Don’t you wish you could get more done in a day? We just need a few more hours in a day sometimes. For most of us it is simply impossible to work harder in order to accomplish more. As a whole, what makes the human race unique as a species is our ability to change our environments to suit our needs as opposed to changing ourselves to suit our environments. It is this enterprising spirit that has allowed us to grow rice on steep terraced Asian hillsides for thousands of years and to farm the desert through irrigation in Egypt and Babylon. Today, if we can apply this ancient adage on a smaller scale to the microcosm of our daily routine and seek to change it to suit our needs and not our needs to suit our routine, then we can greatly improve our efficiency.
In doing so, we eliminate the life-shortening stress that comes with the desperate struggle to work harder to get more done in a day. There comes a point where you can no longer work harder, or even maintain the current workload without the law of diminishing returns kicking in, but we can ALWAYS work smarter.
This is especially true when it comes to the work that goes into seeking improvement in sport.
For most of my swimming career, it has been simply impossible to train harder. There is only so much work that the body can physically take and adapt to without breaking down, getting over-trained, injured and sick. I have learnt this the hard way, due to my past misguided traditional belief that the more I did the better I would get. This led me to, when I was so tired, to try to train incredibly hard by swimming more miles and lifting more weights, which to my surprise actually made me worse instead of better.
At the level of sport where it is physically impossible to train harder, it becomes all about training smarter. Improvement literally depends on you being able to find ways to improve your methods, because if you continue to do and stick with what has worked in the past, you will only be as good as you have been in the past.
I attribute my improvement over the years to the “upgrading”, so to speak, of the support systems that I have in place.
I like to use the term support systems because they literally keep me up and on top of my game. These systems entail the work I do in the pool regarding technique, fitness, kicking, race specific skills and pacing, my pre-hab to prevent injuries, strength work, mobility, flexibility, nutrition and recovery.
Any satisfying future improvement will directly be a result of finding ways to continue to optimise and level up my support systems to better suit my ever-changing needs as an athlete. This need to upgrade my support systems drives me to constantly be analysing, researching and experimenting with new ideas and is the most enjoyable aspect of taking ownership and full responsibility of my swimming.
All too often, athletes and coaches tend to be almost religious in their backward mindset, blindly employing traditional archaic methods and ways of thinking that may have produced past results, without ever questioning why, and how will it make them better?
The belief that traditional methods are unquestionably the best greatly limits our potential and is the opposite to the proactive scientific approach of observing, researching, and experimenting that provides athletes and coaches with the means to continue to improve their support systems, train smarter and attain improvement.
Very often, all the problems we face have already been solved, it is just to look for the solutions. The easiest way to level up a support system is to break it down into its many different components, and questioning what sort of athletes are the best at each unique type of skill, movement or element, observe and understand their methods, and if it works for you, then incorporate it permanently into your system.
In doing this over the past few years, I have broken out of the traditional swimming paradigm and now incorporate elements of gymnastics, yoga, freediving, Olympic weightlifting, and high jump into my training and support systems. I work smarter now, not harder.
In the quadrennial or four-year Olympic cycle, I believe the first two years after an Olympiad provide the perfect opportunity to experiment, with the third year being all about refinement, leaving no room for guesswork and error in that fourth most important season that everyone remembers.
To work smarter, we need to optimise a routine or system to suit our needs as opposed to changing our needs to suit the system.
Just like successful athletes and coaches, to make the clever improvements necessary for optimisation, we must first profoundly understand all the elements involved. With this understanding and some creativity, we then replace the hard work with smart work. In this way we can optimise anything; our daily routines, work, environment, our body, our life in general.
In this greatest sport that is life, don’t get locked in antiquated ways of doing things and get overtrained, desperate and stressed out from working too hard. Optimise your life to suit you needs. Work smarter, so instead of working for your life, make your life work for you!