Have you ever walked away from a class or seminar feeling like the knowledge that you gained will have a huge impact on the quality of your life? I had the privilege of joining fitness professionals from around the world at the recent CST and TACFIT Certification Seminar in Bellingham, Washington. The experience changed the way I will approach my fitness training forever. We engaged in five full days of physical training, testing, coaching and learning. By the end of the seminar I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I want tell you a little bit about me and my approach to fitness training because I think it will sound very familiar to a lot of people. I hope that the lessons that I learned will be helpful to you.
I discovered CST and TACFIT six years ago when Coach Scott Sonnon walked in off the street and proposed a tactical fitness competition between local police and fire fighters. I embraced the TACFIT program because it was specific to my job and it was the most fun, challenging and comprehensive workout program I had ever done. I have been dedicated to the TACFIT 4 Day Wave over the past couple of years and the results have been amazing for me. I think it is safe to say that I am in the best shape of my life as I approach 40 years old.
Things slowly started to change for me over the past year. I accepted the position of Training Captain in our fire department. I have been actively involved in developing and implementing training programs for all of our fire fighters as well as our new recruits. Being on the drill ground all day and training with new recruits is physically demanding work. There have been many other stressors in my life wearing on me as well. I started to notice little aches and pains that weren’t there before and my workout performance was not as strong as it had been. I kept going full speed ahead. No matter how tired I was from work (or life in general) I didn’t want to deviate from my own workout schedule. If it was high intensity day, that is what I did. It didn’t matter how physical my work day was or how I was feeling. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of where I was going. I didn’t put the extra time into joint mobility and compensatory movements that I should have. I was focused on “staying on track”. Deep down I feared that if I took a break from the way I was training I might lose what I had gained. I didn’t listen to my body telling me it was time to slow down.
The harsh reality of my current state hit me square in the face during the CST Certification. I realized that my decreased mobility and over-training were actually inhibiting my performance. More than one CST Faculty member expressed concern about my well-being. At first, I was very disappointed and a little embarrassed about my physical performance. I had to take a look in the mirror and remind myself of where I actually wanted to be. I understand now that this was the perfect place to experience this type of “crash”. I was surrounded by coaches and peers willing and able to help me. Here are a few of the lessons I learned (and re-learned) over the weekend:
1. Address Mobility Issues: Coach Sonnon is fond of saying, “mobility is king, strength and conditioning are queen”. This concept is difficult for some people to buy into. A lot of us grew up following the “go big or go home” style of weight lifting. If you weren’t working hard, you weren’t working. The fact is, without mobility you will never be able to express your strength to the fullest. Not only do you leak power but your body will compensate for this lack of mobility. If you do not have proper form in technique, you will create potentially dangerous adaptations. These compensations will ultimately lead to decreased performance and injury. Think about where your limitations in mobility might be and work to free up that range of motion. Intu-flow, Ageless Mobility and the Prasara Yoga programs are all great resources. Coach Jones is an excellent example of an athlete who maximizes expressible strength through mobility and efficiency of movement. He makes the 45lb clubbell (a.k.a. The Bruiser) look like a swizzle stick when he swings it!
2. Utilize Coaching: If you train alone all of the time, you never get feedback about your technique. You may not know that you are compensating or leaking power during a particular movement or exercise. A qualified coach can help you discover these issues and help you resolve whatever the underlying problem may be. A good coach will help you periodize your training over time to maximize your results. It also helps to keep you motivated when you know you are accountable to someone else.
3. Cycle Your Training: The 4 day wave is amazing. It provides a tremendous balance of work and recovery. It is also important to cycle your training throughout the year. Determine when you want to “peak” and make sure your training schedule builds towards that goal. Once you have reached that goal, take a break, recover and then start working towards the next peak. If you don’t map out your peaks and valleys over a long period of time, you may easily fall into over-training.
4. Intuitive Training: Listen to your body. If you notice a “hitch” in your movement, stop and deal with it. Don’t try to “power through” the discomfort. Taking the extra time to deal with a small issue may keep it from becoming a big issue. The time it takes to address the issue before the injury occurs will be much less than the time it takes to rehabilitate after the injury.
5. Factor in Physical Demands of Life: Life can get crazy for all of us. There will be times when you are experiencing higher than normal physical, mental, or emotional stress. Make adjustments to your workout schedule as needed. Don’t think that you have to “stay on track” or “power through” these stressful times. Listen to your body. If you need to slow down to maintain your health, please do. On the other hand, if you need to slam the medicine ball to the floor as hard as you can to blow of steam, have at it.
6. Leave Your Ego at the Door: We are all competitive, hard working people to a fault at times. Sometimes we let ego and vanity affect how we train. If I achieve my goal for body composition, I don’t want to go backwards. If I achieve a high level of sophistication for a particular exercise, I do not want to drop down no matter what. These concerns are unfounded and short sighted. If you look at the big picture, making adjustments when necessary will actually help you perform at your highest level.
7. Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths: Coach Hurst said this at the end of the seminar. “Turn your weaknesses into your strengths”. I think it is human nature to focus on what we are good at. It is rewarding to feel like we perform well in a certain activity, or posses a certain attribute. If we are not good at something the process of improvement can be a frustrating and painful one. If we take the time and make the effort to turn our weaknesses into strengths, eventually there will be more strengths than weaknesses. You don’t need to look much further than the CST faculty and Head Coaching Staff to realize that these guys are doing something right.
8. Health First Means Health First: At the end of the day, it all boils down to being healthy. Defining “health” is something that we each have to do for ourselves. I think that we can agree that finding balance in our training and in our lives provides a pretty solid foundation for good health. Coach Wilson talked with me about the importance of occupational/tactical athletes finding balance in their physical training. Law enforcement, fire fighters, military personnel, etc. must be response ready at all times. He has learned how to periodize his high intensity training and recovery periods throughout the year depending on the physical demands of his job. Take a look at your current fitness program. Do you have a healthy balance between mobility, strength, conditioning, and recovery? If not, what adjustments can you make in your training schedule and in your life?
I hope that these lessons will help you to avoid the “crash” that I experienced. I want to thank each of the CST Faculty members and Head Coaches for your help during the seminar. I learned something valuable from each and every one of you. I also want to thank the other CST Head Coach, Coach, and Instructor candidates. I learned a lot from you as well. The energy, camaraderie and work ethic of the team is inspiring.
TACFIT Division Chief