The desire for a perfect compass that always points to true north is shared by many travelers, but often times the path we travel is instead led by contours of rock and soil that make passage not just possible, but enjoyable.
Strength and conditioning, as with seemingly all other aspects of modern life, has advanced technically and analytically with time. There are constant innovations in equipment for both completing exercises and measuring the output of athletes. Strength and conditioning coaches can look at their athlete’s heart rate monitors, test an individual’s maximum oxygen intake, and even measure the speed with which an athlete moves a weight in a given lift. More and more professionals are tracking sleep, dietary choices, and recovery to maximize results. Individuals who study the science and practice of strength and conditioning are constantly looking for new ways to deliver, measure and assess the best programs for their athletes.
Despite these advances, many grey areas still exist in the world of strength and conditioning. The data is still far from exact. Therefore, many rely on experience in the practice. One such method is “Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).” In this method, an athlete is given an exercise with a prescribed number of sets and repetitions; they are also given an RPE score on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, if an athlete is told to do a set of squats with an RPE of 8, the athlete should feel like at the end of their set they could have done a couple more repetitions. If the prescription was for a set of 5 repetitions with an RPE of 10, then the athlete should feel like there were no more possible repetitions left when completed. This method allows an athlete to autoregulate their day’s training based on how they feel that day. Some days an athlete feels well rested and is able to hit a heavy weight with an RPE of 6; on days where the athlete feels sluggish, they will use the same weight for an RPE of 8.
A related “soft” measure that strength and conditioning coaches may collect from an athlete is a “Desire to Train” score. At the beginning of each day, an athlete will simply log their desire to be in the weight room or at the track on a scale of 1to 5. This may be a subjective score that is prone to individual variation (some people just like training more than others), but it provides a valuable insight into how hard an athlete should push or lay off. A low desire to train may indicate the end of a long hard training cycle where a period of rest is needed. It may indicate that an athlete has not slept or eaten enough to fuel their training. It could mean that life outside of sport has been stressful and their energy has been spent on mental rather than physical exertion. These are all good things for a strength and conditioning coach to know. Collecting a Desire to Train score can tell a coach and athlete when it is time to back off, rest, or reformulate a training plan.
While most of us do not have anything riding on our physical performance, I would like to highlight the importance of this lesson to our everyday lives.
What is your Desire to Complete Life’s Work score when you get up each morning to take on a new day?
Just as physical training takes energy and effort, so does life’s work. There will be days when you feel like you’re ready to attack the world and take on all comers, do it. There may be days where just showing up and going through the motions is what you have in the tank, that’s fine too. But examine the data. What was present when you felt like taking on the world? What were the circumstances that led you to just go through the motions? It may be due to factors such as a good night’s sleep or something out of your control such as a death in the family, those are still factors worth noting. Advanced strength and conditioning programs undulate and vary. There are high days and low days. Life works in the same fashion.
The highs and lows of daily variation aside, there is another important lesson to glean from the Desire to Train metric: burnout and change in focus. If an athlete is consistently reporting a very low Desire to Train, a strength and conditioning coach needs to look at whether the individual has overtrained and a significant rest or deload period is required in order to restore the athlete’s central nervous system. Likewise in life, a consistent period of days where your desire to meet the demands of Life’s Work may mean that it is time for a vacation or a few days off.
What is more, a consistent low Desire to Train may mean a larger question needs to be asked of an athlete: do you want to keep doing this? Athletic careers don’t last forever and when the spiritual fire is out, why continue on? This is a hard conversation to have. Many athletes identify themselves with their sport and their training. If they stop, who will they be? What will they do? Again, the parallels to Life’s Work are strong. If you wake up consistently not wanting to go to your job, should that be the place you spend the majority of your time? If the idea of continuing on in your current line of work seems daunting, do you want to keep doing this work?
Not all paths are endless. Sometimes you reach a trail’s end. This requires asking some deep questions. What is it you truly want to do? Who are you really if you are not your job or career? What will wake you up with a desire to commence Life’s Work each day? Your previous data can be a guide. When was the last day you were fired up to do life’s work? What was present? When did you start just going through the motions? What was lost?
Many athletes continue on in training because it is what they have done, but not always what they continue to want to do. Similarly, many people continue on their paths because it is the one they have been walking. Just as an athlete can take up something else with their physical activity, you can take up a new challenge for your Life’s Work. Either way, you should have a high “Desire to Train” score to do the work.