Taming the stimulus junkie – The not so sexy path to peak performance with Joseph Brigham

Human beings crave stimulus. Our ape brains go wild over shiny, flashy, loud, and pleasing tactile experiences.We are not unlike overgrown lab rats that continually push the button for pleasure instead of the button for nourishment, in the process starving ourselves metaphorically of the ability to thrive or make our lofty potential a reality. We are a slave to our inner stimulus junkie.


How many times have you done the thing that was pleasurable rather than the thing that would put you on the path to leveling up?Stayed out late drinking and missing training the next day, ruining a week of good intentions in the kitchen with an outlandish binge at the weekend, or messing up a good relationship by doing the wild thing with your co-worker. Life is meant to have pleasurable experience but when the pursuit and capturing of it spirals out to negatively effect the more wholesome lynch pins of your life – you are in the grip of a stimulus binge.


Being a junkie means being a slave to a form of stimulus to the point where your life revolves around the chasing and fulfilling of your need to scratch that particular itch. You are being controlled by it to the point where your rational thought is being side stepped and you gain more negative effects than good. There are more ways this can take hold of a human being than is in the scope of this article but the one in particular I want to touch on revolves around the stimulus of exercise and how it is detrimental to athletic performance.


That might sound like a paradox or contraindication. Surely to attain your peak you need to chase the stimulus of training, work hard, and devote your life to your craft?Yes you do need to be committed to your journey and work hard, but you also need to tame the stimulus junkie.The stimulus junkie manifests itself in athletes in the form of the PB/PR chasing, going all-out all the time, training multiple times per day, super-competitive, playing through the pain, win at all costs warrior.Go hard or go home, death or glory, chicks dig scars, walk it off, and brag about it.


This part of the athletes mindset can be very useful in the right situation – on race day, in a cup final, in the ring when a belt is on the line. It is the part of the brain that is a beast – like king-kong or godzilla – very handy in a fight but if you let it loose at the wrong time the result is less constructive. Better yet – you need to think of your stimulus junkie part of you as The Hulk, and you are Dr Banner. Sometimes you need to be smart, rational, and think things through.


In real terms this means that most of the time your training is not going to look like the montage from a Rocky movie filled with ball-breaking workouts, sprints, plyometrics, and showiness – in short, high stimulus training modalities. Most of the time you need to punch the clock and do the stuff that you need to be a robust, highly functioning, athlete with all the tools and energy in the tank to make it to the line at a peak in one piece. This means putting time in for mobility work, activating your weak muscles, putting in easy miles and building an aerobic base,  and grinding out the same fundamental movements every week to build mastery and strength. Taming the stimulus junkie means working on your weaknesses and maintaining your strengths – doing things you may not want to do and improving upon them to be a more complete athlete, rather than just hitting the things you enjoy in a workout.


Lets put this all in the context of today’s budding OCR athlete or Spartan Racer. The thing that makes the sport of Obstacle course racing so attractive for many is it is not just running. You get to break up the distance with tests of agility, strength, muscular endurance, and skill which are all generally quite a lot of fun on their own and will give you a buzz on completion – because of this it is often the Obstacle part of the acronym that is focused on. In reality this only makes up a small portion of what you need to work on to be good at the sport, the real focus for the competitive racer should be running because when you are racing you will be doing this more than anything else. You can work on all the obstacle technique that you like (which is the fun part of training for OCR) but if your running is not hitting a certain level you will not be competitive. Time to tame the need for stimulus and do the thing you need to do.


Even within getting better at running we need to tame the stimulus addict. Some may think you need to go out and run like you stole something in every training session in order to progress and get faster. This may work for a little while but the wear and tear on the body this causes means an overuse injury or burnout will be landing in your lap like a hand grenade before long. Here we see stimulus addiction being not just about the exercise you choose to do, but the intensity at which you choose too do it. This could be in part due to the mentality of “go hard or go home” that postures itself through athletic pursuits or because the athlete needs to feel like they have walked through hell in order for a workout to be defined as good. When you get stimulus addiction in check and focus on a sustainable path to a goal you will find that more often than not good workouts are the ones you can do week in week out without getting busted up. Just look at the 80/20 training principle that is popular and highly successful among runners.


