‘How many efforts should I get coach?’ an athlete asked me just before he taught me a valuable lesson about performance and the value of those who are important to you. He was nervous and I noticed a bead of sweat drop from his forehead as he leaned forward and tightened the straps around his feet.
The session he was about to complete involved repeated high intensity efforts on the rowing machine and was designed to improve fatigue resistance. These sessions are brutal but there are tremendous physiological and psychological benefits for the athlete who is willing.
This particular athlete had been recovering from a serious overuse injury for some time, the injury and extended rehabilitation meant that at times he felt isolated from the group and of little value to the team. The rowing sessions were designed to help him to maintain fitness whilst being off his legs to allow for the recovery of his pathology.
The session involved repeated intervals of incremental distance before a ‘challenge’, which pitted the player against himself each time he completed this session. This challenge involved the player maintaining a set intensity for a set distance for as many efforts as possible until he could no longer maintain this workload. Once he dropped below this threshold his session was over.
He had completed this session twice and improved his output (by beating his previous number of efforts) on both occasions. I decided to have him complete this session one more time to really test himself mentally before progressing his session again to accommodate for his improved fitness. This session would be tough since his previous effort was excellent and had seemingly pushed him to his limit.
He started the session well and as he began his challenge a few of his teammates became aware of the session purely due to the intensity he was exhibiting to complete each effort. They came over and asked how he was going as compared to previous sessions. At this point he was reaching his previous ‘best’ of 9 efforts and looked very fatigued.
At this critical point in his session, his teammates began to cheer him on knowing that if he beat his previous best he would again have taught his body to reach a new level physically. As he attempted his ninth effort there was around 6 teammates egging him on. They screamed encouragement as he neared completion of this previous best and equaled his output from his last session.
Now his teammates sensed a victory here and recruited others to encourage as the athlete steeled himself for the tenth effort. This would be a phenomenal achievement since the athlete looked as though physically he had little more to give. Still he gritted his teeth and went out hard against his ghost with the aim of achieving a new level of physical and mental strength.
At the halfway point of this effort there was around twenty of his teammates literally screaming at him and imploring him to beat his previous self. The noise was deafening since the gym was small and crowded. The noise created attracted more interest and by the successful completion of the tenth effort the sound was incredible.
By now the majority of the team and even some of the coaches was surrounding the rowing machine and every single one of them was encouraging the athlete to compete again. At this point I thought it would be physically impossible since the workload completed was already unbelievable, however the athlete was composing himself for another effort to the roar of the crowd.
Just being willing to give it a try required huge mental strength since he was well past physical exhaustion and could not fully recover between each effort at this point. But as the crowd willed him on he seemed to find another gear from somewhere and successfully completed yet another effort.
The crowd responded by again going crazy. The effort and determination displayed by the athlete frankly demanded this reaction and everyone in the room was buzzing with enthusiasm and awe as they willed him to try and eek another effort from his weary body.
This cycle of maximal effort and peer support went on for almost another 20 minutes as the athlete continued to defy all logic and somehow drag himself to the line repeatedly to the roar of the crowd. When he could no longer pull the cable he had completed 21 efforts. This equated to close to 6km worth of sprints at a 2: 1 work rest ratio (this means each effort was twice as long as each recovery) and remains one of the most amazing physical feats I have witnessed.
The other athletes immediately asked me how this had been possible and for the first time I had no plausible explanation. At the time I could not logically explain how this could have occurred. The last time this athlete had completed this session he had left nothing in the tank yet one week later he had more than doubled this workload. How could this happen??
It was not at all that he had not tried as hard the previous week, in fact it seemed that last week he had worked much harder in comparison to this new level of physical ability. Having worked with this athlete for years I could never question his effort. He actually does not know how to give anything less than 100% so his effort was constant. The other constant was his longing to feel like he had something to offer the team despite being restricted physically.
In fact all variables associated with performance were the same from week to week, however there was one important difference. The physical and emotional support of his teammates. The fact that his teammates were physically present and vocally expressive of their support, seemed to open up the possibility for some kind of nonverbal dialogue between this athlete and his teammates.
Each and every effort was a message from the injured athlete to team he felt isolated from. The response of the crowd was their acknowledgement. The simple fact that they were present to support him allowed this athlete to use the session and his physical effort as a means of communicating what he was struggling to verbally express to those around him.
I believe that health and elite fitness requires a balance of the body and the mind. Dr John Demartini has been one of my greatest teachers and through his work I learned that you cannot achieve a balanced physiology (a healthy body) without a balanced psychology (a healthy mind). This particular session was a definite turning point for this injured athlete and I believe that this event provided a healing for him by allowing him to balance his mind and body to facilitate his recovery.
Through this event I learned not to underestimate the support of those who are important to you. And the effect this support can have on your progress. Being able to express yourself and your experiences with those you care about (and who support you equally) can help bring about the balance that is required in order for you to move forward through setbacks and sticking points in your life and achieve results you may never have anticipated.
Being aware of this and refusing to place boundaries or limitations on your success can lead to exceptional results. I have come to learn that you never actually achieve anything in isolation although you might think you are solely responsible for your results. Understanding this keeps you grounded in times of achievement and also improves your experience with regards to success because success is that much sweeter when you can share it with those who are important to you.
Terry Condon is an Entrepreneur plus Fitness and Physical Therapy trainer for high performance athletes and teams. His blog www.terrycondon.com always has great inspiring content that is useful for both entrepreneurs and athletes alike. Terry is pictured above kitesurfing, one of many active hobbies.