Benchmarking: or, Charting Your Progress

Posted January 12th, 2010 by Mackey and filed in Fitness, lifting
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Vertical Jump Testing

Vertical jump testing is a lot of fun.

The Dartmouth men have an arrangement with the River Valley Club near Hanover; last Wednesday was our first session there.

After a good, dynamic warm-up (which your team should be doing, if it’s still static stretching), we met the trainer we’d be working with.

First thing he did with us? Took vertical and long jumps (best out of 3), and tested pull-ups (max reps) and push-ups (max reps in 60 seconds).

We also learned how to do a few exercises that we’ll be performing for the next 10 weeks or so.

What we didn’t do, in this first session of the season, was dive right in and get to work. Hard work IS important–the team has been busting their butts over winter break to come into our long winter training with a good base–but just as important as working hard is being able to track progress. What good is weeks and weeks of training, (even if you improve your lifts or what-have-you), if it doesn’t translate to increased explosiveness on the field?

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A New Year’s To-Do List For You:

Posted January 5th, 2010 by Mackey and filed in Fitness, Stories
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  1. Renew your UPA membership.  With electonic waivers, you can do it all now and forget about last-minute scrambles come series time, plus you’re a member in time to get all the copies of USA Ultimate.  Apologies to international readers who aren’t beholden to the UPA.
  2. Get your fitness in gear.  The Huddle has a nice piece by Xi Xia talking about Crossfit; longtime readers will know that I’m a huge proponent of Crossfit, and I highly recommend that you look to get into it if you want a comprhensive general physical preparedness routine for your off-season training.If you’re in season (ie college), you can definitely benefit from incorporating some strength work to your practice and other training routine.  A while back I posted the routine we used at Dartmouth several years ago; it’s a solid place to start from if you’ve never lifted before, or are otherwise looking to ease into in-season training.
  3. Play ultimate.  Hopefully this is the easy one!  I’ve got coaching at Vegas and dominating in Hawaii to help me get my fix this winter (and a bit of training motivation for #2).  Hope you’re finding satisfying pursuits, too!

It always bears repeating that good goal-setting practices, keeping the process in mind as well as the end result, will help you achieve the ends you desire, ultimate or otherwise.  Best of luck with keeping your resolutions!

More on Goal Setting

Posted July 7th, 2009 by Mackey and filed in Mental Aspects
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I started typing this out as a response to Brad’s comment on the last post about goal setting, and it grew into its own post.


Thanks for the link.

I agree that flexibility with goal setting is important; I find that this comes naturally when you add timeframes. If my goal is to train twice a week for a month, I naturally have to re-evaluate it at month’s end (or perhaps sooner, if I can’t meet the weekly requirement). It’s important to note that a lot of research out there has goal SETTING as the important thing–as they say, shoot for the stars and you might land on the moon. We don’t have to do everything we set out to do, but it gives us much-needed direction. It’s OK to change direction to continue working towards what makes the most sense for you.

A lot of issues that the article you linked gets at have to do with the nature of the goals set. For one, they’re entirely outcome-based. Profit. Market share. These are goals that depend on somebody else, namely the consumer, to meet. They’re also goals that are handed down from on high–so you’re setting goals that may or may not be realistically achieveable, are not entirely under the control of your employees…and then expecting magic. It’s no wonder indeed that it leads to problems.

I’m a really big fan of focusing on process. The example of Southwest, who worked to cut down their turnaround time to 10 minutes–that’s something entirely in their control, something their employees can manage with enough practice and improvement (assuming 10 minutes is not a wholly unrealistic number), is a good process goal. They didn’t say “let’s double our profits by reducing turnaround”–that doesn’t necessarily follow, but because they focused on the process they still made good things happen.

There’s a saying, “that which is measured, improves.” It doesn’t say it improves organically, just that it improves, and I think that’s the trap a lot of the corporate goal-setting falls into (and incidentally is why I’m very, very leery of incentive-based restructuring of the American healthcare system). We need to be very careful of what we choose to place stock in measuring (this same warning applies to stat-keeping as well).

Goal-setting: the Key to Progress

Posted July 5th, 2009 by Mackey and filed in Uncategorized
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I sent this out as part of a longer email to the team today. Good goal-setting makes a world of difference in any aspect of your life, not just ultimate.

Set measurable and attainable goals to work towards. It’s easy to rally yourself to work hard for a few days, a week, maybe even a couple months, but you want to be working towards some ultimate (pun intended) goal. Working without goals is journeying without a map–you’ll get somewhere, but perhaps not where you want to be, and certainly not as swiftly as you could’ve.

