It was a rainy, misty day on Twitter.
Conversations abounded around me, as they always do in the twitter-land. I knew what I was looking for, but was seeking a face I didn’t yet recognize.
And then – I found him. I saw what he was talking about, and it was exactly what I was looking for. So I politely asked if I could interrupt him to ask him a question, not thinking he’d ever stop to answer me.
And when he did, one question opened up a conversation that stretched as far as the ocean is wide. It was as if he’d welcomed me to his virtual table at the virtual coffee shop.
And 8 months later, here we found ourselves, deep into a friendship, and we haven’t gotten up from the table yet.
And with all his wisdom, George Bovell III, the 4-time Olympian, put it to me like this –
“Of course, everything we do is moving us on the path. But, it’s the things you don’t think matter too much right now that are more than likely the things that will have mattered the most when you look back on how you got to your next destination…”
To prove the point, he asked me to walk back through each of the steps that brought us to being here talking together.
So I recounted my steps of the last several months that had led up to that moment, sitting here, talking to this friend who I adore, yet who I was completely unaware even existed 8 months ago.
And then he recounted his steps that had brought him here as well. And we both smiled at how little the thing was that brought us to this moment.
I had no idea that this stranger-turned-friend would become someone who trusted me to advise him on his own training program, or that he would become someone whom I could learn a great deal of life wisdom from.
One Small Decision. It Changes The Entire Course.
That might seem obvious, but often we don’t think about the small things we’re doing today that are moving us along a course. But we’d be well served to bring some consciousness to that aspect of ourselves…our future destination depends on it.
George has made several small decisions in his swimming career to arrive at his current locale, competing & training, walking into the waiting arms of what will be his 5th(!) Olympiad. It’s a rare feat to have longevity in a sport like swimming, so when a person finds a way to do just that, it pays to pay attention to what they’re doing.
Inside The Mind Of An Olympian: The Small Decisions That Made A Big Impact
As George dug into his training, now less than 2 years out from Rio, I asked him if I could share a few of his insights into the ‘small decisions’ he’s made to achieve this level of success and longevity in the sport that he has.
And here they are, for you.
You Must Develop Explosive Power
George has done very well enhancing his raw ability as an explosive & powerful swimmer, as noted by his Bronze medal & the fact that he’s held the World Record in the 200IM short-course
“I want every competitive edge I can get. If I can get off the block in the start faster than my competitor, if I can accelerate quickly up to speed in the water, if I can increase my strength-to-weight ratio, and train my body to activate whole chains of muscles…I’ve got the advantage.
When I decided to add in heavy Olympic lifting a few years ago, I saw myself become more explosive, more powerful.”
When George added in heavy weight lifting to his training program, he bolstered that raw power even further.
Heavy weight training, kettlebell training, and chasing down a 1-arm chin-up are just a few of the things in George’s training program.
You Must Make The Best Use Of Your Time
“But it’s not enough to just train hard. In fact, practicing efficient time management and having a planned schedule is very important with what limited time I had in any given day….
There are workouts to do. But there is also recovery work to do.
There’s high-quality home-cooked meals to attend to, to give the finely-tuned machine that is the human body a base of energy to sustain top performance and to support recovery. All of these things, a smart athlete plans for and executes like a professional.
When it’s time to get in the pool, George doesn’t put in yardage just to put in yardage. If he’s clearly fatigued going into a workout, he shifts course slightly on the objectives for that workout, or he opts to rest.
But when it’s time to do the work – he does the work – with good technique, a focused mind, and full attention to detail. Because the quality of the workout is more important than the time put in.
Quality over quantity. Always.
The Devil Is In The Details…And So Is George
Know one way to get much better quality movement much more often?
Get serious about improving your movement patterns, joint mechanics, and soft tissue quality.
“Staying healthy by preventing injuries through “prehab” has been another factor. Through this proactive approach I am able to prevent injuries before they even occur. This is especially important when it comes to our shoulders, which for a swimmer take a beating and if injured, can be career ending.”
It’s true. You can only get away with sub-optimal movement quality or uncared for soft tissue for a finite period of time.
Being aware of what your ‘optimal’ is and ensuring you stay in range of that is crucial. In swimming, subtle losses of shoulder mobility means subtle changes to your swim stroke. Which means subtle losses of power as well as increased compensation by other muscles in the chain.
You must be aware of this as it relates to the movements of your sport. The details George notices and shares with me about how he felt in his days’ training astound me sometimes. He’s SO aware. We explore the smallest details that he can improve on to get the competitive edge.
Because he will not leave a stone unturned. A good athlete does that.
You Must Devote As Much Time To Recovery As You Do To Training
It’s uncommon for an Olympic-level athlete to do most of training alone. When George is at home in Trinidad, its not uncommon at all for him to be the only one in the pool. No other teammates, no other coaches, literally no one else. Day after day he pounds it out, holds himself accountable to the work that is in front of him.
No doubt, the man is committed to ‘the work.’ But he’s also committed to ‘recovery’ like a BOSS.
“…we train smart, to facilitate the necessary recovery that is crucial to making progress. My schedule included hard days of heavy lifting and fast swimming, and they were usually followed by easier days of lower intensity aerobic and technique work in the pool which allowed for the recovery that makes the gains possible.”
The gains are also possible because of how masterful George is at sleeping. Whenever I proudly tell him that I got 8.5 hours of sleep, he’ll bubble-burstingly reply that he got 11 hours last night.(The guy just has to win at everything.)
Sleep is insanely critical for getting the top performance from your body. It’s where your hormones get optimized for future performances and current gains are solidified as you slumber.
You simply must get as much as you can and find ways to get even more.
But training & sleep aren’t the only things a smart athlete schedules for and attends to. They also build a body that is durable, that can stand up to the rigors of their chosen sport, and they make it so their body can do that sport they love for a long time.
You Must Stoke The Fire Of Passionate Dedication
“I have come to really enjoy the sweet struggle, the process and the excitement that my sport of swimming brings to my life. I believe fundamentally, this enjoyment of the process is what has been the one thing most responsible for the longevity of my career; a career that includes 4 olympiads. If it was not fun, It would not be possible to endure the the downs that come with the ups, and I would have retired long ago.”
It’s that enjoyment of the process that makes spending the time on the basics so enjoyable for George. He spends hours fixing up the smallest details in his swimming
…how his body enters the water from the start blocks, cutting through the resistance of the water as smoothly and powerfully as possible
…how strong his feet are to support the power being generated by his body
It’s hard to pay attention to improving the small details if you’re not passionate. This is true of any area of your life – from sport to self-development.
How you do the little things is how you do all the things. George exemplifies that. And if you exemplify that in your life, there’s no doubt you’ll do great things.
How To Start Using These Lessons From A 4x Olympian To Accelerate Your Own Performance
It’s easy to nod your head as you read through George’s lessons… But it’s much harder to break your existing habits and start to apply them to your own life.
And that’s no surprise. Even thinking about uprooting your entire way of life – even if it is to shift to a better way of being – is overwhelming.
So start small. What’s the one step you could take this week to start following a single piece of George’s wisdom above?
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