Five Life Lessons My Coach Taught Me

ALI

Last month I crossed 500 days of training milestone, while raising my one rep deadlift max to an all-new 300lb. To set the record straight and avoid the ire of fitness elite, I do Crossfit on alternate days of the week.

(Spoiler: Completing x-days has never been and never was the objective. It happens to be a point of reflection.)

Only on retrospection, I realised the life-changing impact my coach (personal trainer) had made, which got me typing up this essay in an effort to share my journey of messy to sassy.

By any stretch of imagination — if — in the process, this 1000 word circuit motivates one more person, triggering a domino effect, I would brandish it a victory.

With that said, I believe you can’t convince someone into habitual training and fitness. Motivation for choosing a healthier path has to come from a voice within. For others, like myself, who can’t take a hint, having one’s body punch them in the face is reason enough.

Black-eye later.

The calling card came early 2015 disguised in shoulder and neck pain. A consequence of long hours at my desk doing client work I no longer enjoyed and the lack of inertia-destabilising physical activity.

Sagar (My Coach/PT)

Knowing I had let the problem drift beyond my steering capacity, it was time to seek help.

The world conspired and I found myself standing face-to-face with Sagar (my Coach/PT).

At first, Sagar ignored my offer reading my laid-back disposition for lack of motivation.

Only after constant begging, pleading and requests did Sagar give me a chance, taking the helm of my wavering ship.

And you’ll see why this detail is relevant in lesson four.

What happened next can only be put in the realm of stratosphere shattering.

Except we’re talking about getting my ass handed to me and there’s no sign of stratosphere or an inspiring visual of SpaceX rocket levitating into space, only balls and their shattering.


</shatteredballs.jpg image url missing>


→1. Embrace Shortcomings Not Shortcuts

On day one, instead of lifting weights or having me crank into a Jean-Claud Van Damme epic splits (Watch clip), Sagar put me through his “try-out” routine.

By undergoing a series of tests aimed at understanding my physical limitations, strength, stamina, mobility, and pain points, Sagar, like a patient physics professor, calibrated to my state.

The trial reacquainted me with what being “normal” should feel like.

Post initial assessment, we talked fitness goals, objectives, and the bigger picture. Did I want to be a powerlifter, bodybuilder, athlete or just stay in shape?

With being fit and healthy on priority, in the absence of aesthetics, Sagar drew a roadmap for the year ahead geared towards my fitness goals. This programme entailed rebuilding from the ground up.

Little had I known what Sagar had in mind.

We spent the first six months in the studio without ever touching a machine, working only on technique, form, breathing, posture and strengthening the core. Correct walking and running movements using the body’s natural elastic were introduced. Who knew?

Throughout, there was focus on process and wellness as a way of life. And over time, conversations shifted from rehabilitation to how can this became a way of life?

We did it by reframing the role and place fitness should have in one’s life, banishing an afterthought approach.

I learned to look my weaknesses square in the eye and turn them into strengths. Pull-ups anyone?


→2. Show Up No Matter What

Each class would begin by Sagar conversing and gauging my mental state. Knowing my lack of discipline and inherit lazy nature, Sagar got inventive and reframed my goals.

“Just show up to the gym and leave the rest to me,” or being the reassuring voice over my shoulder, “do your-today’s-best”.

Not realising, at the time, Sagar had disciplined me by breaking down a fitness mountain into a habit-inducing five-pound dumbbell.

“80 percent of success is showing up”―Woody Allen

I wouldn’t be lying if I told you the first few months were tough and sometimes boring simply because I was performing repetitive movements, training muscle memory.

I learned, the hard way, fitness isn’t just lifting weights and sweating it out running aimlessly.

By putting in the work and showing up day by day I had not only inched my way physically but become mentally stronger and habitual to the newfangled practice.

In your face fight-or-flight response.


→3. Aim Higher But Celebrate Small Wins

Without sounding like a squat rack, six months in, biomechanics, kinesthetics, mobility, nutrition, hydration, cross-functional, mobility and grunts became familiar sounds. As a rule of thumb, I refrain from speaking in mind-numbing fitness code.

How would “Joey” say this?

Underpinned by wellness as the cause and effect we had gone from doing basic movements, correct warm up and cool down, single exercises to completing a circuit. Cardiovascular and overall muscular strength and stamina had seen tremendous progress. Insert Zen-master proportions of epic patience here.

Finishing a workout for the first time was a big deal.

On these rare occasions Sagar would pull out his notes and walk me through progress made, reaffirming my belief system by celebrating different stages on the progress bar.

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once the belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen”―Muhammed Ali


→4. Respect People’s Time And Your Own

“I don’t get/have time to workout” or “Next week is when I start” or “I’m busy with work all day” or “I’m asexual” or “(insert reason for not taking action here)” and so on with the time excuse parade.

“Action expresses priorities.”―Mahatma Gandhi

If you don’t respect your own time no-one else will. Flake one too many times and find yourself chopped from Sagar’s training calendar. He’d do it without flinching irrespective of your bank balance, popularity or place in government.


Let’s take a moment and address the “busy” right now.

We’re often caught up doing things we don’t like, dropping a yes when it should be a steer-clear no or “busy” exercising people-pleasing. Of the finite time we all have on earth, every second, minute and hour spent doing shit you don’t want is a slice of what you could have been doing instead.

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”―John Wooden

Kissing that cute girl from yoga class at the party is what your night would have entailed had you not signed up for “How to Pet Your Lonely Cat” the previous evening to help save your friend’s depleting relationship with the cat lady. You don’t even have a cat.


→5. Magic Happens Past Your Comfort Zone

Christoph Niemann has the perfect analogy. You’re trainer is interpreting an effortless workout for lack of trying. That being said, as humans, we seek out paths of least resistance.

Watching obscure Eastern European television depicting cats in dresses on failing to fetch the remote at arm’s length ring a bell? Thinking too far ahead being the nagging cousin.

The world of Product Design thrives on lazy. Designers dumb down the steps taken by a user to get the job done. Effortlessly push a Facebook or Twitter button on signup (*seen next on SQUAD) or buy something using Apple Pay or a Paypal checkout on Pornhub.

Coming back now.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried…” ―Theodore Roosevelt

Pushing past your comfort zone has to be the most important lesson to come out of training. The regret of not doing anything, for years, knowing my body craved the attention will always be motivation to keep pushing.