As I am near the very end of my Bachelor of Exercise Physiology, I have been reflecting on all that I have learnt and completed since finishing high school, and now (hopefully soon) University. And there is no better time to write about it than at the end of what has been a strange and very different year for all of us.
I, like most of my friends, have just submitted my final assignment based on a research internship I undertook (to which a future paper might be published next year). After submitting this, it was hard to realize that another chapter in my life story is ending, and another opening. I have looked back on all the fond memories, friends and new things I tried over the last four years and how they have impacted my life. For instance, post HSC I could barely run to save my life (ask Brad, he'll tell you). Being a swimmer previously, I could run more than the average person, but not by that much. However, I kept rocking up to sessions and completed many sessions solo over the course of a year. Today, all my friends and family know me now as being a runner and (still) a sporty guy.
In saying all of this, there are a few lessons that I have learnt throughout this period that have really incorporated into my everyday life and really stick out in my mind whenever I am looking back on my time throughout university. They have helped shape my lifestyle, attitudes and (to some degree) my beliefs on certain topics. I hope to share these things with you all so that you are able to take a couple of points away and maybe try something new within your life story.
Lesson 1: When you can, work with/alongside someone
I learnt about this lesson early on in my first year of university, when I was just starting to meet new friends and trying to figure out how uni worked. It was pretty obvious at the time that I could not get through this entire degree by myself, that I would need people who could help me learn whilst also push my abilities to learn new content. And I can tell you now if I didn't have any of these friends through university, I would be hating uni and feeling miserable about getting low marks.
Having people pushing me to my limits and testing (or adding to) my knowledge really helped me better learn and teach others certain aspects of our course, and to my uni friends, I will always be grateful for your humour, knowledge and banter. I wouldn't be where I am within the degree if it wasn't for all of you!
Another aspect of my life where this lesson has easily been applied is in my training/racing. I found it really easy to hit race pace targets whenever I was completing quality sessions with the squad. I learnt how fun and easy Sunday long runs can be when running with friends and teammates. I know I have written about how (from a scientific perspective) running with someone makes you perform better, but it also has made my training sessions more enjoyable. I am still looking forward to more banter with my running friends!
Lesson 2: Using a diary for everything that you do
This lesson is probably one of the most crucial lessons I have learnt, with respect to all the training I do. Before writing this all down, I only used to log whatever was recorded on Strava. I wasn't recording any of my resistance training sessions down, nor was I recording any mobility work. Now whilst some people would say that it is ok to do that, I learnt that you should record everything that you do in order to understand where you went right OR wrong.
I remember during NSW state short course 2018 (2nd-year university) where I really stuffed up. I am sure a turtle could have finished the race before I did. My coach was surprised as to why this occurred, and through some questioning and further investigation, it seemed that I was doing a tad too much resistance/cross-training work in the days leading up to the race. From there, I started to log EVERYTHING that I did with respect to training, and funnily enough, I haven't had a race as bad as state short course.
Very recently I have started using Google sheets to create a training diary. I fill it out every day and have been able to use the "acute:chronic workload ratio" to determine whether I have been training too hard or not. I have even passed this on to some of the athletes that I coach to help them track their progress throughout this Track & Field season, and I can't recommend enough how important it is to keep a diary for all the things that you do!
This year I started carrying around a day-to-day diary, where I list everything I am doing in the day/week, then at the end of each day ticking/crossing the things that I did/didn't do. This has been one of the biggest game-changers for me because my life is so busy (most of you who know me personally will understand).
Amongst a couple of other lessons that have helped me manage my life (which you'll see as you keep on reading), this lesson has definitely helped me across my time at university, and one I'll continue to use for the rest of my life (hopefully)!
Lesson 3: Finding the right way to study
I learnt this lesson during my third year at uni and has definitely helped me attain higher marks and performance. Throughout the first two years of university, I thought I was studying the right way, however, I wasn't really getting the marks I thought I should be. It was hard trying to cram so much information into my little brain for an exam or 2. I knew that I was doing something wrong and that I needed to change my study approach.