No doubt you already have some goals in mind (e.g., “improve my throws,” “get into better shape,” etc). I want you to break those goals down into more bite-sized chunks. Thinking in broad strokes is good, but taking the time to design details will pay off. If your big goal is to improve your throws, commit to making 50 passes every day, or throwing for 10 minutes every day. Instead of working the broad scope of all of your throws, really hone in and focus on putting touch on your step-out flat forehand until you get comfortable with it. Don’t just work to get “in shape.” Work towards adding an extra 20 pounds to your squat, or adding 2 inches to your vertical, or shaving a half-second off of your 100 time. PLEASE blitz me if you’re having trouble quantifying your goals.

Write your goals down. Put them somewhere you’ll see them every day, as a constant reminder of what you’re working towards. Set goals that are reasonable enough that you’ll complete them in time. Set and maintain 3 process goals–3 things entirely in your control and entirely doable (e.g., “throw for 20 minutes every day for two weeks”)–and to continue to set more ambitious goals as you meet your old ones (“throw for 1 hour every day for two weeks”). It’s important that your goals have a timeframe–this will guide your work and provide some motivation. If “add 20 pounds to my squat” is a good goal, “add 20 pounds to my squat by next month” is great. Even if you don’t meet the goal, you’re still working hard and gaining knowledge of what you’re capable of.

I’ve written about goal setting before, give the “goal setting” tag a look if you’re interested in more depth.

Mind Mapping and Planning

Posted May 21st, 2009 by Mackey and filed in Uncategorized
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Meta Mind MapOver the past few months I’ve taken to mind mapping a lot of my ultimate-related brain dumping, and found it tremendously helpful for organizing my thoughts–the lack of structure lets my ideas flow more freely (and organize more naturally).

Consider it a tool for any planning you do, whether it’s training goals or developing a flowchart for your cutting repertoire.

I’ve been using MindMeister for its ease of access (online) and the inherent extra malleability of the electronic compared to a paper medium, but there are other options.

Process vs. Outcome

Posted December 5th, 2008 by Mackey and filed in focus, Mental Aspects
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Rock’em Socks-em recently sent me this article about balancing task focus and goal focus.

The short summary (I’ll let you read the article yourself for how it applies):

Recent psychological research suggests one of the keys to getting big projects done is balancing up individual tasks against the grand vision. It’s all about knowing when to flip the frame of reference from looking closely at the details of individual components of a project, and when to look up and see the project’s grand sweep.

Substitute “project” with “season,” or even “game,” and you get a very easy flip to ultimate applicability. I’ve made a few posts on goal setting here, and first wrote about process vs. outcome goals long before most of you read this blog. That said, the notion of WHEN to focus on one or the other is a novel concept to my mind. Generally, I’m a proponent of only focusing on the process goals–let the outcome goals simmer in the back of your mind, leave it out there for your buddies on another team (for me, my buddies on the women’s team) to ask you about every so often and play coy and hedge your bets when they do.

This seems to suggest something a bit more appealing though–dare to dream. Just whooped Regional Rival A? Allow a little glimpse forward to Sunday of regionals, and feel confident. Got your ass handed to you by Small State B? Probably better to back off of your lofty aspirations and focus on what moments of brilliance there were in the prior game (remember, talk in positives), putting the game into context rather than extrapolating.

Keeping performance in mind, it’s not a good idea to get too caught up in the destination when you’re still en-route–such allowances are probably not appropriate for halftime in the game-to-go just because you’re up a few points, but there’s some space to dream.

Outside of games, definitely let those big goals come into sight. Nobody does laps around the track dreaming of early exits or disc defeats…do they?

The effect on performance is probably not too significant (until you get light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel syndrome, that deep well of motivation that bursts forth from months or perhaps years of effort accumulated for the sake of one game or one tournament), but the emotional buoyancy is just as important to having a successful season.

Take the losses in stride, but allow for a little gloating when you find success, too. Evaluate on process, but recognize when you can live a little on the outcome, too.

Thoughts? Opinions? Comment away.

Structuring Your Own Training Program, Part 1

Posted September 5th, 2008 by Mackey and filed in Fitness, workout plans
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This is far too deep to be covered in a single post.

(Part 2 | Part 3)

But perhaps you’re interested in training and have been looking through some materials. There’s an absolute shitton of resources out there. Some of it’s crap, some of it’s useful–you can learn by doing and you can also cull wisdom from that which is repeated throughout many sources (usually–sometimes bad advice gets repeated. Use your discretion).

