Why ‘training smart’ just doesn't do it
“Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.” If you have ever been around Pro Sports –or if you’ve been sort of an ‘ambitious athlete’ mixing with the likes of you for a while– you’ve probably heard this phrase more than once. If not, I’m sure you’ve heard very similar ones coined in different situations and arenas.
Hard work is, indeed, part of the success equation of any athlete out there, regardless of what their level or goal is. In this life, and though it sounds cliche, nothing really worth it comes in easy and putting in the work necessary to succeed is –at least in sports– still a must. Unfortunately, however, hard work on its own can’t get you very far.
The truth is that, to succeed in sports, you have to really understand why there is much more to it than meets the eye; and the sooner you learn it, the longer you can benefit from all the perks that come with knowing what lies beyond training smart!
When talent ain't enough
For a long time, it was assumed that having talent –or having a head-start– in combination with hard work was the fundamental combo for any athlete to succeed. Having innate talent at something and putting in the hours necessary to slowly nurture and increase that talent were believed to be the ‘it’ of a successful athletic career. And yet, at a certain point, having talent doesn't necessarily make you the winner of a competition; because, when you reach a certain level in your athletic career, you start competing against people who also have talent at what they do and people who have also put in the work. What happens then? That your head-start evens out and, all of a sudden, it is not about ‘working your ass off’ blindly anymore.
This is when so-called ‘training smart’ gets into the scene. Since a person’s physical capacities are at some point exhausted or ‘maxed out’ –and this is so even for top-notch athletes–, one needs to start considering the specifics of her/his training routine. That is, you need to actually begin to consider how to train smarter to make the most of your talents and minimize the impact of any of your most negative reactions. In essence, this means that you have to put in the work necessary as well to get to know yourself (both body and mind) and your reactions to different types of training routines, so as to be able to arrange them in the most productive and efficient way. So, all of a sudden, your athletic life begins to revolve around 1) having talent, 2) working hard, and 3) training smart.
This was my training philosophy for many years and I can’t complain, it got me really far. I had talent. I was also able to train non-stop and go beyond my limits; and particularly during my last few years as an active Pro-athlete, I also worked quite smart. Of course, getting to this point took some figuring out. It took time for both me and my coach to learn how my body and mind ticked and come up with a plan to make the most of that. Because time is, indeed, necessary to figure something like this out. This is so particularly because, when you are young, your body’s top shape excuses minor mistakes and misconceptions that you’re able to realize and correct over the years. So my coach and I had something of a learning curve with regards to this, were able to learn from past experience and mistakes, made adaptations to my routine, and came up with increasingly smarter ways to train.
A qualitative leap
But as I grew older, the thought dawned on me that training smart just didn’t cut it; because, even when you are a Pro long-distance triathlete who trains up to eight hours a day, training makes up only a fraction of your day. Which means that, in my case, out of the 24 hours that a single day offers, I considered ‘training’ to only encompass a max. of four. But it is precisely what I did with the remaining 20 hours that truly made a difference to my training. Whether I partied or not, whether I was stressed for professional or personal reasons or not, whether I managed to find time to hang out with my friends and loved ones or not… All of these apparently unimportant aspects of a person’s life –aspects that seem disconnected from an athlete’s actual training– were incredibly fundamental for my performance after all.
Again, training smart just doesn’t do it, at least not if by ‘training’ you’re thinking only of the hours you devote to ‘moving your body.’ The quality of you rest and sleep, the quality of what you eat, the quality of your external and internal environment (your feelings and emotions), and that of your relations is an incredibly important part of your training, and one that should not be disregarded as complimentary or secondary.
Proper and continuous training with intention, and a well-rounded and balanced out-of-training lifestyle are key in boosting your results and in setting you apart from other athletes –both in sports and in life.