Gamification and the Little Things

People who read this may or may not be aware that I am a massive gamer at heart. Like a lot of kids in my days I went through the fun of Unreal Tournament 2003, Warcraft 3, Counter Strike 1.6 and Street Fighter (various). My main passion in games was RPGs (role playing games), it harks back to the days as a kid playing Warhammer 40k or DnD (Dungeons and Dragons). There was something badass about taking a character that started out as a scrub through to being able to take down huge dragons or powerful Liches many hours/days later.189559_4106547994509_1024487809_n

Naturally this leads me to “gamify” aspects of my life wherever I can so that I get on that Dopamine gravy train and start enjoying the process of improving,

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ self contributions.¹

Gamification is everywhere these days, lots of websites get you to register and award you some form of points system or badges based on activity. You have computer games to thank for this.

Applying it in the sporting world is a great fit. When you start out you tend to be pretty useless at most things in the gym or in the sport. Once your mastery level improves you can take on bigger and bigger challenges that on the outset would have been mind-blowing. It is up to coaches to set the right challenge level for the athlete so their skill level improves at the same rate as the challenge, this will trigger that juicy flow state.

Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.²

One of the things I find in Weightlifting is that people get too hung up on the long term goals of a big Snatch, Clean and Jerk or Back Squat. Sometimes setting unreasonable goals without breaking it down and looking what it takes to get there. Using the gaming analogy:

You have to kill a shitload of boars before you can kill a dragon.

This can be referred to short term goals, daily goals or process goals. It can be something as simple as making sure you get adequate sleep. (Much more important than I wish it was). Making sure you eat right for the day/week or if you have a nasty vice that you know holds you back, like spending too much time on websites that do nothing (Facebook) taking steps to limit your use for a couple of days and reading a book or working towards something else instead.

With a mind to Weightlifting once the noob gains stop it can sometime be a very long time in between a Snatch / CnJ PR. You can use things like complexes to add variety and get a boost. Also keeping track of your 2rm / 3rm Snatch / CnJ PR’s can also help give that small boost in the longer preparation cycles. I use good old Google Drive and then set up a couple of graphs to get easy visual feedback that reassures me everything is moving in the right direction. With a background in CS, I fucking love graphs.Graph bicture

The boar quote can also be used to think about weaknesses in your body. To hit those tasty lifts that you want sometimes you have to do some exercises that you really don’t enjoy. You know they are good for you but somehow you find ways to convince yourself that if you keep trying to Max out or stick with what you have been doing something might fall into place and you will get lucky. Denial is powerful. The dreaded assistant exercises are the boars of this equation. Things like good mornings, overhead pressing or single leg squatting if your knees are wobbly. I have had the good fortune to have trained with / been coached by high level athletes / coaches and more often than not the successful people are the ones that take care of the little things and farm that easy xp.

As a Weightlifter you should have no trouble working towards a 2-2.5 times body weight back squat as a male, it should be one of the milestones you aim for early on. Breaking that lift down you will need sufficient Flexibility/mobility/stability to safely assume the position, more often than not people skip this first part and just start racking up the weight. To maintain the active back in the lifts your upper back, lats and erectors must be beastly to progress to the heavy weights without increasing your risk of injury. Back squatting alone is not always the fastest way to progress.

This video is pretty much squat porn, even though all squats are beautiful – fantastic positions. During the dream team seminars the first thing that Zygmunt Smalcerz (gold medal in the 52kg class at the 1972 Olympics now USA head coach) said about the godly Ilya Ilyin: (undefeated weightlifter who has won two Olympic championships and four world championships) one of the reasons he is the best in the world is that he works tirelessly on positioning. He can hit positions that makes other weightlifters envious.

1294590_668820536565018_5083556538838401441_oThis is one of my new favorite pictures of a back squat (thanks to Allthingsgym), I know the lifter has a fantastic body structure for squatting, but the motor control in the upper back is great to see. The arms are pretty loose and the big movers like the quads/glutes/hamstrings are doing the work. A far cry from people who have to get so tight with their arms on the back squat then lead with the hips so the lower back is doing a disproportionate amount of the lift. For Weightlifting this is not useful, legs do the work. It is not chance that took these lifters to the World Championships, taking care of the little things plays a big role for anyone.

When these little things improve, your skill level rises and you are able to assume more difficult tasks. That dopamine release from improving will also increase motivation for the times when things get really difficult. (And they will). The next time you are hitting a plateau and feel like your lifting world is crumbling, try stepping back and think to yourself.

Have you killed your boars today?

¹ Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). “Defining Gamification – A Service Marketing Perspective”
² Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
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