The big question, however, is how exactly do you go about structuring your training? I’ve already touched upon the essentials of this when I wrote about goal setting. If you haven’t set your goals, stop reading right now and figure them out. Honestly, if you don’t know what you’re working towards you’re just going to waste your time more often than not, unless you have somebody like a coach or a team to make goals for you. However, even those are not guaranteed to be in line with what you want, however, so take some time and think about it for yourself, too.

Structuring your training is like building a house. Your goals are the foundation upon which your progress will eventually be built. You can try building with a shitty foundation, but it’s likely to look pretty shitty when it’s done and be nothing close to what you expected, and will fall apart as easily. Get ‘em right–you can always refine later, but do it as well as you can from the get-go. Don’t be afraid to set ambitious goals; know that they can serve to motivate you more than setting no goals will.

Once you have your goals, you’re ready to plan. Where do you start from here?

Look at your goals. Let’s take a look at mine from two summers ago and use that as a framework:

.1. Eliminate Ankle/Knee woes
If you have pressing injury concerns, this should be at the forefront of your planning. For me, my ankle and knee issues were enough to limit how hard I could train in more general terms, limiting my range on squats for instance. I added a lot of single-leg work geared toward strengthening both, and TOOK CARE OF MY BODY. Get enough rest. Ice when it swells. Take ibuprofen if necessary. Braces are a question that depends on your needs–if you really need it or really need to perform now, go for it. Otherwise, aim to wean yourself off of it–even if you still feel compared to wear a brace, say, when playing, if you can get comfortable training without it you’re that much less likely to have the brace fail you as a sole support.

Injury prevention work means doing (pre)habilitation work before every workout. Even 5 or 10 minutes will help keep you from overdoing it and setting yourself back. It also means flexibility work. More on that later.

2. Get into “Better Shape.

  • Improve my Vertical.
  • Improve my Strength.
  • Train for General Physical Preparedness (GPP).
  • These are covered in more detail in the actual blog, but whatever your general fitness goals are will determine what direction your training should go in. Of course, a balanced program is best–one that doesn’t focus on strength to the point of sacrificing conditioning, etc. But keep in mind what your current needs are as well–sometimes a bit of sacrifice to shore up your weaknesses (or further augment your strengths) will ultimately lead to better results.

    If your goals tend towards the explosive (ie, improving your vertical), you should focus on plyos. HOWEVER, focusing on the plyos alone won’t do it unless you’re out of shape–your absolute potential for being explosive is limited by your strength, so you should also include strength work. If you can’t squat your bodyweight, you shouldn’t be doing plyos. If you can’t squat at least 1.5 times your bodyweight, you shouldn’t be doing exclusively plyos. If you can’t squat 2x your bodyweight, you should not be doing too much of the really high-impact plyos (one-legged depth jumps and the like). Just trust me on this one, unless you want to shell out $40 for the VJDB to get the same info.

    If your goals are more grounded in strength (this is often in addition to other goals), hit the weights. It’s a little beyond the scope of this entry to go into that in too much detail–but if you’ve never lifted before (and I mean on a regular basis–if you’re trying to structure your own program without knowing how and are reading this, you probably haven’t lifted in the way I mean), start with a focus on the basics–squat. Deadlift. Bench (if you’re inclined–and balance it out with some rows). Work in one-legged versions of the first two and a one-armed version of the last one. Train your core. I touch upon a bit more detail here as far as rep schemes go…if you’re in doubt, try 5×5. If you’re still learning the motions, go lighter and try for 3×8 or 3×10. Shoot for a total of between 20-30 reps (not counting warm-ups if you start light) on a given exercise in a given workout.

    If you’re going for GPP (known by most as “conditioning,”) you have a lot of options. Crossfit is a great source of workouts (and workout resources–check out their exercises page!). You know what a conditioning workout is like–work hard, rest little, get better. The key is to make sure you can either time your workout or do it with a time limit for number of reps/distance covered/etc–in this way you can track your progress.

    So, your goals are the foundation. The exercises are your tools. When you know generally what kind of exercises/workouts you want to do (finding them is where the research comes in–check out the exercises page of Crossfit, and give T-nation a scouring (search for squat, deadlift, bench press, and dig a little) if you need help with coaching–or better yet, find somebody who knows what’s what and learn from them. I’m talking somebody you pay, or somebody who shows the results of their own work–your roomate probably thinks he knows how to squat, but just dips his butt a few inches), how you combine your exercises into workouts and place them throughout the weeks and months provides the framework for your improvement. This is perhaps the trickiest part to master.

    Anybody can go in to the gym and dick around for an hour or two every now and then. The reason why you set goals in the first place is because it is from this foundation that you can draw your motivation, and motivation is absolutely essential if you’re going to consistently work on the house that is your body and your athletic potential and make progress.

