Readers, you may have realized this already, but life can sometimes get in the way of things. Those of you who have their time management games on lock may be less prone to being derailed by the unexpected or overwhelming, much like a tree with deep roots may stand strong against many stampeding rhinoceri while the small shrubs are reduced to a dusty mulch. For this, you have my great admiration.
I, myself, am still struggling to learn how to manage a resource as abstract as time. (If only there was a device which could measure its passing…) The workload of graduate level academia reached a bit of a crescendo over the fall, and I must regretfully admit that my training consistency suffered.
It wasn’t a total loss. Over the last year, perhaps in response to having a tighter time budget, but mainly as a result of consuming a tremendous amount of Ido Portal’s videos and Katy Bowman’s podcasts and writing, I have had great success in integrating more movement into my day (rather than just taking it in one concentrated dose during training time). In this, I have found much benefit to my overall wellness, and I’m much more prepared to move at any given moment. This, I think, was a fine consolation prize.
However, it cannot be ignored that a lapse in the consistency of my formal movement practice came at a cost. I’m certainly not as strong as I was this time last year, and a loss of strength has the unfortunate consequence of undermining many other things. Indeed, many would say that strength is a fundamental quality of movement capacity upon which all other capacity depends. It represents one’s ability, at a basic level, to manage forces around a joint, a quality that is essential in the expression of many other attributes. Strength is a fundamental element in control, and without control we limit our ability to express high level movement and make ourselves vulnerable to the forces we experience.
To illustrate my point, I had the great misfortune of suffering a minor back injury during my first training session of the New Year. (A rough start, you might say.) I had somewhat misjudged just how low my strength had fallen (in the squat, particularly), and what I had thought to be a conservative load was, it seems, heavy enough to be hazardous. And so, with another hard lesson etched deeply into my mind, I began my training year with a week of recuperation.
What followed was a very gentle reintroduction of training. I began the first week by just going to the gym for half an hour at a time to perform the first block of each practice session, practicing the movements at a level that felt almost laughable. Without fear of reinjury to inspire discipline, I would very likely have immediately gone overboard. The second week I introduced the second block, without attempting any increase in intensity to what I had done the week before. This week, I began layering on a bit more challenge. I have yet to reintroduce the third block, which is the conditioning portion of the workout, and may wait a few weeks yet before doing so.
So far, so good.
Though it felt absurdly conservative when I began, in hindsight this is very likely how I should have begun my training year in the first place. I had barely touched a barbell since the spring, and had spent relatively little time upside down on my hands after the fall weather became wet. It has been very difficulty for me to defeat the intensity-oriented mindset that I cultivated in my early training years. Time and time again it has driven me to push past reasonable exertion and dig a recovery hole out of which I cannot hope to climb. The pursuit of maximal effort in movement must be earned, and it cannot be the goal of each training session. It becomes a tricky thing to regulate, when one retains the mental capacity to push to failure when the body has lost the physical capacity to accommodate the challenge (whether through detraining or a lack of adequate recovery). It is difficult, too, to distinguish true fatigue (which requires rest) from laziness (which must be fought against), and to consistently mistake one for the other is costly.
My training is now in a state of renewal, not just in terms of recovering from injury but also recovering my consistency, the habit of regular practice itself. The lesson to begin again slowly was thrust upon me (in rather painful fashion), but I feel that it was sorely needed. I invite you to learn from this and give yourself permission to take it easy, should you find yourself returning to training after a hiatus. (This can be very difficult when the fuel of your return is largely piss and vinegar.) Renew first the habit of consistency, then slowly adjust the challenge as appropriate. Do not let the memory of your previous capabilities cloud your judgement of your current level, else you risk being forced to take a big step back anyway.