Training on the Edge

Physical training in the pursuit of self-improvement is an incredibly rewarding experience. Eventually, however, we all reach a point in our training lives when the PRs, successes, and rewards seem to transform into utter frustration and even a feeling of failure. If you have trained for long enough, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most folks go through around 9 – 12 months of training where they can do absolutely no wrong. PRs come early and often and the sky seems to be the limit. Generally, this is followed by a period of plateaus, frustration, and slower progress. Congratulations, you are no longer a beginner!

Enter training on the edge. Training on the edge is a balancing act of pushing yourself to do more, go heavier, or go faster combined with the awareness in order to perform within or even beyond the edge of your current abilities. In the book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle calls this “reaching” the act of stretching just slightly beyond your ability toward a target. Training on the edge requires you to position yourself between two states of mind: comfort and desperation.

Comfort in training is characterized by a lack of challenge: the weight will go up whether you try or not. The pace ensures the smallest of struggles and the exercises or activities are always the most familiar. In short, success is guaranteed and effortless.

Desperation in training is characterized by a complete lack of awareness. Technique and fundamentals are thrown out the door in pursuit of heavier weights, faster times, and complex skills. Motivation is seeded in a desire to outperform an opponent rather than outperform one’s self.  Failures outnumber and outmatch successes by a wide margin.

However, when you train on the edge you challenge yourself for something that is just barely out of reach. You build the fundamentals first and chip away at those big, audacious goals. Frustration, difficulty, and challenge are matched with alertness, awareness, and constructive feedback (internally and externally) so the next attempt inches you a little closer to the goal.

This is the three-pronged fork in the road for many athletes: Sit back, stay comfortable, and avoid additional challenges? Desperately thrust at others’ successes and ultimately get “lucky” or fail?  Embrace a process and commit to a long-term challenge and continued growth?  It’s easy to stay comfortable or to pretend that you should be able to magically do something instead of working for it. It’s hard to commit to a long-term or, even better, a lifelong pursuit of being a little tiny bit better everyday.

In Coyle’s book he closes a chapter with this quote from Albert Einstein: “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest effort.” I couldn’t agree more.

– Coach Wes