Will Gadd – Athlete, Speaker, Guide     Athlete     Speaker     Guide    
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Training Obsession

Date: 24th October 2012

There’s fit, there’s training, there’s recreation, there’s performance, and then there’s obsession with looking fit. For my entire life I’ve lived in “fit” places or within fit communities. Boulder is the uber-fit capital of the planet; you can’t go just ride your bike, you’ve got to know your cadence, heart rate, and have the right shorts on. Canmore is slightly more laid back, but for god’s sake don’t turn on the iPhone app that shows you whether or not you’re setting a new PR on a casual evening ride, or how much you’re off the record pace on the ride. This fall I went for a casual ride with a friend, and his damn phone kept beeping at him to tell him to go faster… “Can’t stop, gotta keep on my pace to beat my PR!” Now, I’m all for training my ass off. When I’m in the gym trying a problem or lifting a set don’t talk to me or I will hate you, you’re distracting me. Encouragement good. Asking me about my training methods or some stupid blog post I wrote just distracts me from doing my best. But the day I’m out for a ride or run and my phone starts beeping at me to hold a pace on a casual evening ride? Something is wrong. And I see a lot of this sort of, “training is everything, all the time” attitude. It’s not, unless you’re a competitive athlete, and even then it’s not. Even the best competitive athletes know when they are training and when they are out for a ride, and don’t confuse the two. Because ultimately if you’re not having fun life sucks…

And then there are the gym rats I see all over the world. I see them in the weight room “training for climbing” by busting out high-intensity workouts involving mirrors and bicep curls, or overhead lunges agains the clock. I used to have no idea what they were training for, but now I’m pretty sure: They are training mainly to look fit… If you “train” more than you do your sport then you’re probably confusing the reasons you train. Which is OK; “training” can be a sport. Crossfit is a sport in my mind, and I respect those athletes because they train with meaning and intensity and then (mostly) leave that in the gym. But there’s some dissonance between thinking you’re training for a sport and then never actually doing the sport you’re training for. I keep going back to Fugazi: “Function is the key!” Not biceps, not times, but actual performance results. Did you perform better last time you went out or not? Sitting a PR on squats is gratifying to the ego, but meaningless unless the results back up the training. I can hear a legion of gym rats howling now; “training” is an unexamined religion to many, and nobody likes to get their religion questioned.

I see a lot of athletes far more focused on the training than on the performing. Endless reps, endless diets, endless negative self-talk about “training really hard even though I suck!” stuff. The best athletes I have ever known did focus really hard on training, but they always measured that training against a steel ruler of performance results. And when they weren’t training at high intensities they had fun. Go riding ,climbing,  hiking, swimming, surfing, whatever, have fun. If you’re having fun then you’ll keep doing it, and be fit enough. This is why so many gym programs fail; ultimately they aren’t fun, and are more about meaningless reps than actual performance or goals. Unless you’re training to be an elite-level athlete (that means at a sport) then go forth and have some damn fun already!

The far end of this spectrum is the anorexic athletes I see around Canmore. I really feel for them, it’s brutal; I see a woman running many mornings as I’m going climbing, and her knee joints are wider than her hamstrings and quads. She runs in slow motion, bundled up because she can’t generate enough energy to move fast and stay warm.  I’ve done my time as the anorexic sport climber (not joking, just how it was in the early 90s) and this is the ultimate expression of losing sight of the big goal, which is to perform better, not just look like whatever the current version of “fit” is. I won comps at 155 and whatever body fat I had, and failed to make the finals at 145. But I thought dieting harder and training harder would surely equal better success… I had stopped measuring results, and was only measuring training and body fat. These do not equal performance. Obsessing with training and the appearance of training is ultimately a downward spiral…

Part of the “train at all costs, all the time” perspective on life is looking at training like the cover captions on a men’s/women’s magazine: “Ten Weird Tricks to Lose Body Fat!”  or, “One Trick to Master Everything!” Training isn’t about doing monkey monster lunges while balancing on a paleo pizza. It’s about doing steady, repetitive, occasionally boring things. There is no secret trick out there about why one athlete is better than the others. The best athletes focuse on performance, not the appearance of performance or weird workouts involving bondage and/or personal humiliation. Lift the weight using your mind first, hands second, and ninja spiked wraps not at all.

