Stop Being a Jock and Start Being a Fitness Nerd (part 2)

In last week’s article we talked about the place where Potential and Training meet, tracking measurements, and the tools available to do so. Today we’re going to expand on that idea by going into the four P’s of good tracking.

The Four P’s

Any great athlete should be following a pattern with their training of tracking, changing, and iterating. This allows them to see where they are, create a plan for where they want to be, track what they’ve done, and then iterate to do better next time. Below I’ve codified this into “The Four P’s” of Plan, Practice, Progress, & Persist. Lets discuss each in turn.

Plan

Begin by creating a Plan for your athletic development. The plan should include at least all of the following features, but feel free to add more detail as it makes sense for you:

  1. What are your 3-5 biggest fitness/health goals?
    • E.g. Deadlift 400 lbs, run a 5k in 60 minutes, & do 20 strict pull-ups in a row
  2. What is your current ability/status/level in each of your goals?
    • E.g. you currently have a Deadlift max of 350 lbs, run a 5k in 70 minutes, & do 5 strict pull-ups in a row
  3. What is your proposed timeline to complete each goal?
    • E.g. you want to get the Deadlift weight within 6 months, better your running time within one month, & add the pull-ups within 3 months
  4. How many days each week can you reasonably devote to training each goal?
    • E.g. you may only be able to get to a weight room twice per week, but you can run every day, and you have a pull-up bar at home

Now that you know what you want it’s time to plan out how to get there, using the information you’ve collected. There is a certain art to this planning, but we’ll go through each goal above and make a plan for the timeline we’ve decided on.

  1. Deadlift
    • We know that we can train twice per week, and that we have 6 months to add 50 lbs to the One Rep Max weight
    • Over 6 months, we’ll have 24 weeks of training and 48 training sessions in total.
    • Commonly followed “lifting math” says that if we can lift a certain weight once, then we can lift 90% of that weight 3 times non-stop, and we should be able to lift 75% of that weight 10 times non-stop.
    • Every week we are going to have two training session types (low-rep and medium-rep) and we’re going to aim for 3 sets
      • Day 1: 3 sets of 3 reps (heavy)
      • Day 2: 3 sets of 10 reps (medium)
    • We’ll determine a “heavy” weight and a “medium” weight for each week, which will increase progressively
      • Week 1: heavy at 315 lbs & medium at 265 lbs
      • Progression: add 2.5 lbs to each weight every week
    • We’ll retest our One Rep Max at every 8th week (8, 16, 24) before completing the work for that week. If we’re progressing as planned, the new One Rep Max at each week should be at or higher than:
      • Week 8: 366.7 lbs
      • Week 16: 383.4 lbs
      • Week 24: 400 lbs
  2. 5k Run
    • First some data breakdown: a 5k in 70 minutes is equal to a pace of 14 minutes per kilometer (22:32/mile)
    • Our goal should be to incrementally improve running time every week. Since we can run as many days as we want, lets assume we’ll run four days per week for four weeks.
    • Studies have shown that short term, intense sprint workouts improve cardiovascular endurance as much (sometimes more) than longer term, less intense workouts. We’ll use both and alternate them with longer runs.
      • Monday: 7 min warm-up jog + sprint intervals (30 sec all out sprint, 90 sec jog) for 16 min
      • Tuesday: run 10 km for time
      • Thursday: 5 min jog + sprint intervals (20 sec all out sprint, 10 sec jog) for 4 min [repeat 3x]
      • Friday: run 5 km for time
    • Our goal is to decrease our 5 km run time by 2.5 min per week, as determined every Friday in the plan
  3. Pull-ups
    • We have 3 months to go from 5 pull-ups to 20 pull-ups, which means we need to add 5 pull-ups per month (1.25/week)
    • Since we have a pull-up bar at home, we can work on pull-ups every other day for 3 months, giving us a total of about 44 training days
    • Every training day you will try to hit a specific number of maximum, non-stop reps and then work on adding additional reps for 2 minutes:
      • Days 1-2: 5 pull-ups non-stop + max pull-ups in 2 min
      • Days 3-4: 6 pull-ups non-stop + max pull-ups in 2 min
      • Days 5-6: 7 pull-ups non-stop + max pull-ups in 2 min
      • Etc. With this plan, you will add +1 rep to your non-stop attempt every 3rd session
    • Pull-ups are mostly about volume, so this plan has you adding incremental volume as often as possible

Practice

Simply put, use the plan you created in the Plan section above and stick to it.

It cannot be stressed enough that sticking to a plan is a major part of any health/fitness goal. If you start picking and choosing the days you workout, missing days regularly and putting in half efforts, you will consistently fail to meet your goals. Too many times people will jump between classes, routines, workout DVD’s, etc., never committing to any one thing for longer than a few weeks. This perpetuates a cycle of negative failure where various levels of effort are expended without focus or results.

There’s a quote I’m quite fond of by Bruce Lee

“I do not fear the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks one time. I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.”

Jumping between routines repeatedly in hopes that one will be “magic” is the same as practicing ten-thousand kicks one time: you haven’t learned or gained anything of worth, but you’ve spent enormous effort doing so. In contrast, be the person who follows the Plan, and practice your “one kick” until you can’t get it wrong.

Progress

Another simple step: Practice your Plan, and it should lead to Progress.

Progress is defined by the goals set out in your Plan. Someone who wants to increase their Deadlift, probably isn’t worried about their Overhead Press going up (even though it might, depending on their training). By tracking your performance in workouts, you can compare your results to your goals, and determine if you are Progressing adequate to your personal timeline. This step is about measurement more than anything else, and results in a “yes” or “no” answer for each goal:

  • Are you getting better at the rate you want? Yes or No.

Whether you are or are not Progressing, we then move on to Persist.

Persist

Here, we either stick with the Plan or make changes to it. If you are Progressing on the correct timeline (maximum lifts going up at the right pace, running times going down, etc.), then you likely just need to stick with the Plan. In the event you aren’t Progressing, then the Persist stage is where you change the Plan to try and change that. Some examples might be:

Increase the volume of your lifting. Instead of doing two days per week, strive for three days, or add an extra set to your lifting days.

Increase the frequency of your activity. If you’re running, add another day, or do two short runs per day that add up to a longer run overall.

Increase the progression of your exercise. Instead of increasing your pull-up target by one rep every three days, increase it by one rep every two days.

The changes you make will vary, but they almost always revolve around changing the numerical factors in your routine. That might be distance, reps, sets, or weight, but every little change can make a big difference. You might be tempted to change several things at once. DON’T. Make one change per cycle (usually one month is a cycle, but this may be as short as week), then work with the new plan for a cycle to see what Progress you make. Rinse and repeat.