Swimming: The World’s Greatest Female Marathon Swimmer On Turning Adversity To Advantage

This  is a must listen episode of Rich Rolls podcast:

If you think swimming in the ocean is tough enough Kimberly has swam across 33miles of California’s infamous Red triangle, home to the highest concentration of great white sharks.

Kimberley Chambers: The World’s Greatest Female Marathon Swimmer On Turning Adversity To Advantage

 

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How to Be Your Best

There’s an interesting mantra that has been popularised in the self-improvement and development world recently (James AltucherRyan Holiday, Ken Shamrock) called:

  • Plus
  • Equal
  • Minus

This concept isn’t new and I am sure it has been called other things in previous times or even adopted by people unknowingly. But the main idea of the mantra is everyday you should try to find your ‘plus’, your ‘equals’ and your ‘minus’.

  • Plus: Find some one who is better than you, someone who you aspire to be like. Someone you can learn from.
  • Equals: Find someone who is at similar stage of development to you, but importantly someone who will challenge you.
  • Minus: Find someone who is less experienced and less developed than you. somone that you can teach the lessons you have learnt to help with their development. Not only to help them progress but also to cement your own learning.

How can this help improve your fitness?

  • Plus: Find someone who you train with or you have regular contact with that is significantly fitter and/or has a lot more experience than you do (it could also be someone you follow from a far). Spend time understanding what they have done to get to their position. Ask them questions about their regime, their habits. Spend some time in training with them to see how they approach their workouts. Become a sponge and learn as much as you can from them. You can take on their wisdon and apply what resonates to your own training, focus on habits that challenge your current comfort zone.
  • Equals: Now its time to get competitive, find someone one at training or a friend who has a similar level of fitness to you and get involved in a joint session. Sign up for a race or competition together. This way you now have an equal to benchmark yourself against with the goal to try and stay one step ahead of them at all times. They will be your extrinsic motivator to force you to focus,train harder inorder to develop faster.
  • Minus: This is likely the more challenging part, because unless you are a coach or a leader it is unlikely you do this already. The aim is to find someone who is either less experienced or has a lower fitness level than you. Take them under your wing and as you listen to your ‘plus’ and progress by being challenged by your ‘equal’ you take these learnings and habits and instil them onto your ‘minus’ you then become their mentor and guide their development. It has the double benefit of cementing your learning too.

 

The Simplest Answer is Usually Right

Occam’s Razor is a problem solving principle where the focus is on simplicity. It states that for each explanation of a result there may be a large number of complex alternatives however the explanation that has the fewest assumptions should be the one to believe.

There is also a medical adage that summarises this way of thinking nicely:

“when you hear hoofbeats behind you, think horses, not zebras

Since horses are common around here while zebras are relatively rare (at least where I’m from anyway), logically one could confidently guess that an animal making hoofbeats is probably a horse.

In the sport and fitness world you often see examples of how this thinking approach could be applied.When there is an obstacle in the way or a result is not as good as expected so many far-fetched theories and hypothesis can be found to explain the outcome, when in reality the answer or solution is often the simplest one right in front of you.

Plenty of fitness companies use our habit of  overcomplicated problems to their advantage, you only have to look at a sport supplement advert to realise they are purposely making it confusing for you so when you aren’t clear on what the solution to your problem is you turn to their magic pill (the Zebra) for the answer. when really the obvious solution is right in front of you (the horse).

Some examples of how this can apply

  • Reasons you’re not getting stronger You aren’t taking the right supplement, You don’t eat enough protein, the rest period in between sets is too long, you don’t have enough recovery time, you split your workout over too many exercises, you lift the weights too fast/slow, you don’t use the right exercise or technique, your training too many/few days in a a week, you don’t have the right coach, you’re not a member of the right gym, you don’t use a weight belt, your use the wrong footwear.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You aren’t progressively overtime lifting increasingly heavier weights.
  • Reasons you were beaten in a race The competitor was taller/leaner/stronger than you, The course suited the guy who won, you weren’t rested enough, it’s not your type of course, you raced last week, you were not mentally prepared, you’re carrying an injury, your competition knew the course as they’re local, it’s too early in the season to be sharp, you didn’t get enough sleep the night prior, It was too hot/cold/windy.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You aren’t training as much (or as effective) as your competition.
  • Reasons you don’t workout– There is not enough time in the day, the gym memberships are too expensive, you don’t have the athletic gene, you don’t like exercise, you’re injured, you’ve tried but it doesn’t give you results, you don’t know how to train, the weather isn’t conducive to working out, your kids take up all your time, you have a physical job, you work too long hours.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You’re not truly committed to working out
  • Reasons you are overweight– You have a thyroid problem, bad genetics, hormone imbalance, too many carbohydrate in the diet, too much fat consumed, sugar and  insulin levels, too much fruit and fructose, you eat too big portions, you suffer from social pressure to eat junk, junk food is too affordable, healthy food is hard to cook, you eat too late.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor to: You eat too many Kcals vs what you burn.

