by Charlie Manganiello
Where were you when you first heard the phrase “quality over quantity?”
I was in Mrs. Joyce’s art class. I must have been in 7th or 8th grade. The classroom was tucked away down along a hallway that was dark except for a few flickering fluorescent lights. I remember actually being kind of scared to go down there, but when you walked in the room it was vibrant with primary colors and student artwork. There were big, open spaces to make a mess doing your best Bob Ross impersonation and molded clay to later be fired into a beautiful sculpture.
Near the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Joyce addressed the class. She said, “Ok, class…I can tell you now that you’ll have assignments and projects due this year. You’ll have to make due dates and take tests, but I cannot emphasize this enough: I am much more interested in quality over quantity. I would rather you work on a project longer and do it right than hand in loads of sloppy work. If you show me that you need longer on a project because you’re trying to make the best possible product, I’m in!”
Of course, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that’s the gist. My hardly-developed brain was firing on all cylinders. First I thought, “which one is which?” Both words start with the letter “Q” and I know one words means a lot and the other means less, but better. It took me longer than I care to share to figure out this word puzzle. This was before Google and I bet I went to the library to look it up.
At first I thought, Mrs. Joyce was just lazy. I actually thought she just didn’t want to grade as much and told her students to do less. Then it hit me. I turned in a really bad drawing of a landscape. It was two little rolling hills, a circle that represented a lake, and a sun. The most basic sun you’ve ever seen. One a 5 year old could draw. I think it was landscape week? I had hardly made the effort to color within the lines and did the bare minimum. There was more blank space on my 11×17 sheet of paper than pencil or color. You would have thought it was one of those drawings you do with the invisible markers that only show up when it’s dark. I remember thinking, “I hate art and I suck at it!”
She pulled me aside after class. I’ll never forget it. She reiterated her phrase, “Quality over quantity.” She went on, “Charlie, I want you to create something you are proud of. I want you to feel the need to hang it in your room or on your parent’s fridge, not the trash after it’s graded. You see, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be the best. It has to be your best and it has to be something you’re proud of.”
She then asked me what I was most excited about. At the time I wanted to be an Olympic ski racer. Just like Tommy Moe. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t become an Olympian.) But at the time I was almost certain I would be. She then proceed to match my passion, which was skiing, with her assignments.
I absolutely loved that class from there on out. I finally understood what it meant to create a product that actually meant something and one that I was proud of when I signed my name to it. Bless her heart, she allowed me to work on projects well past their due date, but only because I was obsessed with making it my very best. I still have a clay sculpture of a skier in my childhood room, just sitting on my old dresser. I ignore the fact that it looks like a snowman on wooden sticks…to me it’s the best piece of artwork I’ve ever made, but it certainly isn’t making it’s way to the MOMA.
Training in the gym or out at the crag is no different. It’s very much an art form and for most, training is linked to something we are passionate about…sending hard routes or boulders. Otherwise why in the hell would anyone come toture themselves at 6am and pick up weights for 45 minutes, move them around, just to put them back where they found them? Better yet, why else would we train our monos to send that classic Wild Iris route on a summer road trip. The problem is that climbers can lose sight of that passion and get deterred from the quality sessions that will lead them to their goals.
When training for anything, we have got to think about quality over quantity. I’m a firm believer that climbers who go for the quantity approach have no direction or reason for being at the gym and the athletes going for quality session have a solid reason for doing what they are doing. It can be as simple as training for a specific route that will give an athlete some direction or even a hold type they want to tackle because the feel they are weak there. It has to be something. It can’t just be I want to climb 5.14, either.
The true training lies in the intermediate goals. It certainly doesn’t sound as sexy, but it’s true. If I said I was training to be a 5.14 climber to anyone who knew what that meant they would laugh in my face. Not necessarily because of how hard that is, but what does that even mean? We all know there are a million things to work on to get to that level. That’s where quantity sessions come in and the athlete tries to do it all. The quality sessions would tackle something as simple as progressing 1-arm hangs for 4-weeks. Same, but different.
Climbers have the passion and that’s a great start, but if any of you find yourself making sloppy artwork with more blank space than actual ink on paper, you have got to ask yourself, “Would I throw this workout in the trash after I was done with it?” If so, then what’s the point? Go in there, put some more color on it, fill in the lines, learn to draw something new, and even learn how to draw something even better than you already do. I think it’s cool when people say they are really good at crimping, but it’s not cool when they think they don’t need to work on it. What about making it even better? Make every single workout really count, because the sum of zero plus zero is zero. (Hey, this 8th grade brain has come a long way!). We know boxes have to be checked and there will be some bad workouts, but at the end of a training cycle or climbing season will you be proud of what you set out to do?
To harness my inner Mrs. Joyce, I would much rather see an athlete learn a new lift, climb a new grade at their anti-style, sleep more, hang on a different hold more, whatever the goal, and do it well then hit the checkbox they’ve been checking for years. If a climber truly changes a habit and does it well for 6 months, that’s what I’m talking about. If an athlete does a ton of training for 6-months, but has nothing to show for it…then I’m going to have to have the same talk Mrs. Joyce had with me 20 years ago.
Things to watch out for in your sessions.
- Don’t chase the “feeling” of having a hard workout and watch out for the cold turkey approach to cutting out sugar just to have it all come back with a big binge session. When learning a new skill or taking away a bad habit, start small and allow yourself to fail. More isn’t always better. Build a foundation of sustainable progress and go from there.
- Keep your expectations in check. You thought it would take 3 months to get to a certain point, but it’s looking more like 5 months. That’s OK, don’t jump ship now. Keep rowing until you hit land.
- Do not compare yourself to others. You have no idea how much genetics and training history can play into athletic performance. This doesn’t mean you can’t get there. It just might take longer. See above bullet point.
- Do not hang on to the outliers. “Well she did it this way, so I can too.” Nope!
- Make sure you have a specific goal each session. This does not mean your overall goal of climbing your hardest climb. It is more like, I am going to really work on my toe-down position on steeps this session. It’s the intermediate goals in sessions that get you to the big ones.
- And have fun for goodness sake. Find something that excites you and you won’t think of it as hard work…even when it’s hard. Attach a goal that means everything to you and it won’t feel nearly as bad. If you don’t feel this, maybe you’ve chosen the wrong goal.
I promise, if you make your session more about quality work rather than quantity you will not be disappointed. It will be much more sustainable and at the end you’ll have something to hang on your fridge. Don’t be fooled by checking the box or making the preconceived deadline, the reward is so much deeper than that. It’s for you and you only.