The Gains Temple - Nugget 3 of 3: “Have Fun”


If you need to catch up:

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What’s good folks,


This particular nugg might be a little curve-ball after my emphasis on mastering the basics and doing the tough stuff. The root is motivation, and purpose - without either, you won’t get the most out of yourself.


You are going to get the best results out of lifting weights through the application of focused, consistent effort over time. Something I think a lot of people underrate is actually enjoying that process. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re far less likely to continue with it long-term and reap the rewards that come with that long-term, structured effort.


So what you want is an arsenal of methods that ensure that you actually want to keep putting in that effort. The one thing I really want to hammer home is - going to the gym to improve your physical capability to do sicker and sicker shit on field doesn’t have to be grim, arduous or bland. Keep your sessions spicy, keep yourself engaged, and keep your progress ticking along where it counts.


Motivation, Purpose and the Burn


This might drive the pedants crazy, but I’m going to go ahead and say that your reason for picking up the weights in the first place (purpose/goal/endgame) and what actually keeps you going through the door (motivation/reinforcement) can absolutely be two different things, and each can change over time.


Let’s assume your purpose is getting faster, and what you do in the gym largely reflects this. However, what you find the most fun and what really motivates you is just blasting out biceps curl after biceps curl. That’s okay! Who cares if they’re largely useless for Ultimate, the pump is real. You can use those sets, or hundreds of sets, as a reward after hours of legwork. Whack it at the end of your sessions and get stuck into that. Just avoid a situation in which your reinforcement works antagonistically to your goal; think about someone dieting with the purpose of losing weight, motivating themselves by eating an entire cake at the end of the day. Delicious, but counterproductive.


In a nutshell: find what keeps you motivated to work towards your purpose. You can have a cold, hard, data-driven and utilitarian goal but needn’t allow that to stop you from enjoying the process. It doesn’t matter how objectively silly your day-to-day motivation is, or how silly it might seem to other people, because ultimately what’s going to drive your improvement is you. Be mindful of what motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing and how to feed that burn, and the gym will seem less like a dungeon and more like a temple.



Tactics


Like most things worth doing, especially within the realm of conditioning, lifting weights is hard. Sometimes you won’t be 100% into it. Sometimes your technique won’t feel right, or you won’t be firing as usual and might fail out some reps. You might be stuck at the same weight for a lift for weeks or months. These instances and more are opportunities to step back, refocus, analyse, learn, adjust, and succeed. This is the process of improvement in most activities, and is a skill in and of itself - but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or immediately rewarding to do.


Here are few things that can counteract this gradual decrease in enthusiasm or perceived reward and add some zest into the mix:


What: Track your progress

Why: Being able to adequately visualise where you were vs where you are now and how you got there, is big. It puts small ebbs into perspective against the rising tide of your muscle sorcery.

How: I recommend keeping a spreadsheet in the cloud somewhere that you can update as you work out while still being able to hook the data into a simple linear graph. Odds-are, as a flatballer, you are also a super genius so this is well within your capabilities.


What: Benchmark on what’s important

Why: You will likely see some lifts improve at a greater rate than others. If your program is single-leg focused, then you should primarily recognise and celebrate success in those lifts, and avoid feeling discouragement if your bilateral lifts drop or plateau. If you’re aiming to drop some body mass, then you shouldn’t worry if your lifts stall (as you’ll likely lose some muscle alongside fat), because that’s not your primary objective. So if you’re going to track your progress, make sure that you’re judging success by what you actually want to achieve - not by the peripherals.


What: Film yourself

Why: This could be a subset of tracking your progress, in that over time it will give you a clear line of sight from where you were to where you are. Additional benefits are much simpler. It gives you a great way to look at your form. Compare it to the textbook, make adjustments and drive incremental, motivating improvement through that. Even simpler: look at you picking up that big-ass weight, you absolute animal! Send that to the team. Reap the dopamine hits from tiny blue digital thumbs and ‘wow!’ reacts.

How: You can do it with your phone!!!


What: Find a partner. Go with a friend, a housemate, or a teammate - all three if you want to unlock forbidden platinum-level gains.

Why: Friends make the process enjoyable. Teammates will keep you accountable. Housemates can give you rides to the gym, you disgusting leech.

How: Be open about your goals and your methods for achieving them. Get hugely pumped about their own goals and achievements. Challenge each other to be better than you are. Send Slack messages while they’re giving important work presentations like “So what PBs are we breaking tonight?”, “How much can an Olympic bar hold?”, or my personal favourite “Race you to the squat rack, dickhead!”.



What: Special guest exercises!

Why: Doing different, especially new things is fun as hell and can often help you work out technique kinks or break plateaus in what you’re actually working towards.

How: Treat yourself over a few sessions to some substitute lifts for some exercises you’re finding stale, grindy or unrewarding. Sub in lifts that should deliver roughly the same outcome, e.g. Kettlebell Swings for Deadlifts, Front Squats for Back Squats, Skater Squats for RLESS, mysterious and baffling TRX exercises for whatever you choose, etc. I’d counsel against replacing exercises within your program for good, rather use them for a cheeky vacation from whatever lift you’d usually have in that slot for 1-2 sessions. Whenever you do this: DELOAD! If you’ve not done an exercise before, play it safe - learn the form, start light, and take it easy. Enjoy the process.