I know this could be viewed as a far too reductionist of a method (and isn’t always right) but it can often be a great tool to clear out the ambiguity in solving a problem or understanding a reason for the problem and force you to at least start concentrating on the most obvious solution.

 

The 1% Strategy

“If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by one percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,”

Dave Brailsford

I’ve come across two different strategies that both look at small incremental improvements over along period of time.

  1. Marginal Gains (improve 100 things by 1%)
  2. Compound Gains (improving by 1% daily compounds to 3400% over a year)

I like them both and see value in how they can improve your approach to training, below is a brief summary of each and some idea’s on how to implement these.

Marginal Gains

Popularised by the great Dave Brailsford of Team Sky and British Cycling this concept approaches improving everything by a small margin, i.e try to improve 100 little things each by 1% (to create the sum of ‘100%’) rather than trying to improve one big thing by 100% which in theory should be more challenging. the thought behind this is that the aggregation of these gains have a greater impact than a large gain in a single area.

British cycling did this by looking at how they could improve things just by a small amount to get ahead of their competition. Below are some examples:

  • Warm ups and warm down areas at the start/finish
  • Aerodynamics of bike set up
  • Standardising ways to measure positions (to improve consistent bike set ups)
  • Shape of chain rings (circular vs oval)
  • Colour coding bottles and nutrition (to avoid mistakes)
  • Team bus to reduce transit to hotel (increase recovery time)
  • Aerodynamics of skin suits and helmets (seamless skin suits, 3D printed helmets)
  • Sleep position (type of pillows consistent all year round)
  • Mindset and psychological approach (hired Steve Peters as psychologists)
  • Emphasis on hygiene to avoid illness.

Compound Gains 

Another theory i recent game across from James Altucher is that if you try to improve by 1% everyday, then as this compounds it will result in 3800% improvement over a year (that’s being 38 times better than you were at the start).

Of course this isn’t realistic to improve by 3800% put it puts in to perspective the benefit of constant daily improvement and how little gains on a regular basis can add up to a large sum over time.

Apply the 1% to your Life and Training:

There’s an endless list of improvement opportunities but sometimes they’re obvious and easy ones that could be making a real difference.

Sleep

  • Can you improve the consistency of your sleep by removing electronic devices.
  • Try waking up at the same time daily or going to bed at the same time.
  • Decompressing prior to bedtime to switch off quicker  (try reading some fiction)
  • Black out the room to fall into deeper sleep.
  • Drink turmeric prior to bedtime (or boiled bananas) to help drop off to sleep.

Hydration

  • Carry a water bottle with you at all times and hydrate to the recommended amount, rather than relying on thirst as an indicator.
  • Include electrolyte tabs in your drink to improve water absorption and replace lost minerals through sweat.
  • Workout the exact amount of water you lose in training through sweat and make sure this is added to your daily intake.

Warm ups

  • Schedule 15-20 mins warm up prior to your sessions.
  • Arrive earlier to training to get a warm up done.
  • Warm up the correct muscles and movements specific for your sport.
  • Research the most effective warm ups for your sport.
  • Warm up your mind as well as your body to ensure you get the most out the session.

Super foods

  • Include Beetroot juice in your daily diet to help improve oxygen absorption (which improves performance).
  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to your drinks bottle to alkalies the body and aid recovery.
  • Using glucose gels or drinks more frequently on longer races.
  • Reducing caffeine intake and then using it tacitly before a session as a ‘pre workout’ once your more sensitive to it.
  • Utilise ‘Magic hour’ the hour after exercise when your body absorbs nutrients the fastest by going to training with a recovery meal/shake.

