We’re all guilty of falling into repetitive training cycles, mindlessly and monotonously following the same old routine. Our workouts, like the daily commute, become an automated pre-programme neither stimulating nor benefiting us. It’s at this point when fitness has denigrated into a banal box-ticking exercise and not, as it should be, a passionate pursuit.
If we allow this lamentable training lethargy to persist physical stagnation – and even decline! – will ensue. Contrary to popular opinion, to get fit and reap the health benefits of exercise, it’s not enough merely to go to the gym, to move our lumbering mass and call it physical fitness.
To maintain or develop our physicality and accrue those coveted exercise benefits we’ve actually got to put effort into our training. I’m not going to deny it, this can be difficult when we exercise often.
But, you’ll be glad to know, to rekindle a dwindling training regime is easier than you might think. And it won’t cost a single penny either. To supercharge your training you have to do little more than exploit your latent competitive spirit.
In this article I’ll share with you four tips – really they’re methods, but I’ve called them ‘tips’ because it sounds less intellectually intimidating . . . so in this article I shall share with you four tips that, if implemented, will enable you to supercharge your training regime.
By supercharging your training, in case the question is dangling at the tip of your tongue, you will not only reinvigorate your exercise enthusiasm but enjoy an inevitable bump in performance.
Tip #1: Seek out Some Sadomasochists
A great way to take your training to the next level is to locate next-level fitness fanatics. I’ll explain this tip through recounting a personal story.
I’m a keen cyclist and I average about 100 miles per week. I can sustain 22mph for 20 miles and 20mph for 40 miles. So not bad. By no means on par with a Tour de France peddle pusher but respectable for the amateur enthusiast.
However, I started to stagnate and I couldn’t seem to improve on those performance outputs. But then when you’re a solo cyclist it can be quite difficult to find the motivation to push past the pain barrier into the zone where physical improvements are made. I suppose this is true of most all disciplines not just cycling.
To advance your performance it helps to have fit, fast and determined training partners.
Thus, in a bid to climb out of the psychical funk I was festering in, I joined a local cycling club. Geni-ass! Granted, as interventions go, this one is not Nobel Prize worthy. But by god did it make a difference to my cycling speed and stamina.
After only a month of cycling with the club I managed to improve my speed over both 20 miles and 40 miles by 1.5mph. This doesn’t sound like much but for me it was huge.
Another positive outcome was that I found myself more motivated in my own training. Because the cycling club was comprised of fast and committed cyclists, I knew that I had to improve my game if I wanted to avoid being ‘dropped’ during fast rides.
To be dropped is a cyclist’s biggest fear (second only to being knocked down by an inconsiderate motorist of course). Basically this happens when you’re not fast enough to maintain the pace of the peloton. And believe me when I say it, performance cyclists do not wait around. If you can’t keep the pace the peloton will promptly chew you up and spit you out the back end.
To avoid this embarrassing situation I put in more miles through the week whilst working on those other important attributes that make for a good cyclist; such as sprinting and hill climbing.
It’s quite remarkable how much of a better rider I became as a consequence of this tip.
So, if you find that your training regime is stagnating and you’re unable to climb out of the motivational mire, consider seeking out a local club. You might be surprised how much of difference it can make. I was.
A quick caveat
It goes without saying, though I feel compelled to say it, if the club you find is comprised of a bunch of lazy socialites who attend for the gossip, for a bit of respite from the kids or spouse, then you will not be sufficiently challenged which of course will impede improvement. In fact, it would be true to say that if you failed to disassociate yourself, you’d be dragged down and your physicality would decline.
Thus you should first ‘vet’ the club before committing. The members must be serious. They must want to develop their performance. Talking and idle chit chat should be kept to a minimum. And, as self-serving as it seems, they must look to use you and you look to use them as a means of self-improvement.
Tip #2: Fitness Test – and often!
Fitness testing can be like pouring kerosene over your training intensity. The desire to advance on a personal best or establish a respectable initial performance can cause a conflagration of fitness – leaving us literally burning to improve.
When I decided to embark on a campaign to shave a few seconds off my long-standing and quite stubborn 10k row time, I began training like a man possessed. This saw my weekly overall row distance increase twofold. I went from rowing 30k a week to nearly 70k!
Also, and this is another positive outcome which tends naturally to spring from the ambition to improve on one’s PB: I began researching best training methodologies.
In my bid to hold 1:50/500 (that’s 1 minute 50 seconds per 500m for 10,000m) I had to put in some serious training. That’s a given. But this also required that I broadened my exercise approach. I must admit, I can be bit blinkered seeing only cardiovascular training as means of physical development.
However, if I stood any chance of holding my target pace I knew I’d have to develop pushing and pulling strength – which meant death by deadlifting and bent-over rows.
This is the double positive of fitness testing – viz. not only does it demand a significant spike in high-intensity training but that you explore weaknesses in your physicality that could impede performance. Thus out of necessity you will start to rectify fitness imbalances.
The desire to better a PB transcends exercise preferences: I can’t stand deadlifting but I’ll do it if I know it will increase my chances of emerging victorious from the test.
So, if you want to supercharge your training, consider conducting a fitness test . . . or advancing on established PBs. This method is almost guaranteed to fan the flames of your fitness regime.
Tip #3: Competition
Before now I’ve discussed competition in the context of reigniting dwindling motivation (Mo-Vo Part 1). But competition can do much more than set fire to your enthusiasm. It can act as rocket fuel propelling your training regime into the stratosphere.
A few years back a highly competitive work colleague and I waged a protracted war over who could achieve the best time in a 16k time trial (on an indoor Watt Bike).
