Quality or Quantity
I hung on the side of the pool my head leaning against my arms. My shoulders burned, my lats screamed in protest, and my mouth felt coated in chemicals from all the chlorine that had passed through it. My goggles were squeezing my face a little tighter than usual and my brain was foggy from both concentrating on the new technique changes in my stroke and from general work out fatigue. I was 2800 meters into a swim set which included a 1200 meter warm up and I’d just completed the fourth 400 meter set of a 2000 meter main set. I’d done ok on the first set—going out a little hard as I’m one to do. Second set was a bit better. Third set I’d fallen off the pace and fourth set I felt was absolutely horrible. Derick stood on deck and a very big part of me wanted him to say “Kyle let’s call it a day. You’re going backwards again.” But I didn’t hear those blessed words. Instead I heard, “10 seconds… 5… 3, 2, 1, Go!” And so began my fifth 400 of the main set.
After the swim was over I sat on the pool deck with my head in my hands, physically and mentally drained. Derick came over and asked me what I did today? Thinking back to some of the themes we’d been working I took a stab at it. “I went out too hard again?”
“Even bigger picture than that,” Derick said, “You paid some dues today.”
For the majority of my life I’ve identified as an athlete. “Push through no matter how hard,” “If I don’t mind it don’t matter,” “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” are mantras that were pounded into my head as a kid.
In recent years the “less is more” philosophy has gained popularity amongst athletes—particularly the endurance community. High intensity interval training (HIIT) and high quality training is all the rage. Athletes who came from the older school mindset of high volume low intensity training, or the Eddy Merckx philosophy of “ride lots,” now rave about low volume high intensity and how they wish they’d switched sooner. It’s only natural that we want to do more with less. We want to go faster by going slower; longer by going shorter; make more money by spending less time in the office. So few people seek out the hard ways of doing something.
For the most part I can agree with this mindset. Quality work and training will trump quantity every day, but sometimes you gotta get the work done. Let’s look at my “real job” as an example. I’m a Marketing Assistant for Hickory Foods, the company that owns Bubba Burger—You’ll never bite a burger better than a Bubba. My primary duty is to expand the Bubba Burger brand through various marketing techniques. These include wearing Bubba Burger apparel, giving away Bubba Burger merchandise (hats, T-shirts, coupons, stress burgers, etc) and posting on social media. There are several of us that have access to the Bubba Burger social media accounts. My boss is incredible at consistent “serial posting.” He’s the guy that travels to hundreds of events across the country and has more opportunities to post a wider variety of content. On the other end of the spectrum, I spend the majority of my time at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center sticking to a pretty strict training schedule. Our 62000 plus Facebook fans would get pretty bored pretty quickly with me posting photos of me in my Bubba Burger gear on the treadmill, bike trainer or lifting weights. So I have to be more strategic with my posts. However, my strategic and targeted posts wouldn’t be as effective without my boss’s consistent wide variety content posts. The two go hand in hand much like HIIT and high volume low intensity training do.
In a previous post I talked about the differences between elites and amateurs and how elites do simple better. One of the ways elites/pros do simple better is knowing when to go hard and when to go easy. Granted, some of us still have issues with that. I probably go too hard on my easy days and not hard enough on my hard days, but I’ve gotten much better at managing that. However, one of the reasons I’ve been able to understand the differences between going easy and going hard is because I have a lot of meters and miles (both from training and racing) in my body and mind.
As I progress in my elite/professional triathlon career I learn how to make more workouts higher quality. A wrestling coach once imparted the wisdom to me that “practice makes perfect, only if you practice perfect.” This means that there’s no such thing as a wasted practice or training session as long as you go in with the right mindset. If you practice poor technique and effort then you will compete with poor technique and effort. For a very long time I was frustrated that I wasn’t swimming faster so I pushed myself hard. However, once I started swimming five days a week it became really hard to keep up that effort output. So I had to make a mental shift. When it was time to go easy I went really easy and spent that time really dialing in my stroke technique. Slowly over the course of this season I’ve swam more than 500 thousand yards and have gotten significantly faster but it wasn’t by doing more with less effort, or more with more effort, or less with more effort. I did it by correctly managing how and when to focus.
So when it comes to the question of “quality or quantity” the answer is really pretty simple. It depends on your goals. For me, and most triathletes who seek to get faster at our chosen distances, one can’t exist without the other. More importantly the path to success lies in understanding that there are no shortcuts. There are going to be days when we have to “pay our dues” and days when we’ll have to check our egos at the door. Find what works for you in your chosen pursuit, whether that be triathlon, running, swimming, cycling, social media, nutrition, etc.