Clothing

  • Ensure your clothing is the right fit for the type of training or racing, you could go down a size to improve aerodynamics on the bike or running.
  • Invest in a skin suit rather than a two piece.
  • Use an ‘Aero’ helmet for bike racing.
  • Trial different materials and brands to reduce chaffing and improve comfort.
  • Check the shoes you wear are giving you the best stability and grip for your sport.

Equipment

  • Wear racing flats for road running during a race.
  • Invest in time trial bars for triathlon to improve aerodynamics
  • Upgrade to a Time Trial bike if your serious about improved position and speed
  • Pay for a professional bike fit
  • Invest in a better wet suit that improves hydrodynamics and  mobility.
  • Check the bike gearing and swap for a better option suited for the particular course or race.

Learning

  • You may have hit a plateau in your knowledge or become comfortable in habits. Ask someone different for feedback on your technique or habits.
  • Read some new books from people you haven’t listened to before.
  • Build a habit of trialling new techniques or methods
  • Look at the competition to see if they are approaching training or racing in a different way.

 

Just Run. Nothing Else.

Sometimes its good to just run.

Not to worry about:

  • Where you’re going
  • Switching Strava/GPS on to track your distance
  • Taking a picture for social confirmation
  • Measuring your heart rate
  • Checking your pace
  • Timing your intervals
  • about saving energy for later
  • Concerning about running too much after yesterday
  • Listening to your music
  • Running with the dog (to kill two birds with one stone)
  • If you have the right clothing for the current weather
  • Which shoes to wear, trail or road.
  • Taking water in a camel back and energy with you
  • about being back for a certain time
  • Mimicking a future race

Next time you need to train,unwind or just get outside follow these easy steps:

  1. Change into shorts, vest and any trainers.
  2. Go out the front door.
  3. Just run. until your tired. then run some more.

The Fox and the Grapes

The Fox and the Grapes

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

The above is a famous Aesop fable that every one can relate to in some part of their lives. Have you ever thought to yourself:

  • I’m just big-boned/naturally heavy
  • My parents didn’t give me the athletic gene
  • I don’t have time to train
  • I could never be fit
  • I don’t have the ability to succeed
  • I am happy being unfit
  • I’ll sort out my fitness when I’m older

If you can relate to any of the above then you are living the same story as the fox, a classic example of cognitive dissonance  where you have conflicting ideals,beliefs or values. It is easy to read all the information out there that proves scientifically how you can get fitter, healthier or perform better. But once you see what is truly required to succeed you create a story as to why you are an anomaly and why the rules shouldn’t or don’t apply to you.

Maybe its time to take a step back and think, is it the rules don’t apply to me? or is it I am not applying the rules? are you a sour grape?

When You Train You Focus.

Today due to some conflicts in schedules I missed my 6am Monday workout and attended the evening class instead. I’ve spoken before about the benefits of rising early and training  and one thing I mentioned was there were less distractions to take your focus away from the task in hand.

Although the evening session was enjoyable and the outcome was positive below are some observations I had on what distractions where going on around me that I don’t normally experience in the morning.

These are not things that directly distracted me but were clearly distractions for others involved in the session.

  • Guy checking his phone in between sets (would he be receiving messages if it was a 6am session)
  • A coach from the next session heating dinner towards the end of the session
  • Members using the Gym as an open gym talking to members involved in the session
  • People coming in and socialising in preparation for the session after ours.
  • Coaches debriefing each other during handover
  • New member inquiring about membership to the coach
  • Late members to the session.

This is not me complaining by any means, some people enjoy the buzz of a busy session and are able to remain focused despite what is going on in the environment. I just want you to consider how much your progression could be hindered, or how your focus may be affected by environmental noise that in theory you could easily change. Take control and build the surroundings to support your goal.

Work is Hard. Distractions are plentiful. Time is Short.

Adam Hochschild

Focus On Your Strengths. Don’t Dwell on Your Weaknesses.

“Don’t dwell on your weaknesses. Everybody else is already doing that for you.”

Gary Vaynerchuk

How many times have you been asked to come up with a development plan at work? or how many times have you had feedback on what you need to improve? If you’re like me then it is way more frequently than someone asks me what I nailed? or what or what I could not have done better?

It’s not just isolated to work it can also be prevalent in your athletic or fitness pursuit. It’s easy for somebody else to look at your performance and pull apart everything you did wrong, sitting in the observer seat makes it easy to be critical

Your strengths will highlight your errors.  For example if you can run or swim a fast first lap but can’t hold the pace on the second lap, then in comparison to your first lap you second lap looks poor and to an on looker endurance would come across as a weakness.

