What is Training?

the obree way

Training is bad for you! Training followed by rest and proper nutrition is good for you and will make you better prepared for the event you are training for. I set out from the start to shift the emphasis and importance put into the physical act of training that exists in the sporting world. I prefer to put that emphasis instead onto the end product, which is being better prepared for your sport, mentally and physically, than you are now. In other words you have to think of training as just one step in the process of improvement.

I have seen it even at the highest level of sport where the training mentality has led to fatigue and diminished performance and sometimes injury and illness. Science has a term for this, the Law of Diminishing Returns, the point at which output exceeds return. This training mentality is admirable in many ways as it shows commitment, work ethic, and ambition. However a commitment to work as hard as you can for as long as you can is brilliant if you are building a house or running a business, but not if you want to be in the best shape for your event. It is an attitude that is so universal and ingrained that it is very difficult to turn around, even in individuals whom I know and see regularly. The importance of this enlightenment cannot be overstated and that is why I chose it as the first message on the first page of my training manual.

OK, work ethic and ambition are good, but only if they are directed and used while undertaking the physical effort you need to in order to improve. To truly utilise this new attitude to your benefit you will need another quality without which real improvement will not materialise; confidence. You need total confidence to know you are right to train differently or not at all on any particular day when your work ethic, logic and friends pull you in a different direction. Let's face it, it is commonly accepted that the more you put into something the more you get out in terms of results. And it is counter intuitive to normal practice whether it is work, business or playing the piano that doing less gets more. I'll talk more about confidence in a later chapter. For now you will truly need to believe in the new concept, that the physical act of training is almost an unfortunate necessity in the process of improvement in order to really carry it through.

graeme obree frame

Here is one analogy I like to use. Suppose you took up gardening and began by digging a huge allotment. At the end of the first day you have developed blisters but doggedly continue in the belief that the more digging you do the more your hands will adapt. At the end of a few days your hands would be a complete mess, blistered beyond short term repair. Let's imagine your identical twin had done the same except only dug when his or her hands had healed, then their skin would be better adapted to the digging; with less digging! Suppose the object was tougher skin and not how much hard digging you could achieve then it is clear that you would get more results for less effort.

OK, so you have got the idea, but here is another point about training taken from that same analogy. The net improvement as cyclists by digging has been marginal if any. The net improvement in digging has, on the other hand, been the biggest single thing that has been improved by the digging. You may think this is obvious but let's put it in the real world of sport. Rolling about on a Swiss ball will, more than anything else makes you better at rolling about on a Swiss ball. I will say again in relation to energy drinks and the like; there is a lot of commercial drive to promote new and improved training ideas and products and it is important to point out that magazines and books benefit from promoting these new and improved training products, as they can help make the magazines and books more interesting.

What I am saying is be wary of articles and the like telling you to buy this or that product or to train in a particular way. Often the commercial benefit to the seller is greater than any likely return to the buyer. Now, this book is also commercial, it comes with a cover price but in reality I am dispensing with commercial sponsorship (not for the first time) and by bringing you the truth as I have analysed it and used to have the success I had in my career. Success I would not have enjoyed had I listened to the advice of the day which was to get a lot of miles in.

graeme obree

I am happy to admit that doing 'Swiss Ball' will improve cycling performance to some degree, just as digging the garden or stripping wallpaper will improve cycling ability, when compared to doing nothing at all. If I was a tennis player and wanted to improve by playing snooker then there would be marginal benefit through hand/eye co-ordination but then, doing Swiss ball would be better, but then again doing tennis would be the best option for improved ability.

To take it further may I suggest that although playing tennis generally will improve your serve, practicing your serve is the best way to improve your serve. Let me take it even further. Practicing your serve in a competition environment is ultimately the best way to improve a tennis serve in the competition environment, which is after all where it matters. To put it in clear terms, training is an activity that is undertaken to improve performance, through the recovery process, at the activity undertaken.

More than this, it is the first step in a process of physical and mental adaptation to the intensity, duration and type of effort made during the training activity and within the spectrum of the sport itself. In relation to cycling I have to make it as clear as possible that the activity of cycling will improve every aspect of cycling performance once recovery has taken place. But cycling at the intensity, pedalling rate and duration of your chosen event is the most effective way to improve performance at that discipline within the sport. Specific training for specific results. Everything else is peripheral and less effective than the base truth of athletic performance enhancement.

graeme obree

My idea of training in any field of endeavour whether it be music, sport or whatever else is an activity that once it has been completed, including recovery, makes you better at that activity than before you underwent 'training'! Training is also the long-term process of physical effort and recovery over the course of time that leads to a significant improvement through a series of increments.

Training, for many people, is a lifestyle choice almost like a hobby in itself. I see this very regularly especially amongst those who tend to always train with groups or clubs and training sessions are usually pre-planned and set to a schedule based on days of the week. This is not the best way to optimise your potential improvement for more than one reason.

The entire process of training is aimed at physiological and psychological adaptation. The largest part of adaptation is physiological, of course, but I do have to point out that the thought processes needed for specific physical efforts will also be strengthened. These are the neurons and signalling pathways that tell what muscles to move and when. It also ought to be pointed out that unless a training ride achieves a level of stress high enough to cause physiological improvement then it is not in fact a training ride. That would fall into the category of riding kind of hard. This is actually the worst kind of riding to do as a general policy to improve your performance as a cyclist. It is a great idea if you have just taken up the sport in terms of riding skills and general development but if you cannot make it stretch you in terms of endurance or pace then it falls short on the basis that it is a wasted opportunity and also that it may not be hard enough to take the edge off a proper full-out ride the next day.

posted monday 5 september 2011

copyright 2011 graeme obree. unauthorised reproduction strictly forbidden.

extract two: psychology of preparation


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