I love training hard, and I love performing, and I love doing my sports, and if truth be told I’m happy to be reasonably fit. These things don’t all happen at the same time, and if I had to pick only one it would be doing my sports at whatever level I could. Because this is a life-long enjoyable thing to do. I hope to be walking up hills if I’m lucky enough to make it to 80.  And I would much, much rather be the guy below in the surfing video than the gym rat eating another skinned chicken breast with paleo dirt sauce. It’s easy to see who is having more fun. Oh, and a lot of new research shows that being fat isn’t all that unhealthy, it’s the diet that many fat people eat that’s unhealthy…

The point in all of these words is that obsessive training is sort of like excessive masturbation; you’ll undoubtedly get better at it. And?

Rant mode off, time to go have some fun outside again, yeah! Love this surfing video; the guy is fat, but he’s out surfing and loving life, not flexing in front of the gym mirror.



Posted in: Blog


  1. Jay B   October 24, 2012 1:48 pm

    Great post Will. For someone who performs at the ridiculously high level you do, you are amazingly sane about your relationship to your sports. This reminds me of your other great post about diets which also had a common sense, low key approach to living and playing well. Keep it up.

  2. Steve D.   October 25, 2012 7:05 am

    Great article…have to have foot surgery in Nov so looks like opening day at Ouray and the yearly Silverton sabatacle will be put on hold but will still be training for next summer. Have to have goals to shoot for and not let those intermittent injuries be used as an excuse to vegitate. Have a great winter and be safe..

  3. David Dornian   October 25, 2012 8:06 am

    Four Stars ****

    When we managed the national sport climbing team together, Keith Haberl and I used to joke about keeping a file of the bizarre and jittery paranoid correspondence we would receive from our (self-imagined) higher-end athletes. We had enough oddball stories for a book chapter, or maybe two, we figured. The term “Tweaker” isn’t just for meth addicts.

  4. Richard Fergie   October 26, 2012 7:14 am

    If you “train” more than you do your sport then you’re probably confusing the reasons you train

    What about sports like cycling where long endurance rides are the norm. It is common in these sports to spend more time “training” than “competing”. Because training in this case means riding a bike does this count as doing the sport?

  5. Ivan   October 26, 2012 11:00 am


    Dude ain’t fat, dude’s phat.


  6. Charles   October 27, 2012 9:53 am

    Richard, yes. If you did those endurance rides in the gym on an exercise bike or just did something similar on a machine or with free weights instead you’d be doing it wrong. For a lot of sports training is just doing the sport and Crossfit is a good, pure example of that because the whole sport is a competition in performing a set of training exercises.

    I guess if you really argued the case this is a very specific definition of training which is essentially “exercise that is not directly the sport you enjoy/compete in”.

  7. Peter Lappin   October 28, 2012 9:58 am

    Excellent article!! Im always talking about functional training, your article Will enforces my ideals! Thank you

  8. Juan   November 5, 2012 7:23 am

    Nice article. Very well written and definitively touches on a thin blurry line about the purpose of training. However, I think that the way you describe training is as some activity that usually is not performing your sport, involves a weight room or some type of strength and/or fitness workout.

    If that is the definition of training, yes, I totally agree with you. Im a climber, and if I spend most time at the gym lifting weights than climbing, I’ll get buffed, not send hard.

    However, training as described by doing circuits, bouldering, campusing, hangboarding etc, ultimately with a portion dedicated to performing and executing your goals (climb outside) should be good. I will probably never be an elite climber, but if I want to develop the most of my climbing potential, I should be disciplined about it and treat as if I was one.

    Just a thought.

  9. Anthony Love   November 5, 2012 4:12 pm

    You need the phone app that tells you not to eat those horrible barbecue potato chips!
    Hope you ar well!

  10. michael   November 5, 2012 5:50 pm

    Hm, I was a fat slob a few years ago and decided I wanted to look like an elite athlete (cyclist) again. Funny thing is, to look like that, I discovered you actually have to (sort of) be like that. I’m still working on it though.

  11. What is the point? | Irrational Fitness   November 22, 2012 6:31 am

    […] I will deny this charge with every last breath.  See a few weeks ago, my friend posted an article on how people seem to be training obsessively and are losing sight of having fun. Now I agree […]

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