Positive Pollution

During my motorway journey home last week I made an international call to my friend and colleague Alwyn Cosgrove (it's a 4-hour trip and I'd reached his name in my phonebook!). As I said last week (check out the post if you missed it) we talked about a bunch of things. One topic that came up was the fact that I've become happier to accept some of the 'vanity' exercises I see pro-atheltes completing in the gym if it means they get my work done.

Here's why.

When I started out as a coach I thought I knew it all and every athlete should do exactly what I wanted. One of my best friends, Craig Heap (former Olympic Gymnast, check out the front page of his website - the photo is from Sydney Olympics and his biceps were decent!) still reminds me how stressed I used to get if I saw him doing bicep curls. I would go mental, explaining why it wasn't 'functional' or 'specific' and his reply 'I don't care, the girls love a gun show when I'm on the medal podium'. I wouldn't let hime do bicep curls in my sessions. What did he do? He did them anyway when I wasn't looking!

I'm faced with similar problems working with professional football players at particular points of the season (normally around March). Vanity abs and 'beach' sessions start to creep in. Once again I used to get pretty stressed about all of this 'non-functional' activity taking place. I would say "crunches aren't going to help you on the pitch", to which the response would be "no but I'll look good at the Vegas pool party". It was a comment made by Mark Jarvis that made me stop and think. Mark coined a term that now sums up my attitude.


If the athlete feels they need to perform a 'vanity' exercise and it means then are in the gym and performing the rest of what is a good workout, let it slide (so long as it's not going to be detrimental to performance). You can try to fight it or you can embrace it and monitor it. Otherwise they will do it behind your back.

Alwyn mentioned that a coach he has worked with said he lets his athletes have their 'pudding' exercsises at the end of a session as long as they've 'eaten their veggies'.

I'm not suggesting you tolerate crap and your sessions become open season. What I'm suggesting is to show some discretion. Will it kill you to see your athlete knock out 40 preacher curls if it means they've been in the gym and boxed off a great training session that ticked all of the other boxes you were looking for.

And one final thing Don't forget most atheltes that you'll be working with are going to be much younger than you and what they want and feel is important will be very different from what you want and feel is important. It may just be that they feel having a six pack and completing 1000 crunches is the best thing in the world. You can fight it and remain an outsider or embrace it and change things from the inside.

Remember that performance isn't simply about being physically fit, our athletes need to be mentally ready to go and sometimes that may mean accepting a bit of vanity abs or bicep curls.