Rather than instinctively thinking you need to improve your endurance (which may be one of your physiological weakness). Why not spin this analysis on its head and say; I know I am incredibly fast. I just need to find at what time in the race is best to utilise this speed.

This in turn will mean you won’t switch your focus from what your are good at (speed) and begin to spend hours or months trying to improve your weakness (endurance) that may actually be beyond your reach.

I love it when I hear people recommend this way of thinking. The best boss’s and coaches I have had are the ones that made me focus on my strengths, not dwell on my weaknesses. It not only ensures your performance is focused on areas you can deliver, it is also a massive moral boost which in turn will motivate you to develop this strength further.

Below is a clip from Gary Vee with his take on the topic.

 

A Month To Focus

“Focusing is about saying No.”

Steve Jobs

Can you focus on one task exclusively for one month? Can you give up a bad habit for one month? Can you instil a new habit for one month?

That’s exactly what I have been doing recently. After being  inspired by movements such as ‘Stoptober’ ,’Dry July’ along with seeing online fitness challenges like 10,000 steps a day and run everyday for a month or Ride 500Km in a month. I decided to trial some of my own month long experiments.

The benefit of this is that a month really isn’t that long, so if it doesn’t work then you have only sacrificed something for just over 4 weeks and then you can return to normal. It’s easy to say no to something for a month knowing the opportunity will come up again in a following month. But if the change works and you’ve learnt something from it. Then you gain a new perspective in a short period of time which could pay dividends going forward.

My Experiments have included: (along with what I learnt)

  • Running at least 5K everyday for a month
    • My running economy improved in the initial two weeks, but soon found I was enjoying running less when I wasn’t recovering. My final two weeks training sessions were less effective and during my next race after the month of training i found I had greater aerobic capacity but I had lost the sharpness and ability to inject speed into my running. Soon after the race I realised I had burnt out and needed a few weeks of low volume running to recover.
    • Lesson: Don’t ever neglect recovery, I now try to avoid consecutive days running and monitor how fatigued I get after each run, especially leading up to a race.
  • Eat a vegan diet for one month:
    • I long wondered if the stories of dramatic weight loss and improved energy and vitality were true. During my month on a vegan diet I experienced mostly positive outcomes. I had more energy as my Carbohydrate levels increased. I was more hydrated following a reduction in Protein and an increase in water abundant plant ingredients. My weight went slightly up de to increased water retention but not to the extent it changed my appearance. I enjoyed the taste of food more as the diet required me to be more inventive with herbs and spices to jazz up the vegetables. I became a lot more conscious of what food I consume and how many foods contain meat,eggs and dairy. I was satisfied by blander food, where before I may crave meat, cheese other high fat products for snacks I now found contentment and satisfaction in a raw date or a whole banana because avoiding high fat,salt and sugar products meant my taste buds craved actual food.
    • Lesson: We don’t need animal products to thrive despite conventional wisdom. We crave what we eat most there fore the body can easily adjust what it craves. Soon after eating more fruit and veg this is what my body started to desire. I found so much enjoyment from eating more vegetables and fruit that I have now adopted primarily a plant-based diet, not 100% but approximately 9/10 meals.
  • No fizzy soft drinks for one month
    • There was no purpose to me drinking fizzy drinks but I had a daily habit of drinking a 330ml can of diet coke. After reading information on the negative effects of soft drinks and in particular sweetener, I soon realised I actually didn’t enjoy drinking coke and that I solely consumed it out of convenience and habit. I stopped for one month to see if I could handle it.
    • Lesson: I stopped for a month with the intention of only drinking soft drinks when I really wanted one. It’s been two years now and I haven’t ever desired one single soft drink. When I am out a fizzy water is as refreshing a drink as I need!
  • No alcohol for one month.
    • I normally drink a glass of wine on a Friday and Saturday, but when times are tough I found an excuse for Wednesday and Thursday drinking which was affecting my sleep and wellbeing. I longed for a break just to see what my body would do and if it would improve my mood and sleep. I didn’t actually find this challenge hard to implement at home but did find social situations in bars a restaurants a little boring.
    • Lesson: I did see some change in my weight, not a lot but my belly was slightly less bloated and my digestion was a lot more consistent. The main change was I slept better without needing a pee at 3am and this in turn improved my mood and energy. I now drink far less and consider if I really need it before i buy a drink. The biggest factor for me is not having it in the house that way I only drink when I go out which is less than once per week. Overall the less I drink the better I feel.
  • No Coffee for one month
    • More detail on my blog post about this, but in a nutshell the hardest thing I have ever given up (even temporarily) but once I got through the tough week I began to feel better during the day, with less dips in energy and after 3 weeks I slept a lot more consistently through the night.
    • Lesson: I was addicted to caffiene without knowing it and it was a painful withdrawal. I now appreciate the strength of caffeine and the impact it has on the body but because I love the taste of coffee I won’t give it up for good. I now have a fresh coffee first thing in the morning and drink hot and cold water throughout the day as a substitute to the espresso and avoid coffee machines like the plague.
  • Train (Swim,Bike or Run) everyday for one month
    • I generally have trained everyday or at least most days for the past 20 years initially just swimming but now a mixture of swimming, cycling, running and weight training. In preparation for a big event such as an Ironman I have a 4 week training block of overload where I don’t have anytime off to see if I can maximise the load on my body and prepare it to handle extreme periods with little rest, this overload period is generally followed by a week-long recovery.
    • Lesson: I found I can accelerate my fitness greatly during a focus month, even across all three sports. I also find by mixing the sports I do, I don’t suffer from overtraining or pick up any injuries. unlike running exclusively. That is because swimming and cycling is low impact on the body so is unlikely to damage the muscles. It is still possible to get overuse and fatigue injuries if not managed correctly. I don’t do a solid month often but I do, I use it strategically to accelerates my fitness and prepare my body for a tough demanding race.

