This is probably one of the longer blog posts I’ve done…so I want to apologize in advance. But its also one of the most content packed ever and I think you’ll find it somewhat entertaining and hopefully even learn a thing or two.
People usually squinch up their faces and give me weird looks when I tell them I play tennis. Their first reaction is typically, “Aren’t you too big to play tennis…or…I didn’t think tennis players were supposed to lift weights…
First of all…I’m not that big.
Second of all…tennis players are some of the most highly conditioned athletes in the world…if not THE most…
How many other sports are there where you have to sprint side to side and front to back on a 120 degree court as fast as you can for 4 to 5 hours non stop?
I can’t think of any…
There are no substitute players to take the heat for you…no oxygen masks…no halftimes.
I played competitive tennis (division 1 college, & some pro) for a span of about 20 years…and let me be the first person to say…the sport is friggin hard.
And the level of conditioning you have to attain to reach an elite level is unreal…
The guys you see playing on TV make it look so easy and effortless but that’s just an illusion…those guys are working their asses off.
When I was on the squad at Clemson University, our coach (Chuck Kriese) wanted us to be the best conditioned team in the country. No ifs, ands, or buts. And he was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.
We trained with the football team, we hit dummies, we flipped tires, we lifted heavy weights, and we ran our asses off. It was definitely not your typical ‘tennis dude’ conditioning program.
It was old-school.
It was in your face.
And it was tough.
Back then, coach had quotes plastered in a big orange banners all over our locker room…but there was one that stuck in my head…and it read “The more you sweat in peacetime the less you bleed in war.”
None of us really knew what it meant until we endured our first taste of Morning Madness…
A Clemson Baptism By Fire
Coach had this crazy pre-season ritual which was designed to get anyone and everyone into game shape fast, and eliminate all of the “pussies” who weren’t tough enough to survive and not quit.
This ritual was called Morning Madness.
Morning Madness brings back great memories of heat exhaustion, body cramps, puking, blackouts, and intense pain….and it was some of the toughest not only physical conditioning…but also mental conditioning I have ever done in my life.
The “Madaness” typically lasted several weeks to a month and each session was about 2 hours or so in duration. We would usually meet at the track at 5 or 6am and coach would just run us into the ground. Literally.
There would always be a few walk-ons every season whose life dream was to play at Clemson…but these guys always ended up re-thinking that dream REAL quick after the first 20 minutes of running on the first day. Those guys usually only lasted a half day or so and we would never see them again.
Dream. Crushed. Quickly.
These days…I hear people whine and complain about their “cardio workouts” on Facebook and Twitter all of the time…and they bitch about how tired & sore they are from the step mill or the treadmill…which they bravely fought for an hour at a ridiculously slow pace but overcame all odds and finished the workout…whew…
I just want to hug them and say…you’re a wuss…
I still have the permanent scars of “real athlete training” etched in my head…in my dreams…and into my soul FOREVER. Just the thought of “running” or “climbing” on a stationary cardio machine makes me want to gag because I feel like I am cheating myself. It just makes me feel soft. It makes me feel weak. I feel like I’m being a “pussy”.
I just don’t consider it serious training.
I can’t even call it the minor leagues.
It is what real athletes like to call ‘bushleague’.
And I’m not saying this to offend anyone…I’m sure your “cardio workout” is plenty hard for you…but we probably just have contrasting opinions about what real conditioning is just because of our different life experiences. We can still be friends, I will just never train with you. 😀
People ask me all the time…Jamin…what do you do for cardio?
And with a straight face I always say…I never do cardio.
Honestly I’ve done enough “cardio” to last me until I’m 80 or 90.
I don’t even like the word cardio…it just sounds so cheesy.
And cruising along at 5 mph on a treadmill while listening to my favorite jam or watching sportscenter on the cardio screen screen hardly seems hardcore to me…it almost makes me want to laugh at myself.
I guess it would almost be the equivalent of asking a Vietnam Vet to go play laser tag with you. He would probably just punch you in the face.
But back to the Madness…
Here’s how a typical Morning Madness training session would go:
We would all meet at the track around 5am. I always remember it being dark, dreary, cold but humid at the same time (which is totally weird by the way), and there was usually a feeling of doom & gloom. Nobody ever really talked…because we all sort of knew we were about to get our asses kicked…and the only real fun we ever got out of it was by betting which freshman walk-on would throw up and quit the team first.
Coach was usually in a bad mood from the get go, and he always seemed to have an angry scowl on his face…
To me it looked almost like an “I can’t believe I recruited this group of giant pussies” scowl…
Then he would start barking orders and yelling at everyone (especially the slow guys or the guys who reported to camp a bit pudgy) and tell us how soft, slow, stupid, weak, and disappointing we all were….regardless of how great a season we may have had the season before. He didn’t give a DAMN who you were or what you did in the past. This was right now.
