Coastal Athletic Connection
Langley, Walnut Grove and Surrey's constant source of quality information in the Sports Performance, Strength and Conditioning, and Nutrition fields.
Should Training for Athletic Performance be Fun?
In the past, the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” has been thrown around a lot. Now a new phrase has come up stating that now physical activity is now the best remedy for the human body. So, which is correct? More importantly, can you have both? In this article, I am going to discuss is about the joy of (or lack of) training. So, it comes down to one simple question: should training be fun? I have a varied opinion on this subject. I think training is a very serious matter and should be treated as such. However, I also think I myself am quite funny and I enjoy creating some laughter in the gym to lighten the mood. Now, while you may think these are opposing opinions that cannot possibly work together, let me ask you this: why would I need to lighten the mood if training is so fun? Well, hopefully because my athletes have a somewhat serious and almost anxious feeling towards the hard training they are about to do!
Let me backtrack for just a second. The reason I am even writing this article is because over the last couple of months I have had some requests from clients to make their programs “fun”. There are those who come into the gym, look at their program and say, “Awe, I hate this day” or “Dang, these (referring to a particular exercise) stinks!” Now, my reaction is always to smile menacingly and tell them, “Well, you’re doing it anyway!” However, I have now started to take note of these comments and take a deeper look into them. Due to my observations, I have come up with some hard facts. People like to have fun (duh). People like to be successful and get what they want (thank you captain obvious). Now, what happens when in order to be successful you have to do things that are not fun? That is the problem we run into when training, especially for athletic performance.
Now, training for an athlete should be hard, especially now during the off-season. While this may not sound like an enticing thing for you as a young player, you need to ask yourself one thing: do you want your training to be hard, or your sport? Now, for me, I always wanted to be better at sports and have them come easier to me. I wasn’t that gifted, and so I was forced to work hard to get to where I did. I realized that by working hard outside of the rink (my chosen sport was hockey) I could make the time on the ice more enjoyable by increasing my strength, power, speed, and conditioning through training in the gym. The same goes for all of you young athletes. Many of you do not want to train hard because it isn’t fun, but then when the season comes around, you are struggling to keep up to the level of play. By strapping up your work boots (meaning training shoes) and giving off a little bit of perspiration, you can enhance you athletic ability and be more dominant in your sport. Now doesn’t that sound like fun?
Many athletes are influenced by the media, especially by their heroes on Instagram and Facebook. They see the cool new toy that the pros are using to get faster or jump higher, and they all want to use it too. Most young athletes (including my younger self) don’t realize that a large majority of the time, the reason they are using these cool toys is due to a sponsorship/endorsement deal to make some cash. But, in the off chance they are actually using it sincerely, there are some things you need to be aware of before you go imitating them. These methods that the pros use are not necessarily as “fun” or “easy” as they appear. Most pro athletes work extremely hard and the reason these super high box jumps or BOSU ball tricks look cool, is because these athletes are supremely gifted freaks of nature and have worked hard their whole lives at the basics in order to jump high enough or run fast enough to make the training look so effortless. If you saw a video of Kobe Bryant or Sidney Crosby training at age 16, it probably wouldn’t inspire you very much, yet, it got them to where they are today. (Check out my Instagram rant on this for more)
Another aspect of these cool training gimmicks is that these athletes are elite. They are the top 1% who are already gifted athletically and have reached the pinnacle of their sport. Most of these athletes are already super strong and powerful. As a coach, taking them from a 500 lb squat to a 510 lb squat is not going to make them a better athlete, and is probably not worth the risk of such heavy training. Therefore, strength coaches need to find new, more effective and safe ways to get the body to adapt. They are already at 95% of their athletic and genetic potential. They are looking to improve that 1% to give them an edge over their competition, who are also elite freaks. As a young athlete, you are hopefully nowhere near your full potential, meaning you have lot of room to grow and getting stronger in the basic lifts and movements are going to improve your game tremendously! Once you have gotten “strong enough” (if such a thing exists), then these cool methods will get you the added benefit. But until then, stick to lifting heavy and consistently. And before you go thinking “Hey Coach, I am at that level now!”, you’re not. Trust me.