly and that requires Intent!
We wanted to offer a few quick suggestions for being more intentional with your workouts and that involves incorporating more power-based exercises and tracking them. Sprint more, jump more, throw more, and be more violent with the bar.
Sprint More. Time It.
Sprinting is an amazing way to improve your power and Type II fast-twitch fibers. It also decreases cortisol, increases testosterone, and improves insulin sensitivity. Adding a stopwatch will push you to work hard and run faster in hopes of beating the previous best time.
Throw and Jump. Record the Distance.
Medicine balls are a great way to improve your power and be more intentional with your workouts but if you don’t have one a tire or rock will do just fine, ask the highland game competitors. Sticking with primitive contests jump more, try and jump higher or further and record the distances. After a few workouts, you’ll have a baseline and know when you aren’t exerting maximally or if the body is tired and needs a rest.
Be Violent with the Bar
Our last suggestion for training with more intention deserves its own explanation so please tune in next week for a breakdown on Velocity Based Training (VBT) and what that could mean for your training or coaching. For this week, think about moving the weights quickly – still with perfect form – especially on the concentric – lifting motion – on the exercise. A quick and dirty way to incorporate VBT into your workouts is by timing your sets. Aim to complete the set as fast as possible and record the time. If you begin to see a drop off in time you’ll know that your body has fatigued and it’s time to move on to a new exercise.
Be Intentional with your training and what you put in your ears! Tune back in tomorrow for a new podcast with a special Toronto based guest.