Associative Stage of Learning- Intermediate
Coming back to the chart above we are going to move into the Associative Stage of Learning and talk a bit about this stage in relation to weightlifting and overall health.
If you are in this stage it means you have put in some legitimate time towards your craft and to the untrained eye or a beginner, you may even look like an expert. However, you and the master’s will know that you still have a long way to go. This is perhaps the longest stage, but it is slightly more enjoyable than the beginner stage in its own way because now you get it and now its all about repping it out. You are no longer having to think so hard to make things happen. You don't feel like a fish out of water. In this stage when you are working below your threshold, things are quite easy, and the heavy cognitive work really only comes into play when you reach your threshold.
(which hand are you?)
This stage is fun but can still be frustrating. There will be lots of ups and downs and plateaus, but you are spending a lot less energy thinking about the entire movement. You can focus on one cue (ex: even weight distribution across the foot just above the knee) without everything else falling apart. In the beginner stage you had to think of EVERYTHING, now it might be one or two mental cues to make it happen. This stage might last 5+ years depending on how dedicated you are. Girls are flirting with a body-weight snatch and higher, and guys are working towards 1.5x body-weight. After spending some significant time in the intermediate stage you are likely able to coach, share your knowledge, and help a lot of people, since you will know more than the majority of practitioners out there.
Weightlifting gets less frustrating and more enjoyable as you continue through intermediacy. With sub-maximal weights, lifting is pretty easy, and one can flow without having to think too hard, but when a person reaches their threshold that false sense of ability goes away and they are back to thinking of cues and refining technique.
*If you have done the math, you may have realized that this means you’ll be spending about 8 years at weightlifting before you are getting close to mastery. Seems like a lot? It sure is, but that’s probably why there are very few people out there who are really good at weightlifting :)
Health and Fitness
At this stage you have made health and fitness part of your life. You know an apple is healthier than a snickers bar, and what "macro's" are. You have a pretty good understanding of what to do to take care of yourself, and compared to your average co-worker etc, you are killing it. You have likely found some success following a certain meal-plan or cutting out certain foods and have lowered the amount of stress in your life. In addition you have found a form of exercise that works for you. You may start sharing your knowledge and experience with others.
Even though you are making good choices, they are not yet automatic, so it still takes a concerted effort to make the right choices. You have to measure food out and follow a plan, and there may be periods when you “fall of the wagon”. This is a period of great learning and change in your lifestyle, and this is where you figure out that what works for others may not work for you, and vice versa.
I hinted that you need to be healthy for as long as you were unhealthy for things to become easy. So, the intermediate stage may take some significant time for some folks and might be where they stay. This is fine and great balance can be found here, because if people have families, intense job,s etc. they may not be able to dedicate the time and energy it takes to fully master a healthy lifestyle. This stage will involve a series of slides up and down and “getting healthy” might feel a bit like playing snakes and ladders. But, as you progress through the intermediate stage things get easier and easier.
Surviving the Intermediate Stage
To survive this stage as a weightlifter, its going to be about staying humble and really embracing where you are at. As an intermediate you are going to be a better lifter than the vast majority of people you come across (in Cf gyms anyway;)), but that doesn’t mean you know everything and are anywhere close to a master. This is a great time to be a sponge because you have enough base knowledge/ability to apply what you learn from others.
You will have to continually refine your lifting game throughout this period and also be ready to face some significant plateau’s. At times you may even have to start over and learn from the beginning again to refine your skills. Progress is going to slow as you advance through this stage and by no means can you expect PR’s to come. It is important to ENJOY what you are doing and not focus too much on the result. In my personal experience and being around other lifters what seems to decrease throughout the intermediate stage is frustration levels.
With that in mind, here is an example of an early intermediate lift and mindset. You can see I am no longer a beginner (barely) and almost everything comes fairly naturally, but that missing few % is where the real struggle is.
Being an intermediate can be just as frustrating as being a beginner. Instead of feeling like you are drowning in confusion, intermediate frustration feels more like stubbing your toe. This was a “max out” day and I wanted a PR so badly. I remember missing this weight like six times, and it might as well have been the end of the world. I had been training really hard, had a coach, and expected the PR to be there. What a whiner, and what bad energy I brought into the gym. Missing lifts is still frustrating (like hitting the post in hockey), but as I am now further into my time as an intermediate I am nowhere near as emotionally invested in individual lifts and lifting is extremely enjoyable… almost pleasurable.
Using the health example, to survive this stage it is going to be much the same as in weightlifting. You are no longer drowning, but can get stuck on the details. Embrace the process, and realize that things will get easier over time as they become routine, but it is not going to be a steady climb to mastery. #snakesandladders.
Don’t beat yourself up when you slip. Focus on the averages of the week or month and do not obsess over any single day. As long as the average of your lifestyle is improving, you are doing great. Certain aspects of a healthy lifestyle will become automatic at this point and that will free up mental energy to continually draw into focus the elusive periphery of healthy living that takes a lot more time to become skillful at. For example this may mean that you are consistently eating healthy, but have struggled to make exercise consistent. As the healthy eating becomes easier and easier it will take less energy and therefore free up mental energy to focus on making exercise happen.
Managing expectations is really important here as well. Media is going to tell you that the master's did it overnight or in 30 days, or live normal lifestyles with 6% Body-fat. This is bull-shit. The bodies we see on television and tv ads are not normal and are the result of freakish genes or lifestyles. If you want to have 6% body-fat as a male, say good-bye to your social life, morning wood, and overall performance. You have to be at peace with what results you can expect given the amount of time and energy you are able to dedicate to your health and fitness. However I still contend that most people are capable of a lot more than they think with a lot less effort than they think.
The intermediate stage is pretty awesome. You are no longer fumbling in the dark, but now that the lights are on, you can see how far the journey ahead really is. You can see where you are going and decide what path is going to be right for you. You can grow so much as a person in the intermediate stage because every increase in ability takes an increase of focus and effort but then eventually the ability stays and the effort required fades. Then onto the next.
As an intermediate you can become a coach if you desire and can learn a lot about your own craft by coaching and helping others. However, it is also at this stage that you will find immense benefit in having a coach with more experience and knowledge to guide you on your journey.
For the majority of people the intermediate stage will be the peak, and that is completely fine. However, after being an intermediate for a long time the line between intermediate and master begins to blur and it often comes down to personal choice, not lack of ability, whether to take that next leap. We will discuss what it means to be a master next... and maybe there are more masters out there than we think....
Grit Human Performance