The 80/20 method means performing 80% of your training at an easy intensity (Zone 2 or less if we are talking heart rate zones) and 20% of training at a moderate/high level. When applied to running this means at 80% of the time you are working at low intensity that is easy to recover from and allows you to build a strong aerobic base and perfect the skill of running while putting in more miles than you would be able to sustain at a much harder effort. Combining this with 20% of your work involving hard efforts, tempo runs, Vo2 max efforts, hill sprints, and track repeats means you get to work on high quality and high speed work in a ratio that won’t destroy you but instead make you faster for longer – something every runner wants.


For your gym work you may find yourself doing the same movements every week. Performing the fundamental human movements over and over again to get stronger, more powerful, or improve muscular endurance (depending on your training phase) – this often does not involve a lot of variety and is very much like punching the clock every week. This is not very glamorous and the desire may be to go to a crossfit class or boot camp where you are going to get beasted and do lots of fun movements with workouts that change every week. In reality this need for the workout to be fun is in part the stimulus addict inside craving a hard and interesting session. Be very wary of anything that will pull you away from working on what you need in favour of what you want. Achieving peak performance requires specificity – specific to your sport but also more importantly specific to you and your individual needs. Classes will only get you so far – a class workout is designed to be fun, stimulating, and get as many people as sweaty as possible. Does this sound like a path to excellence? To really unleash your potential you will need to quell the need for the stimulus of a beasting and the company of others (unless they have the same needs as you). Any class that claims it will build muscle, get you fitter, leaner, faster, stronger, and a selection of other diametrically opposed athletic gains is aimed at beginners because it is only beginners who can illicit these broad training responses from group training. 


So the majority of the time you are going to need to take a focused, workmanlike, clock-punching, and holistic approach to your training and have a program that meets your needs, improves weaknesses, and maintains strengths – but is there any time when the stimulus addict can be let out to play? The answer is yes – sometimes you need to blow off steam and let your inner animal hunt, fuck, and feast (maybe not just metaphorically speaking at times) in order to keep you sane as well as sharp. In pure training terms I achieve this by a monthly hard benchmark workout that involves an all out effort and some race simulation. You need to do this now and then to remind yourself you can fire on all cylinders and tap into that place where you are in zone 5 the whole session like you are competing for a podium place, you need to know you can handle the fire of competition and fucking hard efforts. The reason this is only once a month for me is because this allows me to tune my mindset for that workout as if I was coming up to a race, it is also because acts of real high intensity take proper rest afterwards to get back to your norm, and most importantly if you do too many high intensity efforts like this week in week out your ability to express a max is actually reduced as you water down intensity with more volume – thus the desired effect of the session is reduced dramatically with frequency.


Everyone is different though and depending on your mindset you may need more stimulus in your training in order to adhere to a program that will improve you as an athlete. You may need a couple of weekly group workouts for the sheer fun and camaraderie to give you a fix for your addict so you can punch the clock in those less sexy sessions you have to punch the clock with. Sometimes you need to find a trade-off and be flexible in order to make things work. OCR is not a professional sport where we get paid and ones life should be spent doing some things you enjoy in order to get the best out of it. This is a bigger picture approach you need to take as a coach especially because being competitive means different things to different people and as such their commitment to a program will come in at different levels. Not all athletes are the same and not all of them have the same awareness and control over their inner stimulus addict.


The fact is that we all crave stimulus in different ways and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have ever seen a greyhound chase the electronic rabbit you can see that sometimes champions are born from that instinctual desire to fulfill a stimulus addiction. We can also see in cats chasing a piece of string how that fast agile hunter becomes a docile and disinterested animal once the string is not being made to move anymore and it is sitting firmly in its claws. The key is balance – you need that inner beast in order to stay hungry and exert performances at the top of your game (and sometimes just to simply be happy) but letting it have what it wants all the time takes away the potential power it has locked inside and it – control it, hone it, keep it hungry, and when it is time to unleash it you will be formidable.


3 ways to stay in charge of stimulus addiction

  1. Look honestly at your current training  habits and drives – do they work for or against you in the pursuit of your goal? If the answer is no – what would you need to change in order to clear a path to where you want to be? Once you know this you can make a plan of how to implement the new habits and how to avoid the outdated ones that don’t help you.
  2. Hold yourself accountable or get someone else to – set tasks and targets that you need to reach to help keep your new habits on course, or get a coach to help you do this and to help you stay the course.
  3. Schedule in times in your program to “let the beast out of its cage” – knowing that you have a time to let loose and let the addict out to play can help you stick to the more boring but helpful stuff you have to do. There is a time and a place for everything.

