The London Underground is the fourth longest metro system in the world. It is also the oldest - servicing the people of London from as early as 1890.
Its nickname, «the Tube», is a reflection of its design; Narrow tracks and compact carriages leave little room for anything else in the tube shaped tunnels through which they make their journeys.
One would think that one of the world’s richest cities, the city that has the greatest amount of experience with this mode of transportation, would also be able to offer a comfortable ride for the tens of thousands of passengers that travel with the Tube every day.
However, its name also describes its greatest weakness.
This design, literally set in stone and steel by the minds and hands of those who lived in the past, cannot accommodate basic air-conditioning. There’s no room to sufficiently ventilate the heat from the trains - this has lead to stifling temperatures as well as hazardous air quality.
In fact, the pollution has been reported to be 30 times higher in the underground system than on street level. Were you also to travel with the Tube during the summer months and you decided to bring your pet, there's a chance you'd be violating animal welfare laws on account of the heat.
Despite the knowledge and technology that’s available today, Londoners and tourists alike are trapped by an inflexible design that was created well over a hundred years ago.
The London Underground is a prime example of what happens when you plan based on the needs and wants of the present, but fail to put forth a strategy that addresses the uncertainties of the future.
Plans and Strategies
We know two things about the future.
1. It will happen.
2. It will be different.
Unfortunately, we also carry the very human burden of not always acting on the basis of what we know.
When it comes to the matters of the future, we act in a way that makes us feel certain about it, when we instead should prepare for its inherent uncertainties.
This marks the major difference between a plan and a strategy.
A plan is "What to Do".
In the context of training, "what to do" is sets, reps, exercises, methods of progression and so forth.
These are all necessary and beneficial. Without a plan we easily fall pray to overanalysis and more than often we end up feeling guilty for not making good use of our time.
Unfortunately, we also become encumbered by guilt when we're not able to stick to the plan - which, as you might have noticed, happens quite often.
A strategy is "What to Do When..".
As mentioned, the future is uncertain.
While a plan provides a proposal for what you should do, strategies deals with the uncertainties that stop you from carrying out the plan.
Though we cannot be prepared for something that is unknown, we can take a minute to reflect on the recurring problems that have prevented us from executing our plans in the past. After identifying these tendencies, we can then set up our strategies.
Here are some examples from my own experiences with training and how I've chosen to deal with them:
What to do when.. I haven't recovered enough?
Most people would benefit from being more concerned about under-recovery, rather than overtraining.
Getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and managing stress is more challenging than the less complex act of exerting oneself. Furthermore, we're more encouraged to work and be ambitious than we are recommended to relax and be content.
Getting enough recovery isn't always feasible. Some days you are, quite simply, tired and you won't benefit from pushing yourself the way you usually would.
On those days I do one out of two things:
I purposefully reduce the volume by 25-50%.
I purposefully reduce the intensity by 25-50%.
I lower volume when I feel like I'm still able to perform at my usual level, but I also feel the need for more recovery.
When I lower the intensity, it's because the usual movements feel uncomfortable or slow. I then choose an easier movement variation / use a lighter load and focus more on speed.
These reductions are something I am intentional about. It doesn't happen to me because I'm too tired - I make it happen because I wish to recover.
It's not rocket science, but then again, my goal is to respect how I feel and act accordingly, not overcome the gravitational pull of the earth.
What to do when.. I don't have enough time or equipment?
If you've subscribed to this newsletter, then you know all about the Nomadic Workout.
This is my go to strategy when I'm short on time. I give myself a maximum amount of time (16-20 minutes) and I rotate between three to four exercises, doing one exercise once per minute, focusing on form.
It's effective, it's motivating and it's doable. You'll also find that you're able to get a large quantity of high quality work done, as long as you pick exercises that you can't do too many repetitions of.
The Nomadic Workout also only requires a chair, a table and the ground. This is something you can find almost anywhere and at any time.
What to do when.. I want to do something new?
If you don't own your interests, they might end up owning you.
I like learning and doing new things. To make sure that I don't totally relinquish my workouts for the sake of doing something new and interesting, which has been a tendency in the past, I've designed my workouts so that it will both encourage and allow me to try out whatever piques my interest.
The name I've given my workouts is: 4-3-2-1.
I do two fairly heavy (maximum 8 reps) exercises for 4 sets.
I do two medium intensity (maximum 15 reps) exercises for 3 sets.
I do two light (minimum 15 reps) exercises for 2 sets.
And then I do one new thing.
This could be a new variation of a movement. It could be a totally new exercise. It could be a skill, a flow, something heavy or something light.
Regardless of what it is, it's new, it's a part of the strategy and it's allowed to happen.
Riding the right kind of train onto the wrong kind of track will usually result in a grinding halt. Even worse, you might get derailed.
The same can be said of us and how we deal with our futures.
Even if your plan is perfect, if it doesn't deal with the many conditions of the times ahead, there's a good chance that you'll only make headway as long as conditions are optimal.
As you know, they rarely are, It's when we fail to strategize with this in mind that we suddenly find ourselves in the notorious "grind". We get stuck in a rut that we have to motivate ourselves out of - all because we want to stick to a plan of action that doesn't fit our immediate situation.
You cannot know exactly what the future holds in store, but by acknowledging the tendencies that has prevented your plans from being executed in the past, you can figure out how to deal with them when they inevitably show themselves again.
That way you don't work against your conditions. You have a strategy that allows you to work with them.
Once that happens, you'll find that "the grind" happens a lot less frequently. You will still have to work to get wherever you want, but you won't have to stop as frequently to motivate yourself to get back on track.
Identify the three most recurring tendencies that stop you from getting your work done.
Write down a strategy that deals with each tendency.
Share it - solutions are hard to come by and your idea might be exactly what the people in your life want and need to hear.