Coach Tip Tuesday: Something is Better than Nothing
Today is December 21, 2021. In addition to being just four days away from Christmas, it’s also the Winter Solstice. For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this means that today is the day with the shortest period of daylight this year and our longest night.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this time of year can feel chaotic and stressful for almost everyone due to holiday gatherings, end-of-year deadlines and requirements for work, and preparations and travel related to one or both of the aforementioned things.
The fact that this time of year also coincides with the longest periods of darkness that we see all year can have a significant impact on how we feel about, well, everything! We might feel more tired than normal, we might feel like there are not enough hours in the day to do what we want, or we might feel like withdrawing and retreating from normal-for-us things.
Every year, I see manifestations of what I described above in the athletes I work with. How it pops up can be as diverse and individual as the athletes themselves, but here are some common examples:
For some, it manifests low motivation and in skipped workouts.
For others, it comes up as excuses (which are offered up as reasons) why they “can’t” do something on their training schedules.
Other athletes communicate with me more infrequently than they do at other times of the year.
Still others may be more negative than is typical for them, making negative comments about the weather, the time of year, the darkness, etc.
As you navigate these final days of 2021, the holidays, your work commitments, and the physical changes that come with the changing of the seasons, I want to encourage all of you to try not to let this overwhelm you and to take away from things that are important to you, such as exercise and movement.
While there is something to be said for periods of rest and recovery, for endurance athletes, it’s equally important not to go down to a zero of activity if it can be helped. In time periods like the one we’re currently in, something is better than nothing. There are some limited exceptions to this (in cases of legitimate injury, illness, etc.), but for a very high percentage of the time, something is better than nothing.
Not All or Nothing
A lot of endurance athletes have an “all or nothing” mindset when it comes to workouts and training, which makes sense since many endurance athletes have “Type A” personalities. I coach many athletes who have enough self-awareness that they have identified this about themselves. They feel that if they can’t do something “perfectly” (i.e. doing the entire workout that they intended to do), then they shouldn’t do it at all.
I can relate. When I was newer to endurance sports, I thought the same. I came to the realization that by choosing nothing, I was - in an academic grading metaphor - getting a ‘F’ (since zeros are Fs). Doing something would likely at least yield a C - a “passing” grade - if not higher. Another thing that helped me grow past this mindset what this:
If we make a choice to do nothing instead of something (and that is a choice), we are effectively making the following statement: Doing nothing is the better choice and will ultimately be better than doing something, even if it’s not the full something that was planned.
When I’m talking to athletes who are struggling with the “all or nothing” mindset, I often mention that statement, and then I ask them why they feel that the choice to do nothing is the better option. More times than not, they say that they didn’t really think that that was what they were doing - choosing the “best” of two options and saying that the best option was nothing - and that it doesn’t seem quite as logical when it’s presented to them in that language.
Making a Different Choice
It’s very okay if you find yourself short on time and can’t get in what is planned. That is a part of life - things do not always go the way we plan. But instead of getting frustrated and/or angry about this, procrastinating, saying you’ll do the workout tomorrow or a different day when you magically have more time, or skipping a workout entirely, we can choose to do an abbreviated something.
The benefits of getting in something - some form of movement or exercise - are tremendous. Science has shown us over and over again that the mental and physical benefits of a consistent movement practice in one’s life are too numerous to effectively count. We don’t need to get the full something in order to reap those benefits. Doing a shortened or abbreviated workout can serve this purpose.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are contemplating skipping your workout due to feeling overwhelmed, I encourage you to do the following:
Imagine getting in some movement or your planned workout. Imagine how you will feel after getting it in. Then, imagine not doing it, and imagine how you feel after not doing it. Looking at both of these, which version of the future (and your future emotions) is more appealing?
If you need to shorten a workout, I advise cutting some of the Main Sets if you’re pressed for time, as the Warm-Up and Cool-Down are really important in terms of injury-prevention and keeping the body happy. If you can’t get in the workout that was planned, get creative and find a different movement modality to do instead.
The Bottom Line
Getting in something instead of nothing has a very high probability of making you feel better about your day in general, helping you manage life’s inevitable stressors as they come. It doesn’t have to be “perfect.” Truly, nothing ever is perfect, since as humans we are all perfectly imperfect. (How’s that for a paradox?) The next time you are tempted to procrastinate or choose nothing (because you are choosing), give yourself a pep talk and encourage yourself to choose something.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.