Coach Joe Brigham is a certified Strength & Conditioning & Spartan SGX Coach based in Hertfordshire.

For more information check out:
@coach_joe_brigham
https://www.studio180.co.uk/joe-brigham
sigmabearpt@gmail.com

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable by Marc Trussell

When I worked in marketing, this was one of the most memorable pieces of advice given to me by my boss at the time; it was said in the context of presenting and pitching to large groups of people; making eye contact, smiling, and owning the floor.

This advice also carries over to obstacle course racing or any element of endurance sport for that matter. I’m a big believer in making the training harder or more challenging than the event itself, and something I drill to my clients when coaching. 

When I was training for the Double Ironman in 2009, I would add in “special” training sessions to my schedule and I believe that these played a great part in getting through the 280 odd miles. The most memorable session being a 15 mile run directly before taking part in a 5k charity Swimathon.  The same went for my 100 mile ultramarathon in 2012, I ran 26.2 miles, the marathon distance on a dark January evening once my wife got back from work, I had been looking after my daughter all day, and had all day to think about doing it, telling myself reasons why I shouldn’t. I don’t enjoy training in the evening as I’m much happier training first thing in the morning, getting out before the rest of the family is up.  For this race, I also ran 100 miles in six days, which meant running to work, at lunchtime, and to home from work on some of the days. 

These sorts of challenges are not only physically but mentally challenging. The aim being with them that when you hit a low point in a race, you can, agree with yourself that it’s bad, yes, but not as bad as the training you undertook to get there in the first place. These sort of sessions are best planned in advance and added sporadically amongst your usual plan. The best training sessions, in my opinion, are those which you quite simply don’t want to do.

So next time you’re planning an easy run or training session, factor in something different, a dip in a pond or a random heavy carry perhaps…

And, on the day of your next Spartan Race, own the course, make eye contact and smile at the marshals and supporters. Be thankful for the position you’re in and be comfortable with being uncomfortable, your mojo will thank you for it! 

Marc Trussell is an Obstacle Race and Endurance Coach and the only Spartan SGX Level 2 Coach and Perfect Delta holder in the UK, his website is www.gomarc.net 

Mastering Your Pull Up

Whether you can hit 20 or 0, you’re not going to master your pull up by doing rep after rep after rep. The key to mastering the pull up is breaking it down into multiple key areas. Grip, Muscle endurance & Strength

andreas-fidler-400356-unsplash.jpg

Grip

You need to make sure your grip can crush cans of beer like Stone Cold Steve Austin! But before we do that we need to
know that there are more than one type of grip infact there are three

The Crush Grip – The grip between your fingers and palms, think crushing a can!

The Pinch Grip – The grip between your fingers/thumbs, think holding a deck of cards and applying pressure!

The Support Grip – The most common grip which is used when holding onto something, think deadhangs/farmers carry!

The support grip will give you the most bang for buck, but its not a bad idea to be nailing all three of these to ensure no weaknesses and that you can hold onto that bar for days, if not weeks. But how do you train these grips may you ask? Well here’s some moves to get your grip strong!

The Farmers Carry – This hits the support grip and crush grip

Deadhangs – This hitsthe support grip and crush grip

Plate pinch carries – This hits the pinch grip 

Towel Hangs – This hits the crush grip

Incorporate these into your workout routine for a set amount of time, say 30 seconds, making sure the weights are pretty heavy and increase the time over a period of 3 – 4 weeks.

 

edgar-chaparro-669210-unsplashEndurance

These moves will help build some muscle endurance using the same movement patterns but in a way thats easier than a strict pull up. The aim here is to ensure that the muscles used have enough muscle endurance to keep the pull ups going.

