The exercise environment is like the wild African plains. It’s a hunting ground and there are beasts on the savanna. Some beasts need to be killed for you to survive. Others will hunt you down and take you out.
The beasts I am referring to the difficulty you face when tackling a workout. It’s the creature that comes out in the last three reps of pull-ups or the monster that finds you in the last hour of a 100-mile bike ride.
It’s the voice in your head that says, “This is fucking hard. I don’t know if I can handle this pain.” It’s also the voice that says, “Let’s push the pace early.”
There are two beasts out there. The anaerobic beast and the endurance beast. Each has the potential to maim you. Understanding how to take them on in their habitat is pivotal for survival.
The Anaerobic Beast.
When lifting weights or doing anything anaerobic, you gain strength on those last few reps. If you’re doing 10 repetitions of bench press the first 7-8 reps don’t make you stronger. It’s those last 2-3 reps that grow the muscle and/or increase your strength.
It’s not that those first 7-8 reps are meaningless. Quite the contrary. Those initial reps fatigue the muscles. And fatigued muscles give you the opportunity for progress. You need to complete those last few reps with fatigued muscles to achieve the growth you want.
And it’s right at the transition, that seventh or eighth rep, that the anaerobic beast shows up. The anaerobic beast is not just an animal you can handle, it’s an animal you must handle to make progress.
When the anaerobic beast makes an appearance…pounce. Smash the beast into the ground! Get angry! Get pissed! Crush it! The anaerobic beast is standing between you and improvement. Lure out this beast in the initial reps and once you find it, kill it!
The anaerobic beast has one move. Doubt. The anaerobic beast will chime in your ear and signal that this is too hard. That you’re not strong enough. That you should wait until tomorrow to push yourself. Don’t fall for this scheme. You can complete those last few reps. You are strong enough. Today is the perfect day to complete this workout.
To make progress you must battle the anaerobic beast!
Anaerobic Beast Warning.
There is a subtle nuance to fighting the anaerobic beast. Don’t let your steely focus on defeating the beast allow you to tread into injury territory. Yes, you should be struggling during your last few reps. Yes, you may be screaming or grunting or cursing. But improper form does not make you stronger. It only makes you injured.
Be positive that the struggle you are feeling is due to muscle exhaustion and not joint damage. Fight the beast, not your joints!
The Endurance Beast.
The endurance beast is a whole different animal. Unlike the anaerobic beast, the endurance beast will kill you.
The endurance beast will hunt you down if you take off too hard in the first 30 minutes of a 4-hour run. Or if you rip up that first ascent and you’ve got fifty more after it. It won’t attack when you’ve made your error. This beast is too evil for that. The endurance beast will bide its time. Stalking you like you’re a wounded gazelle. And once you’ve been going long enough to let your guard down, it will take you out.
The endurance beast will try to lure you in so that you seek it out. Don’t fall for these ploys. Sometimes the beast looks like that runner in front of you that’s moving just a little faster than you or the cyclist up the hill who you think you should catch. Sometimes the beast will whisper in your ear, “You’ve run faster than this before” or “It’ll be fun to power up this climb…look how short it is” or “Come on you’re making such good time, pass this aid station and push through to the next.”
If you fall for these tricks you’re liable to face the wrath of the endurance beast. And it will hurt. The endurance beast may attack with cramping legs, that feeling of hitting the wall, or the proverbial bonk.
Avoid the endurance beast if you want to escape intact!
The Endurance Beast Exception.
This is a dangerous exception so be forewarned. If you want to push yourself to the absolute limit, you must flirt with the beast. And know that this beast always has the potential to crush you. Yes, you might get that new PR, but you also might get burned. There is only one way I know to flirt with this beast. Plan ahead and be patient.
Planning ahead means determining when in your endurance event to seek out the beast. You don’t want to seek it out in the beginning. That is an almost surefire way to get destroyed. You need to plan a late attack if you want to come out with minimal damage.
For example, if you want to run your fastest half-marathon you need to pick a pace for the first 10 or 11 miles. Maybe that is 9:00-minute miles for you. And only at your predetermined time (say mile 10) that you should go out into the open and chance an attack by the beast (aka push the pace).
When flirting with the beast it becomes craftier and more powerful. This is where the patience portion comes in. It will chime in during your half marathon at mile 2 and say, “You should push the pace now, look how good you feel” and “If you stretch yourself now you can get an even better time.” Don’t fall for these ruses. Be patient and stick to your plan.
Planning ahead and being patient does not mean you’re guaranteed to escape the wrath of the endurance beast. It can still take away your PR, it can still cause race abandonment, and it can make your fun event absolute hell.
If it matters to you that your average pace was 8:10 miles instead of 8:20 miles and you’re willing to take the risk, then seek out this beast. But keep in mind that if you play with a wild animal enough you’re bound to get bit.
The endurance beast tries to lull you into thinking its weak, but in reality it’s strong. Its primary weapon is trickery. It will encourage you to fight it. Make you think it’s just like the anaerobic beast. That it needs to be crushed. But it doesn’t. It’s a sneaky bastard that wants to take you down. And it can. Venturing to its habitat requires preparation and patience. Anticipate its traps to avoid grappling with this beast.
The anaerobic beast appears to be stronger than you. It will get in your face and try to shut you down. It will put doubt in your mind when you have more to give. Reaching failure is not how this beast wins. The way this beast wins is by convincing you that you can’t handle the struggle. That you can’t handle the pain. But you can. Defeat the anaerobic beast by embracing the fight! Overcoming the doubt! And pushing your limits!
I know these beasts well and have been beaten by their tactics. But I also have overcome them. Do you have what it takes to defeat the beasts?