During my search for understanding the history of endurance training, I saw a pretty distinct pattern. There was a constant ebb and flow of popular theories. The all-interval crew would take precedence and then the higher mileage method would come back in style a decade or so later. This swinging of the pendulum back and forth is what defines progress. Over time, the pendulum swings through a slightly smaller range of motion as we get closer and closer to some optimal zone that lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
In training this can be seen as during the early years, coaches were arguing over interval training 6 days a week or run endless miles pretty slow. Now, we’re arguing over the details of how to mix and match the extremes of speed and endurance.
I’m not sure why this occurs, but my best guess is that each “generation” of coaches and athletes keeps what worked for them, but then to try and be new or innovative tries something completely new. They rebel against the norm to ensure progress. Over time, we see a nice evolution towards the middle of training design. What’s interesting though is that this process occurs throughout life and not simply training. Keeping with the athletic theme, we see the same thing in shoe design as we go back and forth between crazy cushioned shoes and minimalism shoes. What happened after the great minimalism craze? Hoka’s came out. It’s a counterbalance that occurs.
And that’s why I have the “rule” I always try to remind myself to do: Look the other way. Not because the direction everyone is headed doesn’t have value, it most likely does, but because most likely we’ll be headed back in that direction in a few years anyways.
Do I do it to be contrarian? No, not at all. It’s not about going against the grain and simply doing the opposite of people for its sake itself. Instead, it’s to recognize that the pendulum almost always swings too far to the extreme. It always goes too far as people get overly excited about a new idea, concept, or method.
What it is about then, is not simply going in the opposite direction, but instead when you see the masses all head off in the same direction, it’s about turning around, and asking what about this other way. If you develop the mindset to do this, it prevents this erratic large swing of the pendulum back and forth that we see. Essentially, you’re self correcting.As a coach, a distinct memory of doing this came when we were looking at recovery modalities. Everyone was going further and further down this path of being ultra recovered. It seemed to create this mindset of if anything felt sore; it was a spot we needed to attack with recovery. But that didn’t make intuitive sense to me. There didn’t seem to be any reason to always be perfectly fresh. So I began to look the other way, and look at what makes the body adapt to stress. So we self-corrected; turned ice baths into an only when you really need them.
As a coach, a distinct memory of doing this came when we were looking at recovery modalities. Everyone was going further and further down this path of being ultra recovered. It seemed to create this mindset of if anything felt sore; it was a spot we needed to attack with recovery. But that didn’t make intuitive sense to me. There didn’t seem to be any reason to always be perfectly fresh. So I began to look the other way, and look at what makes the body adapt to stress. So we self-corrected; turned ice baths into an only when you really need them.
The same story by others could be told of stretching by other coaches and mentors before me. It became so ingrained that someone had to turn around and ask what about this other direction.
And that’s the point of all of this. It’s not to be a contrarian and go against the grain. It’s instead, realizing that in life, as Vern Gambetta points out “we can’t wait for the research. We need to be ahead of the game.” By turning around and simply looking in the other direction, it takes you out of that automatic thinking of simply following the path of least resistance. It makes you think and question why you are doing what you are doing.
And that’s what evolution and growth is all about: Briefly taking you away from the non-thinking ingrained decision that happens so easily (and is also so valuable). It prevent us from 5 years down the road, realizing that we are simply doing what we’ve always done because it’s so ingrained. Occasionally, you’ll turn around and see nothing going on, but that is the point. A simple reminder to always understand what you’re doing and why.
Next time, you see all of your friends and colleagues starting to agree enthusiastically on a particular concept or direction that your field needs to go in. Stop. Think. And perhaps just have a glance over your shoulder. Just to make sure you’re not riding the pendulum too far into the other direction, only to come flying back by in the future.