Negative pulls ups / Eccentric lower – Start at the top of the bar  in a pull up position and slowly lower your self down engaging your upper back

Assisted pull ups – Use a resistance band or resistance machine to take the pressure off a normal pull up and aim to hit more reps than you can do strict

Inverted Rows – Hold onto the bar in a squat rack with your back facing the ground, and pull yourself up to the bar

Incorporate these into your routine by hitting either a few more than your current max pull up rep range, or if you can, try to hit 12+ reps, 2 – 3 sets will be enough to see you progress over a few weeks

 


Strength

Building strength in the muscles associated with the movement will help your body be able to either finally lift you over that bar OR more times than you can dream of. But first we need to understand which muscles a pull up uses? Well there’s a hell of a lot, which is why its considered such a hard move, but, we’ll mainly concentrate on the below, which will in turn hit some of the others also

Latissimus Dorsi – Upper backjesper-aggergaard-539148-unsplash

Trapezius – Upper back

Biceps – Arms

So what moves can we throw down in the gym to help build these bad boys into pull up machines!

Lat Pull Downs – Lat pull down machine

Bent Over Row – Dumbbells or Cable row machine

Barbell Shrugs – Barbell or Dumbbells

Bicep Curls – Dumbbells or Barbell

Incorporate these into your routine with a 5 x 5 to ensure you are building strength, progress this over a few weeks, adding weight and dropping reps if needed and you’ll be on course to success!

 

Advanced

If you’ve use all the above advise and you’re hitting new PB’s how about you work towards hitting some of these bad ass advanced movements, they will make you the envy of everyone in the gym for sure! Please note – These are HARD!

Weighted Pull Ups – Get yourself some weight and see how much you can carry whilst performing a pull up

Muscle Ups – We’ve all seen these in the local crossfit gym, well they can correlate well to getting over a wall in OCR, so may be worth giving them a go!

One Arm Pull Ups – These are ULTRA HARD! if you can do these, well your F’in awesome.

Archer Pull Ups – These are a fantastic way to build up to your One Arm Pull Up, but again they are HARD!

You could also do those Kipping ones… but nobody wants to be seen doing those…

As always, hit me up if you want any advice, feel free to sign up to the mailing list and share the love!

 

OCRWC: The Key To Success

IMG_20181011_200157_034

Failure and learning from your lowest moments is what breeds success, and throughout history there has been multiple figure heads who have down right failed before succeeding. (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, JK Rowling)

Someone who springs to mind is the world renown NBA star Michael Jordan, a figure head in the height of NBA’s popularity with six NBA championships & 5 MVP’s to his name, a guy who has a net worth of over $1 billion USD!

You could say that this man must have fantastic genetics, which yeah, he most likely does have some (Like being 6ft 6″). But is he human? Sure. He’s also a man who clearly learns from his failings (And has probably one of the longest quotes in history)

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Now this man has clearly gotten success out of some heart wrenching failures, in fact, he clearly is fuelled by them. And thats something you need to hold onto as you move into the OCR World Championship this coming weekend.

You will be lined up with the best OCR athletes in the world to compete in a premier event which will test you in the fine art of Obstacle Course Racing.

The aim of the event is to keep your ‘Band’

This band confirms you have completed every obstacle and without it you will not place in the rankings. You may have multiple attempts at an obstacle and will only lose the band if you do not fully complete an obstacle.

But what happens if you are struggling to complete an obstacle?

  1. Breathe – Don’t rush into a second try until you’re 100% ready, breath and evaluate what went wrong and what you may change on your next attempt. 
  2. Assess – Watch others, Another athlete may be using a different technique which could be saving their grip, try to mimic it but only if its within your capability.
  3. Visualise  – A positive mindset can help you achieve anything with a little adrenaline running through your veins. Visualise how you are going to tackle the obstacle and what technique you’re going to use. 
  4. Accept – Attempt the obstacle with the above three key components in place with the view of success but accept the outcome.

But what happens if you lose your band?

Take Mr Jordans advice!

This is a hard pill to swallow but sometimes you have to call it a day, your grips gone, or your saving yourself for the next day. But always, always, take Mr Jordans advice and learn from the outcome.

Don’t let the band rule your race and plan to finish it with your head held high. Afterwards analyse your efforts, take some advice from a Coach, get some pointers from some other athletes and see what you can do to ensure you nail it next time!

And hey, you are on the path to success!

I’m hoping you won’t need any of this advice, but at least its in your arsenal if you ever need to pull it out, good luck and see you on the course!

