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The beauty of boredom

Boredom and monotony are beautiful things. I know, those are strange words in a time when the combined knowledge of all humanity is in your pocket next to your balls. But hear me out; we’ve lost a lot of very valuable wisdom while drowning in an ocean of information.

I have been in the strength and conditioning industry for 13 years, which is more than enough time to witness the ebb and flow of every trend. The current infatuation with ever more expensive wearables is just the latest expression of our long line of fitness ADD. I know you spent a lot of money on that toy and more than likely it’s tied to some sort of points or rewards system. You may even be in a whatsapp group with your friends, competing to out-step, out-sleep, out-hydrate each other. However, you already know the harsh truth. It won’t add kilos to your squat or take kilos off your squishy ass. Only the process will. And the process is boring.

Every coach or personal trainer who has survived in this job for longer than a decade will tell you the same thing: results are achieved by doing very basic things every day for many, many years. It’s no secret that being strong requires working your percentages on your major lifts 3 to 5 times per week for at least 3-5 years. That’s if you won the genetic lottery. Some of you were dealt a really bad hand by your parents and may have to put in even more work than that for much longer. It sucks, but until commercial gene editing is a thing, you’ll just have to suck it up.

The same rules apply if you want to maintain an athletic level of body fat. Eat lots of vegetables, keep your calories in check and stop shoveling processed foods, treats and starches in your mouth for the rest of your life!

Now that I have you guiltily looking down at your fitness tracker that’s on the same hand you’re eating a cookie with, it’s time to point you in the right direction. If you want to be good at any sport (or just life in general), you need to check off a few non-negotiable items on your to-do list.

First, you must be strong. How strong depends on your particular sport, but if you’re squatting less than 1.5 times your bodyweight it’s time for you to get on a strength program. A quality program will have only 6 elements: push, pull, squat, deadlift, loaded carry and accessory. The first 5 should be heavy, compound movements. The 6th is to reduce your odds of getting injured. Anything more than that is just fluff.

Second, you must be skilled. Skill, like strength, requires constant practice and refinement. The more complex the skill, the more frequent the practice. Your brain and muscles create a sort of blueprint called a motor pattern that allows you to perform any movement. Babies learning to walk are drawing up their walking blueprint while at the same time getting stronger. Learning to snatch is an example of a very complex blueprint drawn in ink that fades rapidly; keep drawing over those same lines often to keep the image sharp.

Third, you need to be adequately flexible for your sport. A powerlifter needs to be able to squat to parallel. A gymnast needs to be able to fold their legs around their head like a leotard-clad pretzel. You are most likely somewhere in the middle of these extremes and just need to be able to bend down and pick up your self respect from the floor when you fail a deadlift PR attempt.

Fourth, you need to sleep enough. Forget what the wrist strap tells you, it’s not useful information unless you do the basics correctly. What are those basics you may ask? No caffeine after 4pm, no electronics after 8pm, ten minutes of mindfulness practice before bedtime and a partner who doesn’t snore. Sounds boring right? Look back up at the title.

Fifth, you need to fucking focus. This is the big one and I saved it for last. The destination doesn’t matter and deserves none of your attention. Life can throw any number of curveballs your way and take the end-point away from you at any moment. But it can never take the process away. Setbacks don’t matter to the process; only showing up and putting in the boring repetitive work does. If you manage to maintain the monotony for several years, you will find that the process itself is the goal and that you will grow to love the peace found under the barbell.

Go forth, be bored and give the middle finger to mediocrity.

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