02 June 2020

Six things I learned as a professional decathlete

By Craig Baker

Transitioning from a scrawny amateur to an international-level decathlete wasn't easy, and isn't for everyone.

But these six basic principles can be applied into anyone and everyone's fitness programs on the quest to improve personal performance.

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1. BE CONSISTENT

This really is number one. Turning up regularly and consistently to training is a non-negotiable. The athletes that did won the medals. It's as simple as that. That means having specific days and times that you train and not letting anything interrupt you. Stay consistent to that plan as if your life depends on it. It will soon become automatic. Now that you got yourself through something as disruptive and bizarre as COVID-19 self-isolation, you can appreciate how simple it is to reserve five or six of your hours a week for training. I used to dedicate over 20 hours a week to decathlon training, and probably spent another 80hrs a week thinking about it! That’s what is required but I understand it’s easier said than done.... so the following five tips are my pearls of wisdom for staying consistent not losing your mojo.

2. TRAIN WITH OTHERS

Being accountable to others by training in a group is a great way to make sure you keep your appointments and to maintain your levels of consistency in your training. My success was largely because I trained in a group of like-minded athletes. They became my friends. If I missed training they would let me know about it. We trained with a coach who was respected and feared in equal measure, this kept us organised and true. My advice is to train with a friend, speak to people in the gym and join their workout, take part in classes, have a personal trainer.

3. BE EFFICIENT

Having only six days a week to practice 10 events ensures efficiency. Each training session is planned to achieve an objective, and each session is part of a greater plan to excel on the track and to get the best points score. Knowing exactly what was required to most efficiently achieve your objective was the job of the coach, which is why I would always advocate professional help, it makes a difference in a way you won’t understand until you experience it.

4. HAVE PERFORMANCE GOALS

Everything in a decathlon is about hitting numbers, be it times on the track, a height in the pole vault or a points score that qualifies you for a championship. When you have a specific goal to aim for no matter how small, your focus sharpens, as does your motivation. Achieving even a small fitness goal gives you a hit of dopamine, your ‘reward’ hormone, this helps to reinforce your habits, creating a healthy addiction. So set a goal, then record every distance, time, weight and rep, and try to better it next time.

5. HARD WORK

Give your workout 100% mental focus and 100% physical effort. When I prescribe an exercise, my clients often ask me if they should be focusing on form or going hard, my answer is always both! Go as hard as you can without breaking form. Like the last 50m of a 400m race, to achieve your best result you need to go as hard as you possibly can but without breaking your form. The progress you make with this approach will keep you coming back.

6. GET GOOD SLEEP

In my experience sleep was the most important factor to success outside of exercise. Your body doesn’t change when you're in the gym or on the track, it changes while you asleep. Growth, repair, even skill acquisition all require good sleep. I used to need nine hours a night when I was competing. Any less and my intensity dropped and my performances suffered, and I lost motivation. These days I recommend at least seven or eight hours to my clients and the ones who achieve that seem to be the most consistent, motivated and show signs of improvement. 

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About Craig Baker...

A career sports person, Craig has been both a national level gymnast and international level decathlete for Great Britain.

​Craig was awarded an athletics scholarship at Brunel University, London where he graduated with a Bachelor of Sports Science in 2006.

​Craig has ranked Top 10 in the UK in 5 separate athletic disciplines as an Under 23. He has also modeled for top international sports brands and has a ruthless track record of delivering both effective athletic and aesthetic fitness plans for any goal and any level.

​With over a decade of experience as a Personal Trainer starting in London, Craig moved to Sydney, Australia, in 2013. Having had notable success with a range of clientele, Craig is currently a trainer at Centennial Health Club and is an athletics coach for SCEGGS Private School, as well as other institutions. Craig's interests in fitness also extend to rehabilitation and post-natal exercise.

​Despite his competitive background, Craig is easy-going and has a fun approach to training. He believes that results in training are best achieved through consistency, and consistency can only be achieved through enjoyment.