Mistakes Were Made: A Cautionary Tale For The Idiot In All Of Us

The plan itself was solid, but then… well, not so much at first, but then things started to break.

I was getting in shape for my wedding. We put together a 4 month training program and went to work. Everything was going great. I was going to be shredded. We planned our de-load phases perfectly. We de-loaded during conferences we were attending and a trip we were planning. It was majestic. Perfect planning over a 19 week period.

It’s easy to think that this was when things started going wrong:

Mayyyybe this happened because things were already going wrong

Mayyyybe this happened because things were already going wrong


I was working long hours, and I was exhausted, but it was the night before my bachelor party. There was no way I could miss this workout without throwing off the whole training schedule leading up to the wedding. Who cares that my HRV (heart rate variability) showed that I should be taking it easy? I though, I can power through this. I thought, This workout is important, damnit. I thought, The whole architecture of months of work hinges around this workout. I thought, Don’t be a pussy.

I tripped while carrying my bodyweight in kettlebells, and fell face first into a door. Real fatigue has a way of telling you things.

For the record, Beth’s first thought was that I’d had a stroke or aneurism. Her second was that my left knee (that has no ACL) exploded. Knowing this now, I like to believe that her gasp was more of excitement that I wasn’t dead and didn’t need surgery, and less of, “You are clearly an idiot.”

Einstein be-friend-with-stupid-people

While I was icing and gluing my face back together, I had two primary thoughts:

  1. There is no way I’m missing my bachelor party over this.
  2. I can’t believe I ruined this workout.

For the record, I’m not usually this obsessed with training. I know that one workout isn’t going to change the course of my life or my physique — that it is the long-term preparation, not the single day that wins the battle.

The next morning, I noticed that my head looked surprisingly good and I was feeling surprisingly low on head trauma.

A Softer World 266

So I decided to grab a portion of the workout from the night before. It was incredibly mild, but I realized must have sprained my AC joint when I hit the door (the acromioclavicular joint is the one in a “separated shoulder”).
AC joint

It wasn’t good, but I made some modifications and got through most of the program. The upside to an obsessive, irrational level of focus is that hurdles just disappear.

At this point, a more rational me would have noted pain in my FMS (Functional Movement Screen) and attended to the problems. A more rational me would have looked at my HRV scores and admitted that I was overtrained. A more rational me would have admitted that I was stressed to the gills with the final wedding preparations and remembered that adding more stress to my system by training an injured, exhausted, dieting body by training it as if it were a fresh, healthy, nourished body is stupid.

But I was getting married, so I did what any professional would do:

  1. Be my own coach/trainer (if you are your own trainer, you’re being trained by an idiot).
  2. Say that I know my own body best. Forget what my HRV and FMS were showing.
  3. Extend the last phase of the program by 2 weeks because I’ll be damned if I de-load until the wedding.

So I trained hard for another 2 weeks. A few weird things happened in that time:

  1. I started looking worse, not better during the extended phase of training.
  2. I got so sick I was forced to miss a workout.
  3. During the last workout I got a searing pain on the right side of my ribcage after pressing a heavy kettlebell overhead. (Yes, I was pressing on the sprained shoulder. Yes, the pain started directly after pressing with the sprained shoulder. No, I’m sure those two things couldn’t possibly be related.)

Why would I think that an extra training session or two would make me look markedly different? Why would I forget that I had already put in 4 months of really hard, really smart training and that I already looked different? Why would I sacrifice feeling good for looking good? Why would I ignore objective markers that showed I needed a break?

I got so emotionally wrapped up in my goals that I started working harder instead of smarter. There’s a lot to be said for working hard, and make no mistake, hard work is a necessity for most goals. However, there is no replacement for training smart.

So what’s the moral of this tale?

  1. A single workout is meaningless. It only gains meaning in the accumulation of work that creates positive change. Plan long-term. Don’t sweat the short-term.
  2. Have a plan, but remember that this is a dance between sticking to the plan and knowing that a plan is only as good as your willingness to make appropriate adjustments.
  3. Stop pretending you know your body best — that’s an emotional response to what should be an analytical task.
  4. Have objective markers so that you know if your training is working in the short and long-term, and so that you know if you’re training hard enough or too hard. Then do something crazy and actually pay attention to those markers.

Learn from my mistakes. I’d hate to think all my stupidity was for nothing.

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