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Training for Courage: Intensity + Micro-Duration by Mark Hatmaker


The body is a time-machine.

That is, the mind [the currently intangible part of the body] anticipates a future event and the tangible portion of our body [the physiological structure and internal biochemical processes and all their attendant prowess] begins behaving in a direction towards that future state.

To make that clearer, the body while existing in the present is always on the look-out for what “might be on the horizon” and gets to work preparing for that possibility.

We have everything in common with Pavlov’s dogs. They salivated at a bell. We do the very same thing at the viewing of a Chicago deep-dish takeout menu, or the aroma of freshly baked bread, or hearing the smooth pour of a good bourbon in a glass.

We are not yet tasting whatever comestible or tipple it is we have summoned into mind by various bells, but our physiology goes into preparatory tasting mode just the same as those long-dead Russian dogs.

We live in the here and now but allow our thoughts to go to the not here, not yet, maybe never and our bodies will cooperate with this future-tinged stream-of-thought.

One more example to drive our future-obsessed physiology home.

Sex. Lust. Skin. Nudity.

Now, let’s string those together: Naked lustful sexy nudity.

Now those words themselves perhaps don’t start you full-blown down the path of future thinking, but any number of images, suggestions of whatever your “thang” is will.

Our sexual physiological reactions often begin in the present before the future of what we hope will happen has even occurred.

OK, with that in mind, we see that the body begins a future-orientation physiological reaction in a present that does not, as of yet, contain the future-state.

Now, the wise are already asking, “Mark, what exactly does all of this have to do with courage, or training for courage?”

Good question, glad you asked it. Let me distract you with a little science about sprinters and marathon runners.

Scientists curious about peak heart-rates in sprinters mid-task made a surprising finding about the time-travelling body.

Heart-monitors attached to competitive level 60-meter sprinters rose to 148 beats per minute.

This rate-elevation is not mid-sprint, this is pre-sprint. This is in the blocks or preparing to get set in the blocks.

This is [in the words of the study] “an extraordinary 75 per cent of the total increase in heart rate during the run.

Adrenaline being the driver of the anticipatory spike. Adrenaline-management is also the driver in our responses to episodes/events where we may have to bring courage to bear.

It is surmised, that just as in Pavlov’s dogs, Chicago pizza menus, and sexual suggestion the anticipatory physiological changes prepare the body for the stressors/demands on the horizon. [Or on the hopeful horizon in the case of pizza and sex.]

Let’s drive this finding home with some flip-side scientific observations.

Heart-rate monitors attached to competitive marathoners did not find this same anticipatory spike. Granted the peak heart-rate requirements are less, but even then, we do not see a 75% anticipatory increase of the needed output for a marathon, not even close.

In experiments with wide ranges of activity, the greater the perceived exertion of the activity the greater the spike but…

Significant anticipatory spikes are only seen in activities that combine both high-perceived exertion AND short-intense duration.

The body floods itself with adrenaline before high-intensity short-duration efforts even in well-trained athletes. It does so at a surprising degree.

And, as we know, since the body does not differentiate like-internal states, our mind is seeking to label this useful adrenaline-dump and falls on the terms jittery, nervous, anxious, all close allies of fear as anyone knows who has recived a clinical shot of adrenaline. With the injection one feels “Anxious” with no perceived stimuli.

Now, the crux of this lesson is this. With all of the above in mind, the more our body experiences floods of adrenaline [as in the pre-high-intensity/short-duration bursts] the more it becomes conditioned to deal with this flood of adrenaline.

The adrenaline flood does not lessen over time, as we see illustrated with trained athletes. The adrenaline is there to prepare the body for the perceived demands of the future.

But…by inuring the body to adrenaline management we just may be able to better handle the adrenaline encountered in planned stressors [60-meter sprints, sky-dives, approaching that girl that you’ve seen twice at the food truck] and unplanned stressors [street altercations, approaching that girl at the food truck the first time you saw her, etc.]

Suggestions for Integration

·        Scale training, be it strength, conditioning what have you more towards intense bursts and less towards extended sessions.

·        Opt for high intensity reps over many lower-grade reps.

·        Fight the clock and/or beat the clock where possible.

·        Break bag, focus pad, sparring drills, grappling scrimmages into bite-size high-intensity mini-rounds where GO! is the dictum.

·        If we can add competitive partners to this to spur us harder and faster, even better.

When it comes to fear-management, courage training, situational preparation, whatever you want to call it, we are wise to implement all the tools we can.

Low-grade, low-impact or long drawn out training no matter how pat-on-the-back ultra-miles makes us feel, simply may not cut it for this aspect of training.

There is always a temptation to think we “need” hours of this or that, but if “this or that” can be trained in a manner that also prepares the body, mind, and I’ll say it, the spirit for the possibility of heightened courage—well, it seems the wise option.

More is not better, better is better.”-General Gordon P. Sullivan, Military Review, July-August 1996.

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