As you'd have it, my university friends were discussing using a study technique known as "active recall" & "spaced repetition." This study technique uses questions (as opposed to just writing out the lecture notes) that you ask yourself based on the topic/s you have covered, and equally spacing the times at which you ask yourself these questions (i.e. once a day, week, etc.). The moment I started using this technique, my marks went straight up and I realised actually retaining more information compared to when I was just trying to memorise lecture notes and what the lecturer said.
The lesson I learnt here is that there are more efficient and effective ways to study, which I wouldn't have learnt if it wasn't for my uni mates helping me along the way. But don't just listen to me, ask my university friends all about it and they can further highlight its benefits.
Lesson 4: Stress + Rest = Growth
By now you should know that I love this quote, and is something I learnt at the very beginning of the year!
As I was hopping on the New Year grind and reading some of the books that have been collecting dust over a couple of months prior, I picked up the book "Peak Performance" by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, who were aiming to find out the best way we can perform at our very best all the time. The first third of the book went into great depth about how we need both stress and rest in order to grow. The moment I started to think more and more about this. The more and more it has changed my outlook on life and the illusion of the "work hard, play hard" mentality.
I am known by all my friends as the guy who always grinds and grinds and grinds. Working 4 different jobs, full-time university (including two different placements), training and finding time to hang out with friends all adds up in the struggle to find some me-time. But thanks to using this approach, I have been able to more clearly stay focused on the task at hand and give myself some "me time" to cope with all the stresses that come about from everything that I do.
There are multiple examples of changes that I have made in my life because of this. For example, I have at least one day of complete rest from exercise every week; I try and aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night (although sometimes it can be difficult trying to attain it); I try not to complete any uni/other-related work on weekends; I now study for a maximum of 90 minutes with 30 minute rest periods; my list can go on.
This has been one of the biggest lessons I have come across in my four year degree, and one I plan on continue to put into action in the future.
Lesson 5: Ask "why" for everything that you do
I first learnt about this in my "Advanced Exercise Physiology" subject during third year university. However (in all honesty), I didn't start applying and thinking deeply about it until I started coaching my own squad in the middle of the year.
As part of this subject, we had to create and implement exercise programs on our fellow classmates. So I had a plan ready to go and went through the session with my friend until one of the tutors came up and asked to take a look at my program. The only question/remark this tutor would ask is "why? What's the benefit?" At first, I found this annoying until I understood where this tutor was coming from.
After this subject, however, I didn't really get the chance to apply this and think critically about this until I started writing up programs for my running squad. Before Brad moved from the City of Sydney, one of the many pieces of advice he gave me was "always have a why to everything that you set for your runners, otherwise there's no point in you writing up the sessions!"
If you can't answer the simple question "why are you (or your athlete) doing this in their program?" then there is really no point in prescribing a certain exercise/schedule/class/etc. Whenever I am writing up programs for my athletes or myself, I now have this one question in my mind when I am adding a new exercise or how I am programming my athletes. It's something that should always be in a coaches mind.
This lesson has really been crucial for all of my placements that I have been on throughout this year (and a little bit of next year). Whenever I have been asked to prescribe a client/s an exercise program, the question "why?" always pops up in my mind as I am writing up the exercise program/s.
This blog has been 4 years in the making but, hopefully, you all get a good glimpse of what I have learnt during my time at university. Although some of these lessons were not learnt directly at university, they have still shaped my life and changed how I go around things and I hope to continue to use these in the future.
I have also included 4 photos of myself, all from each year that I was at university. I might look the same throughout all of them, but I can assure you that I have most definitely changed in other aspects of my life!
As we are all heading into a new year, I wish you all the very best with your track/XC season, studies, work, etc. As long as you set your mind to it and have confidence in yourself and those around you, you will be able to achieve what you set out to accomplish!
Looking forward to what 2021 has in store!
Keep up the running,
Year 1, taking Arrow (my most loyal companion) for a run! safe to say he out ran me!
Year 2 at a pop-up Assassin's Creed Odyssey obstacle course!
Year 3 (whilst away at the snow and the first time I went skiing)