I have recently finished reading Rafael Nadal’s excellent autobiography Rafa, which provides a fascinating insight into the mind of a ruthless champion. In this newsletter I want to try and pull some of the lessons I learnt from reading this book and apply them to the world of fitness training.
Lesson 1 - Performance vs Health
"Playing sports is a good thing for ordinary people; sport played at the professional level is not good for your health. It pushes your body to limits that human beings are not naturally equipped to handle" Rafael Nadal
Nadal admits that in his quest for elite performance on the tennis court he takes his body well beyond a healthy dose of physical exercise. This should not come as a surprise, a quick look at injury rates amongst top level sportsmen will confirm how close they are pushing their body to the limit of its capabilities. However, this trade-off between performance and health is certainly not confined to elite level athletes. I see people all the time who think the more exercise they do the better. These people beat the crap out of their body day after day with tough gruelling workouts all in the pursuit of health and fitness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you should not chase high levels of performance with your training. I think challenging your body to achieve new feats of athleticism is one of the best ways to stay motivated during your workouts. An example of this trade off in my own training is the pursuit of the one arm chin up. Several injuries to my elbow later (admittedly through getting carried away with my training volumes) and I am well aware this is probably not the healthiest activity I could be doing for my joints. Does this stop me? No, it is a challenge I am determined to overcome and it is fun to pursue. Take home message, there is nothing wrong with trying to maximise your physical potential in a certain discipline, just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons not on the misguided assumption that it is the healthiest pursuit for your body! More exercise is not necessarily better when it comes to health.
Lesson 2 - Power Of The Mind
"I saw more clearly than ever before that the key to the game resides in the mind. If the mind is clear and strong you can overcome almost any obstacle including pain. Mind can triumph over matter" Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal is one of the toughest competitors the world of sport has ever seen and as he admits in the book it is this mental strength which separates him from many of his rivals. The importance of mental strength is of course not confined to elite athletes alone. In my own line of work I see the same pattern repeating itself. Those with the most desire, focus and mental strength are the ones who achieve the most impressive fat loss results and fitness performance increases. Why? Training hard is painful, resisting hyper-stimulating processed food is tough, getting lots of good quality sleep requires some sacrifices. Those with the strongest minds are able to resist quitting their workouts, resist the junk food and resist the late nights and thus get the best results!
Lesson 3 – Effort Precedes Reward
"One lesson I have learnt is that if the job were easy I wouldn't derive so much satisfaction from it. The thrill of winning is in direct proportion to the effort I put in beforehand" Rafael Nadal
This particular paragraph really struck a chord with me. Like many others, I myself have been guilty in the past of seeking shortcuts or easier routes from A to B only to be dissatisfied with the outcome. To achieve anything meaningful in life requires some hard work and dedication and this absolutely includes fitness training. Setting easily achievable goals is all well and good but the level of satisfaction derived from achieving them is minimal. I prefer the idea of setting tougher long-term goals because the reward at the end of the road is so much greater! Heck, even if you end up missing your target you will likely have achieved much more than if you had set your sights pathetically low. Think big with your body composition and fitness goals!
Lesson 4 – Look After Your Body
One of the benefits of earning millions of pounds (like Rafa) is you can afford to pay for your own private physical therapist who is always on hand to massage your muscles, get rid of pain and restore optimal function to your body. In the real world, hiring your own private therapist is of course unrealistic but that does not mean you cannot do some DIY muscle and soft tissue maintenance on a regular basis. In fact if you are training hard on a regular basis I would consider it essential. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Claire Davies is my favourite book on the subject and is a must on the bookshelf of anyone who pushes their performance several times per week.