Training Versus Performance: How to Train for Performance
The 2000-meter row. If you know, you know. It is designed to be an excellent power endurance test because it is short enough to go all out, yet long enough to wish you were dead while doing it.
Somewhere around the 700 to 1,000-meter mark, you have to start digging really deep because no matter who you are, that is where our cardio power starts to diminish and your brain starts signaling you to slow down or stop. Your time will depend on your mind’s ability to overcome the physical distractions and find that well deep inside you to push even harder than you think you can.
The first time I was tested, I had been on a rower maybe twice in my life. I got a 9:05. For reference, I’m near 40, female, 5’3” and 120-something pounds. The standard at the gym I was training at was a sub 8:00 for females.
I had work to do.
My initial goal for the next test was an 8:30 or better. So, every day I used the rower to warm up. Within a month, I got 9:00 one morning just screwing around.
Most days I easily fit 2k into my ten-minute warm up, often I was doing it around 9:20. Keep in mind, when I say warm up, I mean warm up – going from a stroll, to a light jog, to maybe giving it the business in the last 500-700 meters, if I felt like it.
I was going to nail that second test, my daily “performance” proved that.
Except, I bombed.
When it mattered, I got a 9:44. I can make all kinds of excuses since it was in the middle of a week-long, hardcore seminar of tests. I wasn’t fueled properly, my abdominal wall was a little weak from deadlifts a few days prior, I was exhausted… But what it really boils down to is I adrenaline dumped, couldn’t breathe, and my mind gave up instead of pushing past my pain.
It turns out what you do in the gym is just training. What you can do at any time, under pressure, is your performance. These are two entirely different things.
Performance is not your gym PR or the output you typically generate for a given workout. It is not how long you can sustain energy, or how tough/strong/fast you are to handle the daily load. Performance is the test: the meet, fight night, the tournament, the race – i.e. when it counts.
That’s why you hear about infamous gym lifts, a wild night at sparring practice when someone bested a high-level opponent, or a crazy fast pace on a random afternoon when no one was looking. It is what you are capable of when your mind is at ease and your body is ready.
What are the typical obstacles that keep people from reaching these pinnacles on test day? And how do we train for this elusive performance?
Four Obstacles That Hinder Performance
Obstacle One: Timing
You probably train every day at the same time. Maybe that is 6 AM, or noon, or 8 PM. Is your test at that time, too? Probably not. Most fights aren’t scheduled for noon, marathons aren’t at night and a meet or tournament can last all day long.
You can end up waiting for hours past your ready state or having to rush out before you are warmed up. You will need to train for this time discrepancy.
Get sessions in at the same general time you will be tested so that your body is used to it and not just “waking up” or wanting to “shut down” for the day.
Obstacle Two: Fuel
Much like the timing aspect above, you have to consider when and how to eat around a test. You certainly don’t want a belly full of food when the cage is locked behind you, nor do you want to be feeling the shakiness of hypoglycemia when you’re about to put 500 pounds on your back.
Both can result in a code brown disaster, or worse.
Again, you must take into consideration the timing of the test and try as best you can to make sure you are properly energized. You can start the week prior.
Eat your meals at the times you will need to, not the times you are used to. Or if it is all day, make sure you have many small snacks that will stay put even if you have a case of nerves.
Obstacle Three: The Adrenaline Dump
This can be as simple as a bit of test anxiety or as rough as a full-blown panic attack when it’s time to perform. In the gym, there is no real pressure. If you fail the lift, you walk it off and try again. If you get submitted, you slap gloves and keep going.
No one is judging.
Your heart may be excited, but it is at ease. Not so on test day, where you might not be able to eat, or you feel short of breath or oddly exhausted. That is due to the effects of adrenaline. Often, we can overcome it by powering through and waiting for it to dissipate during competition.
Otherwise, we have to train for it. This may mean training for higher output than you expect on test day. Your goals in the gym must be a percentage higher than what you will aim for.
Or, your coach can show up and randomly “test” you, so that you get used to the feeling and drive past it. Another tool is to learn how to meditate and calm your breathing to an acceptable level.
Obstacle Four: Distractions
It’s competition day.
What else is going on? Is your girlfriend or boyfriend blowing up your phone with random complaints? Are you dragging your kids with you? Are they bothering you with their boredom and intermittent need for snacks from the vending machine?
Are you thinking about that nagging report at work, or your credit card bill? Is your competition stoking some beef with you and getting in your head? You have to take steps to let it all go.
You need to hire a babysitter and turn your phone off. Get your business handled before the big day or make peace with it being undone until the following day. Don’t stalk your competitions Instagram page, or you may end up too worried about their game to be confident in your own.
Learning meditation and focus techniques to calm your mind (as opposed to just your breath) will do wonders. And finally, your coach might randomly shake you up during training.
Maybe (s)he yells unexpectedly while you execute a movement, or makes you work with an uneven load. Learning to hone in on your coaches’ cues with background noise can also make a huge difference.
Training is your practice. Performance is your show. If you want to show better than you practice, you have to get a grip on all the obstacles above. Training should always be more physically demanding than performance day. You must get to a mental mindset of confidence and calm to be successful.
I’m definitely going to test my 2,000-meter row again, but in the meantime, I have to train to conquer that dang adrenaline dump. I’m coming for you, sub 8:00.