Absolutely everything goes through a maturation phase of some kind. Businesses, social constructs, single celled organisms, and complex creatures such as humans, all undergo this process. The manifestations of maturation are boundless, ranging from the obvious – physical, intellectual, sexual – to the less visible – social, psychological, emotional and spiritual.
Needless to say, this phenomena is happening around us constantly and training is no exception. We can all observe one’s ability to progress through the physiological stages of the Novice Effect or eventually develop hypertrophy. Thankfully, these are all quantifiable stages of maturation and indications of a positive training trajectory.
However, within the strength and conditioning setting, we can also observe the growth/stagnation process as it pertains to something referred to as Training Maturity. This can roughly be described as an athlete or coach’s ability to exhibit ever-improving recognition and response skills. Training Maturation is dependent on one’s willingness to improve, the resources available to them, and an inherent passion.
One of the biggest myths associated with Training Maturity is Training Age. Not chronological age -as in years on this Earth – but years training, lifting weights, working out, getting swole. The amount of time an athlete has put into working out can absolutely increase Training Maturity, but time spent under a bar does not directly represent a corresponding degree of maturity.
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It’s true that maturation takes time, but as in our approach to programming, we’d like to optimize that phase using the most effective means possible. Just as the physical demands set forth to drive adaptation are oftentimes taxing and tedious, so is the process of advancement through the phases of Training Maturity. Paralleling strength, people frequently avoid the highly effective foundational exercises that just so happen to be the most humbling. Therein lies the crux of athlete ego. This is the understated litmus test of Training Maturity. It all starts with ego.
Phase 1: Ignoring – Ego. It’s not a bad word although over time it’s evolved to have a negative connotation. Instead, it’s a sense of self. In Latin, it literally means “I”. The problem with ego is that it can swing so far to one extreme that the focus on one’s self can impair their ability hear others, or even know that there are “others” – other philosophies, other training programs that actually work, other coaching styles, other everything.
The majority of people spend most of their developmental time in this initial phase. You know who they are. In a broad sense, they are ignoring outside influences and are unable to deviate from the familiar. It reminds me of when I used to teach scuba diving in a murky Maryland quarry. People were a lot less likely to wander from the group if they could barely see their hand in front of their face.
Phase 2: Hearing – This can best be described as becoming open to the ideas, practices, or opinions of others. Hearing the sage words of coaches or other athletes who have walked your path is just the beginning. To really succeed in this progression, you need to listen. This requires more than merely the recognition of sound, but the recognition of ideas.
Typically, this phase is dependent on a level of trust. Once trust or rapport is developed with an athlete, a person will be more likely to incorporate new philosophies (somewhat blindly) in hopes it will yield results. A group of enthusiastic coaches and athletes is no different than any other special population. They need to see proof of results or a promise of return on investment. If a coach can provide that, it will be the superficial incentive necessary to promote acceptance and defend against ignorant skepticism.
Phase 3: Understanding – Discovering why you do something is, in my opinion, as important as what you do. Not only is this a crucial stage in creating a knowledge base in which to eventually support your own ideas, but it plants a seed of commitment. Similarly, when an idea that was previously foreign to us becomes familiar, we become less likely to shrug off it off or call it irrelevant.
Beginning to comprehend training complexities including exercise physiology, anatomy, and kinesiology, is an essential part of maturation. You cannot have understanding without learning – asking the obvious and not-so-obvious questions. It’s that initial investment that is made with an athlete’s own volition; a proactive stake in the ground that says, “I actually give a shit”.
Phase 4: Engaging – Making inferences based on what you have learned is one of the most rewarding aspects of Training Maturity but it takes courage. You have to have the ballzz to present your ideas publicly and embrace the educational dialogue that follows. This is only possible if you begin to trust in the science and knowledge base that you developed in the preceding phase.
Expect to experience growth and humility as successful engagement is fraught with debate, test/retest scenarios, and mistakes. In training, this can be conversations with your coach about programming, writing your own programming, and beginning to view yourself as a test subject. At PAHQ, we practice all of the above and then some. Every day is filled with dense and sometimes hostile engagement of varying philosophies and interpretations of the laws that govern effective training.
Phase 5: Empowering – If there is one piece of coaching advice I’ve learned throughout my own ongoing Training Maturation, it’s this: The best way to empower others is through an unwavering passion for what you do. Passion is the most infectious form of motivation that I have observed both in coaching/training or any other setting. Take a person who is bookish, introverted, or unpleasant to be around. Coerce them into talking about the one thing that they are most passionate about and regardless of your personal interest in the subject, I dare you not to be inspired.
At this point, empowering others becomes not only a joy, but a compulsion. The great thing about this particular phase is that you can incorporate it immediately, so long as you have developed a genuine love for what you do.
Make no mistake, the other phases are imperative. They are meant to enhance an athlete/coach’s appreciation for the nuances of training. You may really enjoy a piece of music but unless you are intimately familiar with the technical difficulty of a given arpeggio, key change, or tempo, you’re just some dude who “likes a song”. Don’t be that dude who “likes to workout”. Have an appreciation for the complexity of the moving parts that make up an effective program or method.
As I stated above, so many people find themselves stuck in the infant stages of their Training Maturity. I meet athletes all the time who are unable to see that their two-a-days are not actually contributing to their goal of strength and are unwilling to step back in order to take a multiyear approach to their programming. Those individuals lack Training Maturity. Similarly, if you’re their coach and unable to make those hard calls, you too are ill-equipped and potentially lack Training Maturity.
We can all benefit from revisiting our own process of maturation. What could be more thorough than carefully climbing the ladder one crucial rung at a time? The result will be an effective coach or athlete who is a proud product of their own training evolution.
A strength and conditioning coach since 2009, Cali has worked with numerous athletes spanning from rugby players to cross country skiers. Almost immediately after finding CrossFit in 2010, she was introduced to a program that better suited her athletic goals. With her existing background in powerlifting and football, she became a natural devotee to CFFB/PowerAthlete and testament to it's effectiveness. In 2012, she left D.C. and headed for the state named after her to be a part of the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff and a Jedi of Power Athlete HQ. Cali currently resides in Seattle where she works full time in law enforcement.
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