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Training smarter, not harder

If there’s one thing that comes from maturity, it’s experience. I’ve had my fair share of experiments and failures with training and development of my own technique. We all need to go through a process of finding what works for us. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way as a young dancer, an older dancer and a personal trainer.

The difference between volume and quality. You can do a skill over and over again but if you’re not aiming to get it right each time you do it you’re just ingraining the wrong muscle memory into a deeper and deeper pattern. The same goes for lifting weights. There’s a big difference in the structure of a program between training for endurance, power, muscle size and strength. Merely lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights with no set goal in mind isn’t productive. Be smart about how you spend your training time. Spend less time training by being precise about what you do.

Structured vs unstructured programs. You can go into the gym or studio or get on your bike and just go but it’s much more productive to have a plan. If you want to gain a certain skill or improve technique then it’s best to have specific, measurable, time-sensitive goals. That means that you plan out your calendar. Each training day you have a plan. Today I work on [blank], the next day I work on [blank]and by [blank] date I will achieve [blank] goal. You’re more likely to see the finished product if it’s set out in advance and it’s highly motivating to checkoff a box every day that you train.

Going back to basics vs levelling up. As a young ballet dancer I was placed in a level appropriate to my age and then ‘demoted’ to a level below me to refine my skills. At the time it was a major blow to my ego. But what I quickly realized is that I made swift progress by going back to basics. Later in life when I started salsa I started in a level appropriate to how long I’d been dancing, but I’d been dancing without any lessons. I was reluctant to go down a level. If only I’d done that for 2 months I would have progressed so much faster. Don’t be like me. Go back to basics. Because, as my coach says, basics are everything and everything is basic. Focus on basics. You’ll be glad you did.

Finding the best coaches available to you. If you are really serious about your sport, and I imagine all my readers fit that description, then seek out the best in your business. Train with the best coaches you can afford. If you can’t afford the best coaches all the time then take a one-on-one lesson with the best coach occasionally. It’s worthwhile to do fewer events a year and spend the money on the best coaches so when you go to the events you are better prepared.

Having a practice buddy. Whether you’re a dancer or an athlete, having camaraderie and someone to practice or train with makes a big difference. As a mature dancer, I gave my time to up-and-coming dancers to give them a practice partner they could workout the bugs with. It benefited me by helping me become a better teacher but it also felt good to give back. As an up-and-comer in your sport it’s important to have others of your level or slightly above your level to motivate one another and get on the bike or in the gym on those days where you just feel you can’t muster up the motivation to stay with your program.