It all started quite innocently – as these things tend to. I’d embarked on a personal quest to set a 16k personal best. Prior to launching this campaign I created a log sheet (so sad) which I pinned on the display board above my desk (sadder still).
Whenever I set a time I would scribble it on my log sheet and during idle moments at work I’d conspire how to beat it; what strategy I’d use and where I could shave off a few precious seconds.
However, I only managed to log one time before everything changed. I was well chuffed with my initial effort of 24:30, and I remember thinking that it would be tough to beat. But the following morning I noticed that my time had not only been crossed out but that a better one had been written in its place – in big bold pen no less, with arrows and asterisks.
This pissed me off for two reasons. Reason 1: I put a lot of graft into creating that log sheet; I’d made it look real professional with motivational quotes from my cycling idols and everything. Reason 2: I don’t like being beaten.
It didn’t take long to locate the culprit. He was seated two desks back smiling like the Cheshire Cat and chuckling condescendingly. I turned to face my new foe. We exchanged tough guy stares for a second or two. I asked him if he’d defaced my log sheet. He reclined back suffused in an air of superiority and confirmed the obvious.
I raised a threatening finger and trained it on him, then said: It’s on!
To which he said: Bring it bitch!
I turned, snatched up my gym bag and headed down to the work’s gym. Less than an hour later I was back at the office crossing his time off my log sheet. But not to be outdone I printed 20 copies of my time in font size 150 and plastered them all round the office.
Needless to say, the competition had commenced.
For months we duked it out on that Watt bike marginally bettering each other’s time with every attempt. A number of interesting outcomes occurred as a consequence of that competition. They were:
1: I massively improved my 16k time more than I ever would have had my colleague not posted a better time.
2: My training went into overdrive and I easily quadrupled the number of weekly miles I covered on the bike.
3: Even though we were competing against each other, and taking it perhaps a little too seriously at times (not Tonya Harding serious but close), we developed a lasting friendship. Ahhr, ain’t that nice!
4: I emerged victorious (the most important outcome of all).
SO, if you want some of these coveted outcomes I suggest you go and find yourself someone to compete against. However, before you do, make sure that this prospective competitor satisfies the following criteria:
A) He or she must be of equal or slightly superior physicality. It’s no good if you choose a competitor whose ass you can kick without breaking into a sweat. That’s called bullying and it’s neither big nor clever!
B) They must – MUST! – possess the competitive spirit. This is really important. The person you select to compete against must have a substantial ego – like hot air balloon substantial – and/or afflicted with an inferiority complex. That’s why I take competition so seriously: I’m an ego maniac who utterly detests being beaten (an inferiority thing). Thus I’ll literally kill myself to win. You want to find some who is equally unhinged.
C) Not a quitter. If the competitor you mark out wasn’t forged over Hephaestus’ anvil look elsewhere as they’ll almost certainly crack when the going gets tough. You want an adversary who is adamantine and to whom quitting is worse than death!
Now before I move on to the next tip I’m going to be straight with you. Finding someone who is imbued with even one of the above qualities would be like winning the lottery, would be like stubbing your toe on a lump of 24 carat gold rocking horse shit. But if you look hard enough you may be fortuitous and find the perfect competitor. Or, like I was, you might be really lucky and have that perfect competitor find you!
(This tip was inspired by the many physical battles I waged with Rich 'the lion' Johnson - a competitor par excellence.)
Tip #4: Enter an Event
I’ve always found entering an event to be an excellent way of electrifying my exercise regime. The thought of competing against myself and others in a public forum, the fear of performing poorly or, even worse, failing to finish for lack of preparation, these dreary prospects act like whips and spurs driving me forward.
Now the event doesn’t have to be worthy of an elite level endurance athlete, such as a marathon or Ironman. Depending on your physicality and experience a local 5k run for charity will more than suffice.
What matters is that the event poses a physical challenge, you have to pay to enter it and people will see you fail (the desire to avoid this humiliating outcome acts as a strong incentive to put the training in – a psychology thing). See below a list of starter challenges:
Half marathon (all three for Cancer Research UK)
Supersprint triathlon: 400m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run
But if you’re the sort of person who needs a real challenge before you get fired-up, go nuts and knock yourself out with something hellishly brutish. See below a list of events that fit that bill:
Double Ironman: 5mile swim, 228 mile cycle 52.6 mile run
Enduroman (London to Paris Ironman): 87 mile run, swim the English Channel, 181 mile cycle to Paris
Marathon de Sable (aka 'the toughest foot race on earth’): 156 miles across the Sahara Desert
These are the sort of events that feature on peoples’ bucket lists; scribbled somewhere in-between: ‘last one round with Mike Tyson’ and ‘swim with a great white shark’.
By entering such an event – any event! – you’ll not only have an immense physical and psychological challenge to aim for, which will certainly supercharge your training, but when you emerge victorious you’ll achieve something few ever have or could. And in the process you’ll earn yourself serious bragging rights.
The aim of this article was to equip you with four methods of how you could stoke the fires of training intensity whilst at the same time reigniting dwindling exercise enthusiasm. Having used all of them multiple times over the years I speak from experience when I say they never fail to elicit the desired result: supercharged sweat sessions!
Remember, though, the four methods do not have to be permanently implemented – this can lead to burn-out or over-training. They ought to be initiated when you feel as though you’ve hit a plateau or start to stink like a stagnating pond.
Really, you can use them the way Popeye used his tins of spinach: open and consume in the event of an emergency.
Regardless of how you decide to make use of these four tried and tested methods, just ensure that you do not succumb to the doldrums of repetitive, tick-box training. Do something different. Test yourself. Find a foe to compete against or get sweaty alongside a bunch of sadomasochists.
I guarantee you won’t regret it.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.