The 5.30 am Tactic

Most geniuses are just talented people who get up really early in the morning.

Joel Achenbach

If I asked what’s your plan 5.30 am tomorrow?

For some people its the same as they do every morning, train/workout. But for most it would be to stay asleep.

If i was to ask what’s your plans for 7pm tomorrow? the answer most likely would hugely vary.

Some people the answer will be to train/workout. But for others this is the time of day where they are busy living their lives. If not at work then outside of work. It may be cooking for the family, going to a bar, attending a work social or catching up with friends and family.Some may leave it blank with the anticipation that they day will just fill any free time naturally.

For those who do use this opportunity to get to the gym or complete a training session you will know all too well it takes a serious amount or discipline to

a) remain motivated to attend this session

b) remain focused that you can turn down social invites and priorities the training session.

Now if we go back to the original question, what are you doing at 5.30am? You soon realise it’s a part of the day that is rarely allocated to anything and is your’s for the taking. At 5.30am there is no obligation to be any where, no people to meet and certainly un likely to ever be an an event or activity that crops up in the last minute.

5.30 am is a unique time of the day and it is yours for the taking.

If you can manage your bed time so that by 5.30am you have fulfilled your sleep quota for the day, then you are in a great position to have a productive hour which is free to use as you like.

You could call it ‘The Hour of Power’ an hour dedicated to making progress on your goals, an hour with no distractions just you, your plan and the hour in front of you.

Not everybody is a morning person, i get that. But if you are finding it more difficult to find time in the evenings to train, or you find its hard to stay motivated and disciplined towards the end of the day. Then becoming a morning person may the solution for you.

Some tactics below to make the morning more productive and help convince yourself to become an early riser.

  • Get all your equipment ready the night before so your ready to go straight away.
  • Put your alarm clock the other side of the room so your have to get up to switch it off.
  • Make your goal visible from your bedside to remind you why you are getting up.
  • Go to bed early as possible and avoid screens before bedtime.
  • Train fasted and have your breakfast after your workout (unless its more than an hour long and need the energy)
  • Commit to meeting a training partner to make you accountable to getting up.
  • Plan a social breakfast for after the workout as an incentive to get up and train.
  • Book a class or meet your coach at the venue to ensure you don’t skip the session.
  • Get up the same time everyday to condition the body to the early start.
  • Make your morning plan the night before so it’s clear what you a trying to achieve in the morning
  • For a short period plan something for the evening so you have no choice but to work out in the morning.

I was fortunate to be conditioned from a young age to rise early. Every morning for most of my youth was swimming or weight training at 5.30 or 6.00. I have managed to keep this habit into my adulthood and I am confident in saying most of my goals have been achieved during the first hour of my day. it also gives me the opportunity to either be social in the evenings without feeling like I miss a workout, or when training for big events it lets me do a second training session in one day.