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Shifting Your Fitness Focus

posted on November 27, 2018

I’ve found myself facing a new challenge over the past few months. I’d been training for powerlifting in one way or another for about 5 years. I’d never considered not powerlifting. I trained through some fairly serious injuries, also through a lot of difficult moments of my life, and at times I really had no business training at all. I was completely addicted to the process of getting stronger – I was lifting for therapy for a long time. Some nagging part of me knew that was a problem, but I was really good at telling that part of my brain to shut up.


This summer I had a shift. I was training and training but not getting anywhere. My real life stress was outpacing my training stress and I just couldn’t recover from the work I was doing. I had days where I felt like a zombie; human interaction felt impossible, I felt like I was fighting a strong current with every step I took. I finally had to stop and reevaluate my goals and my process.


The truth was that I’d lost a lot of the passion for powerlifting that I’d once had. I used to love competing – I’ve always been a competitive person and powerlifting was that outlet for adult me. But I had no drive to get ready for a meet. I was training just to train, and that’s not me. I’d been playing with the olympic lifts (the snatch and clean & jerk) for a few months at that point and was really enjoying learning something new. This is a completely different sport where I’d need to spend a lot of time on technique before I’d really get anywhere. That means the workouts are all relatively light compared to my strength and don’t stress my body in quite the same way. For that reason, I decided to completely make the switch. I’m approaching the 12 week mark on that transition now.


It hasn’t been easy. A lot of my identity is wrapped up in lifting and striving to move heavy weights. Taking my training weights down (by a lot) has been a knock to my ego. I’ve also been shifting how I approach conditioning and diet in that I’m not doing as much and I’m letting myself eat more in an effort to better handle stress and regulate my hormones. In essence, I’m doing the opposite of everything I’ve done in the past. Sometimes this makes me panic – will I lose all my strength? Will I gain a ton of weight? Will clients not take me seriously?


The answer to all of those worries is no. But having those types of thoughts is normal. We see a lot of new members come in with a goal of changing their fitness habits: often these are people who have relied heavily on cardio but instead are looking to try some resistance training. Sometimes it’s ex-Crossfitters who want to learn how to get stronger instead of just ‘fitter’. Sometimes it’s powerlifters who want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. No matter your shift, there will be obstacles – both mental and physical. Here are a few things that helped me.

Rework your goals


A new focus necessarily means a change in goals. I loooove goal-setting, so for me this is the best part of making a fitness change. For others, maybe not so much. Now’s the time to review our previous goal-setting articles and settle on some new, smart goals. For me, this means competing in my first weightlifting meet in early 2019. By the end of this year, I plan to build a habit of doing regular mobility and prehab work on my shoulders (5x per week). With that foundation, I hope to feel comfortable in my snatch and clean & jerk technique by the end of 2018 to lead into that meet. The ultimate number goal for the next 6 months is to snatch 67.5kg (~148) and clean & jerk 85kg (~187lbs). As far as the meet, I just don’t want to bomb out!


This also means letting go of old goals, or at least recognizing they need to go on the back burner for a time. My 2018 goal was to deadlift 400lbs. With my new training focus, that is not going to happen. It pained me to think about “failing” at achieving that goal, but I had to consider what that really meant. Should I have continued pursuing that goal even though it was hurting my body? Even though I wasn’t even enjoying the pursuit anymore? No, that wouldn’t have been smart. That’s easier said than done, but the choice was clear.

Get on a program (or get a new coach)


I’d been programming for myself for about a year and half and had gotten pretty comfortable figuring out how to progress towards my powerlifting goals. With weightlifting, that’s all out the window. I toyed with the idea of coming up with something for myself, but decided not to for a few reasons. The first and most obvious: I’m too inexperienced to really know what I need in this sport. The second, I’m so new to the sport that just about anything would help me! With that in mind, I decided to utilize a good source of weightlifting knowledge online and go with a preset program. No, this isn’t perfectly matched to my needs, but again, right now it’s just about getting the reps in. To get better at snatching, the primary thing I need is to snatch more.


Apply this train of thought to yourself and your new goals as they emerge. Will the program you’ve been on help you meet your new goals? Does the person who programs for you (a coach, a friend, maybe yourself) have good experience in that field? If you answered no to both those questions, it’s time to find a new program (or a coach that fits your new needs). If one of our staff at UF is your coach, be sure to talk through your new direction with us! We can’t know how to change your program without your communication. If you aren’t interested in coaching, take advantage of the copious amounts of knowledge available online. Remember, if you’re new to something, just getting the reps in will help you the most during that total novice stage. No need to get fancy yet, just put in the time.

Take your time


And on the subject of time, recognize that this process will take time. You may be leaving behind an activity you’d gotten pretty good at to focus on something new. That means there’s a good chance you’re not going to be good… at all. I’m pretty bad at weightlifting, as I should be. You can’t be that good at something you’ve only been doing for a few weeks. And the next time you hear me complaining about how I should be better at this stuff by now, please shove this article right in my face.


This can feel extremely frustrating, especially for the perfectionists among us. It’s easy to feel like you should just magically just “get it” when you start something new. We tend to self-select interests and hobbies that we have a knack for. Maybe you’ve found yourself in that boat with your fitness switch, maybe not. Either way, you’ll need to be patient. Like I said above, you need to put the reps in to get better, especially at first.

But go all in


Just because you need to be patient doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get excited and really dig in! To me, there’s nothing more fun than getting really caught up in something new. There’s always a million articles to read, videos to watch, and techniques to try. I’ve definitely stayed up way past my bedtime on many occasions recently watching Mike Burgener videos on Youtube. I regret nothing.


Get excited! But remember that this is a time to learn, not just to do. You may want to start training this new way 7 days a week, but part of that learning process is figuring out how much recovery time you’ll need to keep getting better. It may not feel like a lot at first: your weights would likely be light, your runs would be short, etc. I’ve found that in an effort to force myself to rest, I find other ways to go all in on something new. I spend that time reading and watching video, or I find new mobility routines to help me find better positions, or I increase my daily walks to keep my hips feeling loose, or I start actually prioritizing sleeping more. All of these things are helping me get better at my new sport, WITHOUT burning me out quickly. There are a myriad of little, boring things you can be doing to get better. Find those and use your new motivation to build some positive habits.

Remember to enjoy yourself


This is all supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Few of us are elite adult athletes and there’s nothing wrong with that. Be sure you’re enjoying your new hobby. And remember that to enjoy something, it doesn’t always have to be “fun,” just rewarding somehow.


If you’ve read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and if you haven’t, I’d highly encourage you to do so), you know that contentment doesn’t necessarily come from being giddily happy or having SO MUCH FUN all the time. True fulfillment comes when we are faced with a challenge that is juuust beyond our reach and we work towards meeting it. A new fitness focus perfectly fits the bill. Find some flow in the new practices you’ll take up – get caught up in improving your mobility (like me), or doing hundred and hundreds of goblet squats to progress to a solid back squat, or working on your core strength so that you can run pain-free. Then put it all together when you get to do “the real thing.”


Making a big switch like this is frustrating. It’s time consuming. But it’s rewarding. Take your time, go all in, and enjoy yourself.


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