That was his way of telling everyone he was the boss. And if you didn’t like it, go home & don’t look back. Nobody was bigger than the team.
After the formalities were completed…it was usually time for sentencing…which is term I used to describe the part of practice where coach told us how far to run, how fast, and for how long.
We would always hope Coach woke up on the right side of the bed…because if he woke up on the wrong side…he would just yell “start fucking running until I say stop”. We all hated when coach woke up on that side of the bed. On those mornings we would run and run and run and RUN.
There is a 3 mile loop which circling campus that we affectionately call Perimeter. Coach would make us run Perimeter and he would follow us in his truck to make sure nobody cut across campus to grab breakfast from the dining hall (which I did on one time there was no pace car…and got busted)…but let me just tell you…the pancakes, bacon, and eggs were well worth the extra running that day. 😀
The perimeter run wasn’t done at a “conversational pace”…you actually had to haul ass and keep up with the group or risk additional running being tacked on later. Then there was the risk getting run over by coach’s pick up truck. Trust me it was do or die. You ran until you couldn’t run anymore…than then you ran some more.
Ahhh…the good ole days!
Anyways, before I get too carried away, let me just post a sample Morning Madness workout. (Don’t ever try at home)
1. Run a backwards mile for time. Finish in 12-15 minutes or you run it again.
2. Run a frontwards mile for time. Finish in 5:15 or you run again it every morning until you make it in under 5:15. For the guys who just couldn’t make their time, coach would eventually strap a rope around your waist…attach it to the back of his pickup truck…and pull you around the track so you make your time. This never happened to me (I ran a 4:55 mile back then) but you would be surprised how fast those “slow guys” hauled ass around the track once they had a little rope motivation strapped to their waist.
After that we had sprints…
3. Eight 400s in under 75 seconds each. If any person didn’t finish in under 75 seconds we all had to run that sprint again.
4. Six 200s in less than 35 seconds. (Run again if any guy fails to make the time)
5. Ten 100s in less than 15 seconds. (Run again if any guy fails to make the time)
Of course there is always one asshole who fails to make the time…(not naming names)
6. Then after we finished the sprints at the track we would either jog over to Death Valley to run stadium stairs or jog over to the Dike by Lake Hartwell to run hill sprints.
Coach usually chose the Dike, because it was harder…
At first thought you may not think that hill sprints would be all that bad, until you see how enormous the Dike actually is. Just check the video below for a taste:
I wish I had a video of us running so you could see guys falling out, blacking out, tripping over stuff, and rolling down the dike…but the golf cart gives you a decent idea of how huge the dike actually is.
We would run about 15-20 frontwards sprints, all timed of course, and if one guy didn’t make it in time that sprint wouldn’t count and we had to run it again. (Yay for teambuilding). Then once we hit the required number, we would then have to sprint up backwards for time with the same deal.
My legs are starting to hurt just thinking about it…
Sometimes Morning Madness would literally take hours because there were always a couple of guys who wouldn’t make their time (again…not naming names)…which would make all of us have to run the same sprints over and over and over. Each sprint takes its toll…so as you can probably imagine, we got CRUSHED REGARDLESS.
After it was all over there were always a couple of guys puking their guts out…(but of course you always tried to walk it off and pretend you were fine so you wouldn’t let coach know he won)…then once you recovered…shower and go to class around 8am (if you made it in time). Then we would do it all over again in around 2:30 starting with 90 minutes of strength training, then 3 hours of practice, and more fun runs after practice.
Gotta love it.
Now the average person may look at this training schedule and say wow…that’s overtraining…that coach is nuts! But any collegiate, or pro athlete (or perhaps even high school athletes) reading this are probably nodding, smiling, and saying “Yep”!
That’s just how it is! It’s a grind.
Pain Is A Powerful Teacher
Looking back on it all now I have mixed feelings about everything. At the time it sucked. There is no other word to use that can properly explain it. It just plain sucked.
But once you make it through that month of hell…you start to see things more clear. You start to have a new perspective on things. You start to feel tough…almost like a badass. You SURVIVED. And once you reach that pinnacle, you feel as if there is nothing or nobody that can stop you from doing ANYTHING.
Coach always used to tell us, breakdown before breakthrough. Of course, back then we hated all of his quotes, but he was relentless. He pounded his quotes, sayings, and motivational speeches into our heads everyday. And he broke us DOWN…I mean…he broke us down to the point where we would question your own motivation. You start to question your toughness. You question your resolve. You question your reasons for doing it.You start to doubt yourself.
We would ask ourselves everyday…why…why…why are we doing this? And none of us could never ever come up with a good answer. Ever. But coach had the answer. He always did.
He would always tell us that true warriors train for the UNKNOWN and they give EVERYTHING when they prepare for war…and we just went with that. At the end of the day…we became a tough bunch of SOBs.
