Underneath the Surface

Back in March 2020, when it became apparent that Covid-19 was going to change our lives significantly, two lightbulbs flicked on for most gym owners and coaches rather quickly.

The first hit with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face: if we weren’t already aiming our general population athletes at sustainable strength and cardiovascular health, well, we had better put that at the top of our to-do.

The second lightbulb was equally pragmatic for a different set of reasons: even if full-time peak performance training were advisable, it’d be near-impossible for most folks who’d suddenly lost access to the bulk of their equipment and peers. It’s pretty hard to max out your squat with one dumbbell in the middle of your garage, after all.

For us, this catalyzed some further reflection. Absent the tools and trappings of heavier strength days and performative conditioners–the kinds of workouts that dare you to match or beat a number on the whiteboard or in your training log–what were we left with?

Put another way: without the ability to focus on the specific outcomes we’d grown accustomed to, could we shift focus to the processes and moving parts that build those outcomes, while still moving forward?

Today I’m going to invite you to consider that answer to be yes, both at this historical moment and as general practice, and I’m going to use this poorly-wrought drawing of an iceberg to illustrate my point.

When we think of a particular goal we might like to hit–let’s say squatting bodyweight for a set of 5-10 reps–it’s tempting to focus solely on the prime movers and exigent tools. We’ll hit that squat, we think, based on what we do with our squat sets, the weight we’re using, how many reps we are hitting, and so forth. And on one level, of course we want to pay attention to that work at hand.

But on a deeper level, there’s so much going on, and most of these things revolve around processes we can control. Are we bracing and breathing properly? Do we hit our warmups and assistance work with intention? Do we take and then execute coaching? How about sleep, recovery, fueling our bodies with lots of good, healthy food? Do we watch others squat and learn from their successes and mistakes? Are we checked in for 60 minutes, not just the 2 or 3 hard stretches of twenty seconds it takes to hit our work set?

String enough of these together underneath the surface and more often than not you’ll have productive training sessions using the tools that are always visible above sea level–your weight, your reps, etc.

String even more of these together, day in and day out, and something magical happens: you begin to understand the power and primacy of process and to a degree, the caprice of any one day’s outcome.

And that journey, the accumulation of practice and best practices, well…to use an apt cliche, it truly does become the destination.

Over and over again.

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