    Next Saturday I’ll finish by talking more about specifics to how each component of training should be incorporated into a larger structure.

    In the meantime, allow me to insert a plug for Ross Enamait. Quite frankly, my experience with program design is driven in large part by information I’ve gotten from his Infinite Intensity program. I recently purchased Never Gymless to guide my training here in Japan, and it has been equally helpful. Ross gives very broad guidelines and a number of specific exercises for you to pick and choose from (and a sample 50-day program if you’re a sheep and don’t want to bother to think for yourself–I’m not judging you, I swear), all of which are likely to do far more to enhance your training than my ramblings. The dude doesn’t pay me to give him shoutouts (Hah! Like I get enough traffic to warrant such a thing), this is just me speaking from my own experience.

    On Goal Setting and Planning

    Posted August 29th, 2008 by Mackey and filed in Fitness, Mental Aspects
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    It doesn’t take much looking to find a wealth of materials on goal setting and motivation. Anybody who has an interest in business has I’m sure heard of numerous titles on the matter.

    The acronym to keep in mind when you set goals: SMART.

    Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timely (have a Timeframe).

    As for what those terms mean to me when I set goals in the context of ultimate:

    • Take the time to sit down and plan. Without a plan, you might make progress, but who’s to say that that progress is in line with what you really want?
    • Really think about two things when setting goals: What you need to do, and what you want to do. Your priorities might still put the “wants” above the “needs,” but you should nonetheless be tending to all of them.
    • Being specific means going in to detail! You hear this all the time–but “get into better shape” is not going to drive you as much (nor give you feedback–what exactly does that mean?) as “Improve my vertical by two inches. Lose three pounds. Add 40 pounds to my deadlift PR.”
    • Measurable ties right in with specific–if you can’t measure your goals by some metric, how will you know if you’ve achieved them? Granted, not everything is quantifiable in absolute terms, and we do need some of the broad goals too (I’m thinking in terms of things like “keep the team motivated during workouts–” you’re not going to have everyone quantify motivation, you just go on feel there), but to the extent that those things that can be measured are measured, you’ll find more fulfillment in your goals.
    • Attainable and realistic also go hand in hand. What good is setting a goal you’ll never reach, or one that comes at the expense of other goals? Some sacrifice is necessary, but be realistic in the expectations you set for yourself. At the same time, your goals should still be challenging. This is why it’s important to be specific–if I merely wanted to “get faster,” dropping a second would be sufficient to reach my goal. Wanting to “run under 30 seconds per 200 for a set of four 200s” gives you something to strive for and something to rejoice in when you do achieve it (and is hopefully not so fast that you never do). Keep in mind you can always set new goals when you achieve your current set–take the big lofty goals in smaller steps.
    • TIMELY. Perhaps the most neglected aspect of goal setting. It is essential that you give yourself some time frame within which to achieve your goals. This can range from season-long goals, to a more specific time frame (“be injury-free by sectionals”). If you’re confident in your ability to work and achieve your goals on a consistent basis, you can perhaps ease up on this requirement, but deadlines give motivation. If you’re not motivated to meet a deadline then perhaps you should re-evaluate your goal.

    Another important distinction to keep in mind when you set your goals is the difference between process and outcome goals.

    Process goals are directly in your control–improving your consistency throwing is only a matter of your own work. Process goals also tend to be pretty easily quantifiable (improving athletically always yields measurements to gauge yourself–how fast you run, how high you jump, how much you can lift, etc).

    Outcome goals, on the other hand, are things that, while you can strive to achieve them, are ultimately out of your control. Things like “winning nationals,” while a great goal to have, is also a goal that undoubtedly dozens of teams and hundreds of players set for themselves, but only one team can achieve.

    The danger in goal setting is getting too caught up in the outcome. Just because you did not win a game does not mean you have not improved, doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved. This is why setting goals that relate to the process is so important–it gives you a measuring stick. You can look at yourself and say with full confidence that you set a goal, worked towards it, and achieved it. Results will come, or they won’t. One way or another you will find there is lots of room to improve if you focus on the process, rather than the outcome.

    This ties in a fair bit with some of the things Tiina Booth said about what she does with Amherst Regional High School to prepare them to play in tournaments and develop mental toughness. At some point I’ll be making a post relating the outcome vs. process distinction to team leadership, so keep an eye out for that.

    If you’re looking for a model to gauge your own goal-setting by or to get some training ideas, feel free to check out my Summer Workout Plan (you can also follow the label for the same on the sidebar). I took the time to make a detailed plan of what I wanted to improve and how I wanted to improve the summer of ’06, and made some very significant gains in that time and in so doing established a fitness habit that carried me through the rest of my collegiate career.

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