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Should you be having fun while training? As it says in my bio on the Coach Bios tab, I “enjoy creating a fun and laughter filled gym. Believing training should be hard, but worth it. When my athletes look back at the work they did, I want them to smile at how much fun it truly was, and foster a new love for training in them that lasts a lifetime.” Awe, how cute right? So, even my bio contradicts itself. I want a laughter filled gym, but I want hard work to be done. How can you have both? Well, let me explain something to you: hard work is not easy. There is a reason it is called HARD work. You have to put your full effort in and give it all you got. There are days when you won’t feel like training. You don’t feel like working HARD. These are the days when “Shredded Athlete X” on Instagram has a new post about a cool looking exercise that they do easily and you think, “that looks fun and not hard, I want to do that!” Hence why I get athletes asking me to let them do some cool new trick or some circus act with weights instead of picking up heavy object repeatedly. Here is the deal with doing fun things in the gym: it doesn’t get results! But, Cole, you just said you like having fun in the gym. Yes, but listen carefully, being at the gym should be fun, but what you do in the gym probably should not be! Yes, I love training, I enjoy it very much. And having fun IN the gym is important to make sure athletes actually want to come back. But having hundreds of pounds on your back or in your hands and picking it up it many times over and over again is not really what I would call “fun”. For me, the fun part comes when I am out of the gym walking on the beach, or crushing a hike without coughing like a smoker. The things you do in the gym should enhance your life outside of it. As an athlete, you play a sport (and captain obvious returns!). The reason you are in the gym is to enhance your strength, speed, power, and body composition so you can better perform your sport! You aren’t in the gym just to look good flexing in the gym bathroom mirror (which doesn’t have the best lighting for shirtless selfies FYI. Try natural sunlight, it’s much better). Think about it this way, you spend 3-6 hours per week training in the gym for your sport. Now, the question is, what do you do with those other 160+ hours per week? Yes, I can make those 3-6 hours the most fun time of your whole week. You will laugh, smile, and just feel amazing the whole time. But we won’t really accomplish anything training-wise. Then, when you are out of the gym, whether at practice, training camp, playing a game, or strolling down the beach as your ex walks by, you won’t be having fun then (even if you flex and stick your chest/butt out). The important thing to remember is that training enhances your life out of the gym. It helps improve your sports performance, which is the whole reason you are training in the first place.
Furthermore, when you train, there should be a hint of fear in you. Why? Because weights are heavy! If not, then you need to lift more! Now, I’m not saying pile on all the weight you can and destroy your back deadlifitng. What I am saying is that training should never feel easy. It should never be this mystical land of joy and happiness. That land will come outside of the gym kicking butt playing your sport. The kicking butt part can only fully be achieved with some hard work in the gym developing your athletic potential!
Take for example an Olympic Gold Medallist. Check out the look on their face. It is one of pure joy, euphoria, and relief. Why relief? Because they know that the last four years of training, being strict with their diet, and listening to their coach by doing all the hard and basic exercises actually paid off and got them the success they desired! As it has been said, the greater the struggle, the sweeter the victory. Going back to my bio, notice how it says I want my athletes to look back on the work they did and smile. This means that during the work, it wasn’t all jokes and having fun. However, once they achieved the goals they set for themselves and improved in their sport, they too realized that their hard work was all worth it in the end, just like the Olympic medalist does.
That being said, I like to joke in the gym. As I mentioned earlier, I find it takes the edge off, builds trust and buy-in from my athletes, and allows my athletes to forget about whatever may be troubling them outside of the gym (especially in the college setting) and just refocus on their lifting for the next hour. Lastly, name someone who does not feel and perform better when they are smiling and in a good mood. Couldn’t think of anyone? Exactly! While training should put some fear into you, it should not stop you from doing it, and I want to foster an environment where my athletes actually want to come back and do it over and over again; for the results, but also for the enjoyable atmosphere and culture (and to see me!).
So, to sum up this rant, here are some take home points:
- Training should be hard
- “Fun” exercises usually do not get you the results you desire
- Cool gimmicks and tools are meant for the elite athletes looking to gain that last 1% of gains (which you are not one of…yet)
- I will continue to crack stupid jokes and make dumb comments to make my athletes laugh/smile. Why? Because everyone plays their sport more effectively when they are smiling and in good spirits? So why should the gym be any different?
- Save the “fun” for your days off when you are chilling at the beach or at Disneyland. At the gym, get it done!
See you in the gym.