It sort of dawned on me yesterday while being put through various drills that focused on agility, speed and coordination, that the real skill you need for such exercises is a strong rhythm. My friend @RyanCaicco is being amazingly helpful to me and running me through all sorts of off-season training drills and exercises used by pro athletes. The purpose of this type of training is so that when it’s time for training camp the athletes are already in shape, and can focus on other aspects of their respective sport. As an aside, this is some seriously fun training to do and I feel fortunate for being given the opportunity. Thanks brother!

As someone who has spent way too much time around music, the first thing I picked up on was that Ryan’s quick and very well-trained feet were tapping in a perfect rhythm each time he stepped his way through the various ladder and bosu ball footwork drills. This was my first time doing these exercises and as hard as I tried to emulate his rhythm, my clumsy and untrained feet were not cooperating. Then of course being the person that I am, I started to understand how rhythm is a very valuable training skill, but one that receives very little attention.

In the gym on any given day you’ll hear trainers advising their clients on tempo. Slow and controlled, or a count of four for the eccentric phase followed by a count of two for the concentric phase. There are too many different tempo options to run through, but tempo alone is not rhythm. Tempo is the speed. Rhythm is something different and it can’t be taught. It’s a skill the advanced trainer has to acquire, possibly unknowingly over years of training.

When it’s in reference to a song, tempo is nothing more than the speed that the song is played at. However many beats per minute is the tempo of that piece of music. The rhythm of the song is something much less tangible. It’s sometimes called the groove or the pocket, depending on who you ask. It’s where the song sits within the parameters of the restrictive tempo.

Training rhythm is no different. It too is somewhat intangible. From experience I can perform an exercise at various tempos, but it’s in the rhythm that the reps or sprints or drills really find their shape. The flow and connectedness of your muscles stretching and contracting in unison with your breathing together in harmony with your focused mind. Described that way it almost sounds musical. That’s because it is.

Something happens when you hit your groove within a set. You become one with the exercise being performed. You are simultaneously focused, yet your mind is free. When you sitting in the pocket like this, you truly gain the most from the situation. A free mind is one that is primed for growth and I believe a large amount of the physical gains is the direct result of growth at the mental level. It is all connected after all.

How can you reap the rewards of a training session if you’re spending every exercise counting your tempo and thinking about what you’re doing? There is way too much happening during any exercise to get bogged down thinking. Yes there’s the tempo, but that should be a loose guideline. A count of four down and an explosive count of one up is not a strict rule. It basically means a slow and controlled descent followed by an explosive ascent. The exact number being counted is only going to distract you and prevent you from getting into your rhythm.

There’s something to be said as far as having a mind muscle connection. That’s a valuable skill too. If you’re concentrating mentally on what you want your muscles to do, then I guarantee you’ll get a better stretch and a stronger contraction. This too must happen within the rhythm of your set. You need to be able to do this intuitively, because as much as you need to concentrate, you also need to let go.

When you are calm and in a somewhat meditative state, your entire body and it’s thousands of functions will be in perfect harmony with itself. This meditative state is the same state you need to strive for during your training. It doesn’t mean just go blank and don’t think. You need to be present and focused, but you need to let all of the mental activity that occurs during an exercise just pass through. Don’t hang on any one thought or you’ll fall out of rhythm.

All of this is a somewhat long process to learn. It is necessary to acquire the skill of rhythm in order to be an elite athlete or an advanced trainer. You just can’t generate the speed needed for certain drills or reap the benefits of weight training or sprinting without a developed method of intuitive rhythm. Practice feeling your reps the next time you train. When we think we usually forget to feel, and the rhythm of music is best described as it’s feel. So the next time you’re training don’t forget to get your groove on! Until next time,

Happy Lifting!

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