Training Makes it Possible

training kung fu panda

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Have you ever looked at someone who was really good at what they did and felt a little daunted?

Maybe it’s how they seem to easily make connections with new people, or design an amazing-looking web page over a weekend, or how they casually mention the 6 miles they ran before breakfast today.

It’s natural to feel intimidated by someone who’s really good at what they do and get a little insecure about yourself. It happens to me on occasion. But whenever I find myself falling into that trap,  I remember something I learned from 16 years of gymnastics: Continue reading…

There’s Probably a Limit to How Fast You Can Do Squat Jumps

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The weather has been great in DC (despite my earlier complaints about the heat) and I enjoyed shooting the finale to my July Fitness Challenge of squat jumps.

In the beginning of the month I was able to do 52 squat jumps, but you could definitely tell I was getting slower toward the end of the minute. This time around, after doing a fairly light squat training routine, I felt I kept a pretty high pace the entire time.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m not sure if I trained really hard for a long time, I could even get to 100 squat jumps. This might be better done as an endurance thing. Ah well, you train, you learn.

FitChal #5: Increasing My Max Pull-Ups by 40%

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As another month closes out, I’ve got the results from my May Fitness Challenge, which was max pull-ups. At the beginning of May, I completed 20 pull-ups. As per usual, I did my normal workout routine which includes a mix of running, interval workouts and heavy lifting.

In addition, I also started adding sets of pullups. Here’s the breakdown:

Week 1 + 2: 4x 12 pull-ups
Week 3: 2x 14 pull-ups + 2x 13 pull-ups
Week 4: 4x 15 pull-ups

In retrospect, I should have ramped up sooner to 13/14 sets so my last week I could have been doing sets of 16. I think that could have put me over the edge and finished 30, but who knows. In any case, I’m pretty happy with the 40% improvement, especially when I watched the tape and realized I undercounted by one at the moment of the trial.

You can catch up with my other fitness challenges, and read more about how these FitChals got started.

Running a Fast Mile

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I’ve never been a particularly fast runner and even after training for and completing a marathon, I’m still pretty slow. So my March Fitness Challenge is a single mile.

A mile is 1609 meters, about 30 feet more than 4 laps around a standard track, which is 400m on the inside lane. I did my test run on March 1st and surprised myself by running it in 6m 50s. My friend Jason Evanish, who ran cross country  in high school and ran something like a 4:45 mile, gave me me some tips on training for a fast mile. Maybe not revolutionary stuff, but as someone used to training shorter distances, it was helpful:

  • Intervals workouts: run 1 laps at the track at your goal pace (mine is 6min, so slightly under 1:30 for the single lap). Repeat 4-8 times, with a few minutes of rest in between. Last one should really hurt. Once or twice a week.
  • Longer runs: 4-5 mile runs, don’t worry as much about time, just get some endurance in
  • Fartleks: Swedish for “speed play”, this is something inbetween intervals and long runs, a mix of easy running, with bursts of faster pace interspersed. I’ve read a lot about these and need to actually try doing them
  • Swinging arms: it’s important to swing your arms straight forward and not cross your arms across your body, which wastes energy. Also, swing your arms back hard enough that your hands meet your hips. This opens up your chest so you can breathe better.

I’ve been trying to follow his advice and also modifying my workout routine a bit: doing heavy lifting only one time a week, down from two (which helped for improving handstand pushups) and doing moderate biking on the days I don’t run or do track workouts.

The month is already over half over so we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping to crack a 6 minute mile. Let me know if you have any other tips or advice for me in the comments.

Lap one of four

Edit – Final Mile Time

So I finished my mile challenge with about a 20 second drop, from 6:50 to 6:30. I was hoping to drop it further, to the low 6 minutes and perhaps even break into 5, but it was not going to happen.

The day was a little cool and I wasn’t feeling my best, but you just gotta make the most of testing day. Was definitely wiped at the end. My friend Jason tells me a 20 second drop is pretty good for a month, probably because when you’re training a ton like he was, you didn’t see drops that big, that quick.

Anyway, here it is!

Deliberate Practice & the 10,000 Hour Rule [link roundup]

I’m very interested in excellence and mastery. Part of this is personal – I don’t think I’m the master of anything – and part of it is intellectual – I just find it interesting to understand how the people can learn to perform amazingly difficult tasks with ease. I even wrote a post all about what gymnastics taught me about skill acquisition and mastery.

So this week’s Link Roundup isn’t focused on a piece of breaking news or industry trend – it’s focused more on the best places to learn about deliberate practice – which is the term for the special kind of training that leads to mastery – and the 10,000 hour rule – which is a rough rule of thumb noted by psychology researchers as the point in which expert level performance is typically (if ever) achieved.

We start with the mother of the all – the 44 page paper published in Psychological Review in 1993 that features the phrase “deliberate practice” and cites the decade mark as point where “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. Article: “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” [PDF].


Geoff Colvin published an article called “Talent is Overrated” in Fortune Magazine which became the basis of a book by the same name. In the article, he really digs deep into the elements that make deliberate practice special, and effective.


If you want to get some perspective on how deliberate practice and excellence can be applied to the working world, check out Tony Schwartz’s post on the “Six Keys to Becoming Excellent in Anything” in the Harvard Business Review blog section.


My favorite book on this subject is actually called the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle as his features more on musicians (I played violin back in the day) and athletes (I was a gymnast for 16 years). His pre-book article is called “How to Grow a Super-Athlete” and while long, I really like this article for it’s emphasis on coaching. Deliberate practice is nearly impossible to implement alone.


If you want to see deliberate practice in action, then you’ll want to watch Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, as he guides a 15 year old boy through an inspired cello lesson in front a crowd of people at the PopTech conference in 2008.


Lastly, we can look at how the 10,000 hour rule applies to research from the insights out of Cal Newport’s blog Study Hacks in his post: Beyond The 10,000 Hour Rule – Richard Hamming and the Messy Art of Becoming Great where he looks at the advice the late great digital communications innovator had for researchers looking to be more prolific and impactful.