“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”
Thanksgiving has come and gone, but, as we all know, the holiday season does not let up. The next month is peppered with holiday parties, gift buying, secret santas, holiday parades, ugly sweaters, traveling, new year resolutions, pot and pan banging, yada yada yada….you get the point. This stretch of the year is an absolute social quagmire that not everyone survives. We all have the one uncle that ends up doing all his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and shows up to dinner the next day with two black eyes because he literally had to pry a Barbie doll from a mother of two hands, and all he has to show for it is two Barbie legs. Where does this uncle fail each year? He fails when he chooses not to prepare.
What the holiday season does do is confirm the old adage that ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.’ The first true examples I was shown of how essential preparation is to having a great holiday and anything else worth a damn came from my grandmother. My grandmother taught me this lesson with Thanksgiving, actually. When I was young, the day before Thanksgiving turned our house into a manufacturing plant. My aunts would come over and with my mom they would make pies and cookies and all kinds of other goodies. My siblings and I would come home from our half-day of school and just bask in the baked greatness. (That is until one of us would inevitably get in the way and we’d be banished to the school yard).
While they were making the desserts for the following day, my grandmother would prepare for the big production: the turkey. Now, I really don’t know a thing about cooking a turkey. I don’t know the ingredients or the procedure, but what I do know is that my grandmother would spend the entire day before Thanksgiving getting the ingredients right, would spend the night before in my sister’s bed, and this was all so she could wake up at six to start on the turkey. Six in the morning!! The dang thing wouldn’t be served til six that evening. Luckily for me, all I had to do was roll out of bed around nine and take glee in the fact that the whole house smelled like turkey. It was unbelievable. My mouth is watering now just thinking about it, and when I look back at our Thanksgiving meals I remember a phenomenally roasted turkey, fun conversation, and not wanting to do anything but nap after a great meal. There was never any fuss made about the food and how it was presented or anything else, which allowed everyone to enjoy each other’s company.
I bring up my grandmother’s ability to deliver a great meal on Thanksgiving because it shows how if you truly want to get everything you can out of something there needs to be a high level of preparation, and that applies directly to fitness. + When training for football in college, something that our trainer did that was unique from every program in the country was emphasize “activation”. We have all seen sports teams that have ‘warm up’ lines and in a synchronized fashion the whole team goes through a routine, and there are typically the guys on the team just going through the motions. My coach was directly against this. He figured that each player was different so each player had to get their body ready for activity differently. He also understood each person has strengths and weaknesses and that with a little time put in each day to activate the muscles correctly their weaknesses could become strengths. But wait, what do I mean by activation?
In sports and in working out, we all do movements that take whole muscle systems to complete. When going up to catch a football I would have to jump off my right leg, reach with my upper body, and land on my left leg and then cut immediately to avoid a defender. In the weight room, when we squat, we use our core to create great posture, our thighs to control the movement down, and our glutes to push that weight up. All three of those groups, core, thighs, glutes, are complex muscles systems that can actually cause problems in the future if they aren’t trained to work properly. Something I’m used to hearing is ‘practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.’ What activation does is it makes you practice perfectly. The movements used with activation isolate single muscles in those complex muscles systems to ensure that they fire when you want them to and also rest when you want them to.
A great example is when I went from squatting in high school to squatting in college. I grew fast, so I was a lanky 6’1’’ with not much butt, so when I squatted in high school I would control the movement down with my quads and then push up with my quads causing all kinds of unwanted pressure on my back. Eventually, when I got to college and I started to putting ‘man weight’ on my back I developed lower back problems. How did I fix it? My trainer had me do hip extensions every day in order to strengthen the neural network that would cause my glutes to fire, instead of my thighs when I needed them to. Soon enough my lower back pain went away and I was able to put up personal record after personal record on the squat bar.
Activation prepares your body to work. It ensures that you will be strengthening good habits and chipping away at bad ones. Activation puts you on the path to take everything away from a workout or practice or activity that you can, and this preparation works for your body just as well as it does for Thanksgiving turkey.