Spartan European Championship 2018

So here I am lined up in the village of Morzine, mountains towering either side, with Europes best Spartan racers. We’d been told the total elevation would be over 1800m+and the distance was to be over 20km. So let’s just put that into perspective shall we… The race would be the equivalent of running to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, plus an additional 500m gain, with obstacles and heavy carries thrown in! This race was not going to be for the faint of heart…

sportograf-130894779.jpg

The start of the race had us running through the picturesque town of Morzine and hurdling over local car barriers made of wood, before hooking up a local trail by the mountain river. The first obstacle lay ahead, a simple Z wall with block holds which you had to get around. Unfortunately for me, even though I usually have no issues with this obstacle, I landed myself 30 burpees and a face palm of altitude!

After a quick river crossing and some technical trail we were greeted with a waterfall, which included a cargo net some 20 feet high hanging from it. We had to jump into the pool and swim across to get onto the net and climb for the initial ascent of Ponte De Nyon. At this point it was pretty much a power-hike up a seriously steep ski slope which included a barb wire crawl as well as another obstacle, Olympus, at the half way point. No matter how slow you moved, this mountain made sure your lungs and legs felt it!

sportograf-130786251.jpg

It took me around one hour and a half to summit Ponte De Nyon (2019m) which was a total of 1100m climb from the village of Morzine. I was greeted with an incredible 360 degree vista of the French alps. Spartan also nicely placed a cargo net A-frame over the peak of the mountain, which was a cool touch. After this point it was a large downhill section, now I thought I was pretty good at running downhill. It turns out that may not be the case as I witnessed some of these mountain goat runners quite literally throw them selves down that mountain at what felt like whatever cost necessary. I’ve never seen downhill running like it and I commemorate those guys for having the guts to do so at such speeds and recklessness.

sportograf-130778296.jpg

After the initial descent, Spartan gave us a log to carry over to a lake, where we had to swim with it to the other side. This was a nice relief on a baking hot day of over 25 degrees celsius, and to be fair felt like a spa treatment after that ascent. We then ran up and down another small incline before hitting an obstacle which had you pulling two sandbags on a sled across a field, inducing some nice lactate in those quads, just what you need after summitting a mountain…

We were then thrown further down the mountain, with a few obstacles thrown in, Bender, Tyre drag and pull, Twister before we were yet again starting to ascend. At first the trail was tough but zig zagged through a forest so it was cool. But then we were yet again thrown up a Ski slope style hill, straight up, probably another 300m of elevation in total. My legs were broken and the heat was baring down at this point. So in true Spartan fashion, as you could just start to see the top closing in, they decided you needed a big chain to carry the rest of the way… At this point my legs were ruined, energy levels were low and I was dreaming of the end and that finish line.

sportograf-130815360.jpg

At this point even the descents were starting to hurt, with the quads begging for some mercy. Another rope climb, another technical descent… At this point we’d run around 20kms and homing into town with over 1600m of elevation. That’s when I thought to myself… This was advertised as 1800m? Maybe my Garmin Is not clocking 100%… Well it turns out that just as you thought you were coming home, Spartan decided to throw you on the most hellish of a sandbag carries to date. One mile long with a 50lb bag, up another 200m of steep ski slope elevation and back down in the searing heat. I’ve never seen so many grown men laying on the floor, beaten and broken, sweat pouring off of them, some even close to tears. Not to mention so many strong women powering through such an ordeal. Even the racers with the strongest minds and bodies were contemplating waving that white flag!

sportograf-130801540.jpg

Spartan had placed a water station after the carry, but by this point everyone was staving off dehydration, with some throwing water over themselves to keep cool including myself! The mountain had been beaten, it had taken blood sweat and nearly some tears, but now I had the final couple of Km into the village.

The village had some big obstacles, including a spear throw, a multi-rig and a slack line. Not to mention the deviously placed hurdles which after 20km+ of mountain terrain, felt like mountains themselves.

The race was a total mental and physical exhaustion. Your mind wanted you to stop and your body wasn’t far behind… So to hit that finish line, with both intact was a great feeling. My body wanted to rest, and so did my mind!

sportograf-130788964.jpg

All in all, the race was a fantastic experience. Afterwards I said I would never want to do a race like that again, It took me back to my first ever OCR, where the challenge was not the competition but in fact, just completing it! I knew coming into this race that it was not going to be my strongest, due to the mountainous elevation and distance, it definitely showed, with me just about placing in the top 100!

Regardless of my placing, I’m sitting here a week later writing this wishing I was back on that start line again!