Coach was a hardass but he must have gotten something right…
“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.” – James Allen
The Black Door
Back then coach used to always remind us of a story he liked to call “The Black Door.” If you have never heard the story, or may be confused as to how it applies to your life and to sports, here it is:
A Persian General has the enemy spy placed against the wall as the firing squad take aim and readies themselves to shoot upon the given order.
He slowly walks up to the spy and says, “I’m going to give you a choice about your fate. You can take the firing squad that is ready to carry out your sentence, or you can take what waits for you behind that Black Door.”
The spy asks, “What is behind the Black Door?” The General replies, “I can’t tell you. It is your choice.”
The spy starts to imagine the possibilities of a long and painful death. Perhaps there are tigers on the other side of the door that will tear him to shreds. Perhaps it will be snakes or another frightening death.
After some contemplation, he confirms to the general that he is ready to take the quick and simple method of execution or the firing squad. And the execution is carried out swiftly.
Afterward, a young corporal who had witnessed the whole thing walks up to the General and asks, “What is behind the black door?” The General replies, “It’s Freedom. But no one has ever chosen it. It seems that most people choose a death that they are familiar and more comfortable with than to risk the unknown.”
We used to have a giant sign in the locker room that said “To get all, you must give all everyday in your training, and be willing to risk all every time that you compete.” This means that regardless of how difficult your training is, giving all when you train is always easier than risking all when you compete. So you must train as hard as you can…and be willing to lay it all on the line on gameday. Win or lose you give 100% always. Go balls to the wall.
As this diagram shows, when you go through the Black Door, you may fail in the process, but you’ll never have to go though the initial passage again.
Gradually, as you see Black Doors for what they are, new confrontations become less intimidating.
Morning Madness is an excellent example of a Black Door…but back then we had no idea of the life lessons involved. To us it was just torture running. But the guys who made the commitment, regardless of the pain involved, were the ones who were the most successful on and off the court.
For the guys who made the commitment and endured through the pain…we never ever wanted to lose because the other guy was in better shape than us. We never wanted to be outworked by our opponent. We would rather sweat now, than bleed out during the big game. And to be quite honest, all of that training sucked, we all hated it…but you know what…it made us tougher. It gave us an identity. It brought us closer together as a team. And every team we faced knew they were in for a war. To this day…I’ll go to war with any of my teammates any day of the week. No questions asked.
The Clemson squad from 2002 posing after a workout on our version of ‘Muscle Beach’. Not bad for a couple of tennis dudes!
Coach always used to remind us that perseverance is a virtue that enables athletes to never quit, no matter how great the adversity. And that we as athletes must be willing to hang in there and keep trying long enough to see the fruits of our labor.
“When the athlete decides what he really desires with all his heart and the price that he is willing to pay for it, he stops worrying about the small pains, those things that the opponent does, and any other stumbling blocks, and he focuses on the job at hand.” -Vince Lombardi
Once you become dead to the pain…and make the commitment that you will succeed or die trying…you become an unstoppable force.
Process Over Product
Learning not to focus on end results and teaching myself to love the process was one of the greatest lessons I learned from Coach during my time as an athlete at Clemson. Meaning: the only two rewards though competition are the Process (the learning and internal rewards of the experience) and the Product (the material or outer rewards from the completion).
The four scenarios are:
1. To give your whole heart and win.
2. To give your whole heart and lose.
3. To not give your whole heart and win.
4. To not give your whole heart and lose.
Here are the rewards from each of these scenarios:
As an athlete, you always want to avoid the “No Product, No Process” scenario and get both the product and the process. The athlete who always gives his or her best, even in a losing cause, is the one who always chooses to pursue the “Process, No Product” scenario instead of the “Product, No Process” scenario (I want to win, regardless of whether I do it the right way or not).
Here are the four scenarios listed in rank of best to worst:
1. Achieve the Process and the Product. (best outcome)
2. Achieve the Process and not cash in on the Product this time. (aka Morning Madness)
3. Get the Product but sacrifice the Process in getting it. (won’t work forever)
4. Get no Product and get no Process. (worst outcome)
When you train and/or compete, always strive to achieve #1 or #2 at the very least.
Learn to love the process, the battle, the pain, the grind. If it doesn’t break you it will make you…and most things will only break you if you let them. So whatever adversity you are currently facing…make the commitment to overcome it. Feel the pain, appreciate the pain, and then eliminate the pain. Remember, life without pain has no meaning, and there is no coming to consciousness without pain. Once you overcome pain, that’s when a true re-birth can occur and this is the first step to becoming a true champion.
I’ll close this out with the following quotes:
“It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.” – Julius Caesar
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn
“No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” – William Penn
So what about you? Do you have any life experiences or faced any type of adversity that helped shape you into the person you are today? Feel free to share in a comment below.