What: Take a rest.

Why: Over the long term there is every chance that sometimes the best thing you can possibly do is take a rest. Like in all forms of conditioning and sports play, there may come a point at which all the little things, be they small injurious niggles, frustrations with progress, or constraints on time or energy pile up and put you at risk of burnout, becoming an obstacle to getting the best out of yourself. If you can’t bust out of this with your legs, try giving your mind and body a bit of a rest instead. Especially during the season, training can become a bit of a vortex where the more energy you pour in, the more the process demands of you.

How: Step out of the rapids for a bit. Get some early nights and put some pork on your fork. Try bouldering or yoga or trail running for a week. Join a Settlers of Catan league. Basically do something that’s not gym-related nor sitting on your arse. I guarantee that when you return to the weights that the rest, recovery and/or alternate approaches will have done you a lot of good at least on the motivation front, and quite likely given your body and mind a much-needed respite from the grind mindset and prepared you to reach even greater heights.


These have been the most basic things I’ve found super useful for getting me into the temple that aren’t the direct outcomes of actually going, such as being/looking/feeling stronger, reducing injury risk, or increased throwing range. Your experience probably is or will be very different, because everyone’s got different buttons. So, be honest with yourself, discover what you love about it, and leverage that into even more powerful drive to exceed yourself.


As a special bonus, here are some exercises I would recommend as fun, technical or just total gassers that make you say “ooft, that was difficult”.



Intrinsically fun:

  • Kettlebell Swings: Great for drilling fast hip extension, plus you get to swing a big heavy ball around! Most gyms have kettlebells ranging from tiny to behemoth by now, because they rule. There are loads of variants that range from difficult (straight-leg swings for additional hamstring action) to insane (releasing the kettlebell at the apex of the swing and catching it with the other hand) that are great for keeping it spicy and making it look like you know what you’re doing!

  • Cleans: These are also a technically advanced lift, and I’d recommend only starting on them after you’ve got the hang of a deep front squat and are deadlifting around your body weight. They are also one of the best all-round bilateral power-developing lifts you can do - it requires a lot of power to put that dang bar at chest level. Alternatives such as Hang Cleans (start the bar from above knees) or Power Cleans (catching the bar at a higher stance, like a quarter/half-squat rather than a full squat) are exciting and also preferred by some fine institutions like Morrill Performance, probably for specificity reasons.

  • Medicine Ball Throws: In my book, basically any exercise where you get to throw something is unbelievably good fun. One of the best Ultimate-specific ones I’ve done is linked there - just look at that bald dude trying not to smile as he throws that ball around. What a testimony to how fun it is. Great for rotational power and shoulder stability, it’s also very close to a backhand stance if you want that sweet sports specificity. You could also adjust to a standing variant facing the wall for a forehand-side rotation.

  • Trying To Balance While Your Friends Throw Things At You (TTBWYFTTAY): Call this whatever you want, I’m unsure if it’s got a conventional name - phenomenal for ankle stability and general coordination, this is a blast. Stand on a half bosu ball and throw/catch medicine balls, tennis/LAX balls, or better yet a disc.

Technical:

  • Turkish Get-Ups: If you can perfect this you can perfect anything - a complex and rewarding mishmash of some fundamental athletic movements. I don’t know a better exercise for control of a weight while maintaining core, shoulder and hip stability. Do these so you can make countless jokes about turkish delight or whatever.

  • Nordic Hamstring Curls/Glute-Ham Raises/Single Leg Back Extensions: All of these are a step up from the SLSLDLs for hamstring strength - both eccentric and concentric - and general posterior chain strength, all of which will make you more injury resistant and probably faster. It’s easier to start on Nordics if you’re at the gym with a partner, and the GHRs require a specialised bit of equipment that I’ve only seen in around 1 in 3 gyms, and SLBEs can be done on the Back Extension bench. You can also do Nordics using the that bench - rack the pads at the lowest setting, so you can put your knees on them rather than your hips and go for it.

  • Gassers:

  • Sled Pushes: If your gym has a sled you should be using it. There is very little that will improve your straight-line speed better than exerting that speed while a big old metal thing tries feebly to stop you from doing so. Claim the space and go zoom around.

  • Farmer’s Carries: Great mixup for a deadlift or similar exercise, do these for laps or for distance. One-armed variants (loading only one hand) are also worth doing. They’ll also be a great help in forearm/grip strength for ripping mad bombs and breaking grip strength-related plateaus on lifts like the deadlift.

In conclusion, go out there and have fun. This being my last nugget, I am confident that if you master the basics, focus on what’s important and have fun doing so, that you will be best equipped for long-term success in the gains temple. Stay curious, and keep challenging yourself to succeed in what’s new or difficult. Good luck!