Technically, combat-sports are individual pursuits, but having a team to train with is imperative. I have almost always had the luxury of having at least one coach, a gym full of training partners, a training schedule and goals which are quite public.
I didn’t realise how easy all this made it for me to stay fit and on track until I developed chronic fatigue syndrome in 2008 and was rendered completely unable to participate in any kind of fight training. Suddenly, I had a new and frightening insight into what it’s like for so many people, who are solely responsible for their own fitness regimes and accountable to no one other than themselves.
There is no coach to tell you what to do, no sparring partners to shame you out of staying at home on the couch, no set schedule and no fights by which the success or failure of your training will be measured, scrutinised and discussed.
I have had a few other injuries and set-backs since then, and every time it gets a little easier to manage staying on-track by myself. I’m currently side-lined with a neck injury, so am once again working mainly alone.
Here are some things I’ve found which help when, for whatever reason, you’re doing it for yourself.
Know what you want to achieve
The most important thing when working out solo is clearly identifying your goals and staying focussed on them. Do what you have to in order to keep the fire alive, to get really hungry and inspired. Create a vision board or scrap-book as a visual reminder of where you’d like to be. Pinterest is a great way to do this on-line and to share your dream with others.
Make yourself accountable
You might be working out alone, but you can still tell someone what your plans are. Whether it’s a phone call to a friend, a Facebook status, or a promise to a family member, there’s always some way you can let others know what you will be doing and report back to them with your progress. If you’re a runner, the RunKeeper provides a great app which allows you to record and share your run routes and times online.
Spend time among like-minded people
You might not want, or be able, to join a gym or team, but you can still have like-minded people in your life in some way. On-line forums and social media make it easier than ever to connect with new people. Sharing thoughts and experiences with others who value health and wellness can make exercise and good nutrition seem easy and normal, in contrast to the way spending time with people who hate exercise can make everything you’re trying to do seem that much harder.
Create a ritual
Everything is easier when it’s ritualised. That means creating certain routines and habits which, when done consistently over time, put you into a different state of mind. In our case, we want to get into the state of mind of being ready and motivated to work out. The great thing about going solo is that you can totally customise this process. Aspects of your “ritual” might include training at the same time every day, having certain clothes or even a scent that you use for exercise sessions, listening to a particular kind of music, or going to a can area such as a home gym or park. Do this frequently enough and you’ll soon find yourself getting into your workouts without even thinking (well, almost!)
Celebrate your accomplishments
The great thing about working out as part of a group or team is all the somewhat childish back-slapping and cheering that goes on whenever someone reaches a milestone or achieves a personal best in the gym. We try to tell ourselves that we don’t need it, but we all know that it feels great and fuels our motivation for further sessions. Make sure you recognise the times in your own training sessions when you’ve excelled, whether you’ve pushed through a hard day, increased your weights, mastered a new activity, or created more muscle definition.
Share your successes with supportive people
It’s okay to be proud of yourself! Sharing your story with people who are truly supportive and will be happy for you is a great feeling. You may find that the people around you need some inspiration as well, and there’s no motivation like realising you’re somebody’s role-model.
Minimise your interactions with negative people
Not nice, but we’ve all known someone like this. I don’t mean the friend who’s having a bad month and is feeling down, I mean the person who consistently belittles your efforts, mocks your goals and generally does their best to get inside your head and sabotage you. It’s my belief that these people have no place in your life at all, but if for some reason you choose to tolerate one, at the very least minimise the duration and content of your exchanges.
Find inspiration in the media
Movies, books, magazine articles and blogs can be time-wasters, or you can use them to your advantage by sourcing fuel for the journey. Whether you’re watching the UFC or perusing a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, if it inspires you to go farther towards your goals, it can only be a good thing.
Finally, be kind to yourself
This is the hardest one for me. A good coach often has to make decisions which an athlete, almost by definition, can’t make for themselves. Some days, recovery is more important than training. You might be at risk of injury, coming down with a flu or be on the verge of a psychotic break. Whatever. There are times when you need to learn to see yourself with the wise and compassionate foresight of a good coach, and know when to kick back and relax, see a physio, or switch to an easier routine.
What strategies do you use to stay disciplined when you’re working out alone?