Posted by: Joe English | January 27, 2011

Training — ‘Train Smarter, Not Harder’ — Phooey!

running-advice-bugThere’s a phrase that seems to be making the rounds again and I hate it. I just hate it. I’m not hater, really. I’m a lover. But I hate this term: “Train smarter, not harder.”

People love to attach their thinking to simple phrases and mantras. Whether it’s “The early bird gets the worm” or “there’s no ‘I’ in team”, encapsulating a strategy into a few words is a handy way to capture a concept and help communicate it. The problem is that when picking just a few words, they have to be the right words or they can throw the entire concept off. As Michael Jordan once said, “There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there is an ‘I’ in ‘win’.

What Michael Jordan saw in that the phrase was that “There’s no ‘I’ in team” is an overly simplistic way to look at things. It basically says that you have to focus on teamwork above individuality, but it overlooks the fact that individual talent could trump teamwork in some situations. To put it another way, no matter how good the Bad News Bears are in working as a team, they aren’t going to beat the New York Yankees, because the individuals on the opposing team are just so much better than they are.

So why does “Train smarter, not harder” make me so mad? Well, first let’s think about what it is trying to communicate. The phrase intends to focus athletes on avoiding doing too much of the wrong things. The idea that it is attempting to get across is that athletes shouldn’t just run for the sake of running, their workouts should have a purpose and training “hard” is not necessarily the same thing as training “smartly”.

But herein lies the problem with this phrase. It often turns out that “smart” training is “hard” training. “Dumb” training, as it turns out may be endlessly training at easy paces.

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  1. Not to mention, the cliche ‘train smarter, not harder’ might give some the wrong kind of negative interpretation as well. I think, in this case, the smarter part would be to take the time necessary to properly equip yourself for whatever your objective may be.

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