The Non-Obvious Parts of Training

Michael Schumacher is widely regarded as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. He holds following records —

  • Most World Championship titles — seven times
  • Most Grand Prix wins — 91 times
  • Most number of fastest laps — 77 times, and
  • Most races won in a single season — 13 times

You could call him the Sachin Tendulkar of racing. Which brings me to the fact that Tendulkar himself has been a long time fan of Michael Schumacher. In 2002, Sachin met with Schumi. Both being sportsmen, they must have exchanged a few notes about keeping fit.

Sachin came back astounded with the amount of time that Schumi devoted to just one part of his body: the neck. “He exercises it for one-and-half hours. Can you believe it?” he marvelled.

Have you experienced how your body gets squeezed against the car door when it takes a sharp turn? Now imagine what would happen when you’re inside a car zooming at 350 kmph and it navigates a sharp curve on the road. Formula One cars are capable of creating anything up to a sustained 3.5 g of cornering force. Which means the F1 drivers need enormous strength so that the neck can support both the driver’s head and helmet under the intense pressures.

Most people who have never been involved in professional sports aren’t aware of these gritty details. And not just sports but any activity where you want to gain expertise, the practice involves doing things which you wouldn’t have guessed as a spectator. What we see on the field hides 90 percent of the work that went into making the person eligible for the field.

Remember the movie “The Social Network”? Given the negative portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in the biopic, it’s obvious that Zuckerberg didn’t agree with everything shown in the movie. However, during one of his all-hands meetings with Facebook employees, when he was asked to comment on the film, he said something interesting. He pointed out that if the movie had depicted the reality as it is, for 99 percent of the time, it should have shown Zuckerberg sitting on his laptop coding because that’s how Zuckerberg spent a majority of his time during the formative years of building Facebook — programming.

But who would want to watch such a movie?

When astronauts go through training, they aren’t just taught how to survive in space but they also need to learn how to survive the wilderness of Earth. Why?

Imagine, during re-entry into Earth their spacecraft lands off-target and the rescue team takes a few days to locate them. During that time, the space crew has to use their survival techniques to remain alive in all possible scenarios — in the scorching heat of the Sahara, in the middle of an unforgiving sea, being stranded in the bone-chilling cold of Siberian desert, or lost in the dense African forest.

They’re taught how to craft improvised shelters and clothing out of parachutes. They should know how to find food and water and identify venomous snakes in the jungles of Panama. In how many space exploration movies have you seen this side of the astronaut’s life?

If you watched Warren Buffett with a time clock, says Charlie Munger, “I would say half of all his time he spends is just sitting on his ass and reading.”

My point is that the media portrayal of the process that results in wild success stories is heavily skewed and mostly inaccurate. We’re exposed only to the dramatic parts. No one wants to know about the long and boring hours of grind that build the foundation.

I call this non-obvious parts of training because not only we’re disinterested in training but we’re largely unaware of the surprising aspects of deliberate practice that go into building expertise in any area of human endeavour.

Here’s something I want to know from you — what’s the most interesting and largely mis-understood (or unknown to outsiders) aspect of your field of expertise?