The Art of Movement Edition 33: Training Principles 4 - Go to Your Dark Place (Occasionally)
Welcome to ‘The Art of Movement’ - my weekly newsletter!
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For the rest of this year, I wanted to use my newsletter to summarise some important principles of training which I thought could help the average person understand training and exercises better. These are concepts we need to take into consideration when identifying the best way to put our next foot forward in pursuit of our exercise goals.
Edition 33 - Training Principles 4: Go to Your Dark Place (Occasionally)
In order to grow as an athlete, or even just as a human being, we need to challenge ourselves. That is a non-negotiable. To do that, we have to take our training outside of our comfort zone sometimes, beyond what is easy and into the difficult. We all know that in order to get anywhere in life we have to work hard. How you respond to physical stressors such as taking on new challenges or stepping outside of your ‘safe’ zone is indicative of who you are as a person and how far you can go. However, the sad reality is that very few people are actually willing to push themselves to experience this necessary discomfort. Why is it so hard for us to train our limits? Because it’s scary! There are many reasons why it feels so challenging for most people, non-athletes especially, but no matter who you are, here are 5 hugely important things to remember:
The Dark Place is Where Your Best-Self is Born
When you do something that is challenging, this is where the magic happens. The more you can make your training sessions challenging, the more you’ll discover about yourself, your true abilities and how far you can reach. When you go to your ‘Dark Place’ you need to know that it’s not a bad thing. Almost all great achievements in sport and elsewhere that we have witnessed throughout history were born from the ‘Dark Place’. It is a place where your mind, body and spirit are tested. It is a place where you can find yourself in ‘flow state', a challenging environment where you lose track of time and have an absence of self-consciousness. It’s where your mind is clear and focused and you feel like you are one with whatever you are doing.
Becoming comfortable with the feeling of discomfort is crucial
To begin moving out of your comfort zone regularly, you first have to get really familiar with a feeling of discomfort. Rather than running in fear from it, you have to purposefully seek it out, hunt it down and pull it towards you. What we have to remember is that discomfort is a normal part of growth - it is a good thing. When we walk outside of our comfort zone and do something a little bit scary, we need to understand that the feeling we will have is normal and expected. It isn't something that we should run from or feel embarrassed about. It is a feeling that we can learn from, gain strength from and use to propel us forward. A specific memory I have from my early teens was going on an amazing ski trip to Austria. It was sub-zero and I remember sitting on a ski lift, having been out on the slopes all day, fatigued, tired, snow in my gloves and boots, fingers and toes absolutely freezing. The memory that has always stuck with me was the conversation I had with myself on that ski-lift, that went something like this:
“I am so f***ing cold”
“How is it possible to be this cold?”
“I didn’t know this was possible! Why did I ever moan about being cold in England?”
“I will NEVER complain about being too cold ever again”
I now have a pretty good tolerance for the cold. As a boy I was a little wimp when I was cold! Nowadays it’s a totally different approach. I feel the exact same cold as I felt all those years ago. However my mindset now when experiencing cold is one of acceptance, resilience, mental agility to continue thinking and acting optimally despite it. I seek out a freezing cold 2-3 minute shower a few mornings per week, I love an ice bath or a dip in cold water, and a freezing cold football match doesn’t bother me one bit. This doesn’t mean I enjoy being cold! To get to this place I had to go through a process of discomfort.
If you are feeling anxious, nervous or afraid, that is completely normal. It is your body's way of telling you that you're about to do something that is challenging and out of your comfort zone. You may feel your heart beat a little bit faster, your breathing may be a little bit heavier and your muscles might even tense up a bit - this is completely normal and a sign that you're fully engaged in what you're doing and are putting 100% of yourself into it.
It Feels Bad Because Our Body Is Reacting to a Stressor
When we step into our ‘dark place’ physically and emotionally, our body is reacting to a stressor. A stressor is anything that causes us to feel a heightened physical or emotional tension. Most of the time, when we feel overwhelmed, we don’t know how to react to that feeling and push it away. Instead of embracing the feeling, we try to repress it, push it down, ignore it or bury it - which is not always a good idea. We need to understand and recognize that there is something there that needs to be addressed and dealt with. For example, you are in a competition and you feel overwhelmed by the situation and the pressure or you are in a training environment where you are having a rough day, your mind is racing and you feel frustrated and nervous - these are all examples of how your body reacts when you are experiencing a stressor.
The Scary Part is Navigating the Unknown
The scary part of taking yourself outside of your comfort zone is that you are not really sure what is going to happen. You are not completely in control, you are taking a leap of faith and going into the unknown. The only certainty is that you will have to push yourself beyond your current limits. When we do something that is challenging, we have to remember that we will have to face our fears, insecurities and emotional reactions that are associated with those things. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, then the next time you have to speak in front of a group of people, you will likely feel that fear come up.
Bottom line: Train Your Dark Place but don’t stay there too long
It’s important to understand that the ‘Dark Place’ is not a place that you want or need to stay in for too long. Once a month is plenty! You want to know when you’ve pushed yourself as far as you can go, then you want to know how to reel it back in. Being able to recognise when you are there and how to navigate your way out of it is a sign of maturity. When you can navigate your way out of it and back to your normal state of being, you are getting stronger, finding courage you never knew you had, and building confidence. You are moving forward as a person or athlete and growing as a human being.
“Everything great is birthed through discomfort” ― Emmanuel Acho
Movement of the Week: Single Leg Glute Bridge
3 x 10 reps each leg
The single leg glute bridge is a great way to focus on healthy glute function and ensuring good firing patterns and activation on both legs. Many people develop glute strength imbalances and this is one way to get started on tackling it. Look out for any differences you may feel between left and right, and think about where you are ‘feeling the work’, is it all in the glute? Or do you feel it in the hamstring, maybe with some cramping? If the hamstring is kicking in or this exercise just feels difficult, getting your glutes stronger is a must. Give this a go!
That’s all for this week! Please spread the word about my Patreon channel so more people can enjoy the videos and newsletters!