Here’s a thought-provoking question for you – How fit are you and how do you know? Unless you are someone who monitors yourself regularly with a VO2 max test, maximal strength assessments or peak flow measurements to understand the efficiency of your lung capacity, you probably assess your fitness levels on what you think you can do rather than what you have actually attempted to do.
Our mind is a powerful machine and is central to our physical achievements with exercise. It was once said “No one could ever run a 4 minute mile”, it was thought to be a physical impossibility and because no one had ever achieved it, no one ever could.
On 6th May 1954, a junior doctor called Dr Roger Bannister, a man with very little running specific training, ran a race and did indeed beat the 4 minute mile at a time of 3 mins 59.4 secs. What’s even more interesting is he only held the record for 46 days before someone beat his time. Once people knew this challenge was in fact achievable, the ‘impossible’ suddenly became ‘possible’… What else can we achieve?
Here are some simple Mind-Set Techniques which can help you go above and beyond what you thought were your physical ‘limits’:
1. Mental Rehearsal
The mind likes repetition. It’s how we learn and the more we learn the better we get at something. We all know that something is easier after the first time we have completed it. Mentally rehearsing a scenario in our mind helps to simulate the experience and create a memory of actually being there and doing the thing we are imagining as if it were real. Your workouts will become easier allowing you to achieve more if you rehearse the challenges you plan to set yourself before you actually address them.
Paula Radcliffe once said before she runs a marathon, she rehearses all 26 miles in her head before she runs it. This allowed her to plan for the hills, the poor weather conditions, her breathing, when she would drink, etc. When the marathon comes round the memory is so vivid from all the preparation, her mind finds the challenge easier and the body can therefore focus on moving past the physical challenges.
Run through your workout from start to finish to properly prepare yourself mentally. If you want to run the fastest you ever have run, imagine yourself doing it in as much detail as you can. Visualise your running technique, your breathing and how long you will be able to sustain the run for. If it’s a new weight lifting personal best, imagine yourself successfully lifting the weight. Visualise doing it with great technique, correct breathing, feeling strong and empowered. Focus on even the small details like the speed of your movements, the amount of repetitions you plan to perform and how long you plan to rest between sets for maximum focus and benefit.
2. Use ‘Anchors’
An ‘Anchor’ is something which stimulates the senses and precedes a change in your emotional state. For example; the smell of the fragrance which reminds you of someone from your past, the theme tune of your favourite childhood tv show, seeing a photo of you and all your childhood friends together… All these things make us feel something. An Anchor can be something which stimulates all or some of the senses. These are touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight.
Anchors are brilliant for motivating and for training too. Even though it’s cheesy, for me just hearing the soundtrack from Rocky makes me want to start training immediately. Seeing a photo of your younger self, looking lean, fit and confident is also a great motivator (as is seeing a photo of yourself looking out of shape or over weight, it just depends on whether you are ‘stick’ or ‘carrot’ motivated; more on that another time).
A good way to get yourself motivated for training using Anchors is to think of a memory you have of a time when you felt particularly powerful, strong and full of energy. Do this when you are about to start training. Immerse yourself in the memory and remember it in as much detail as you can. What you saw, what your heard, the feelings and even the smells associated with that powerful memory. Run over it again and again focusing on the feeling of the memory you have chosen to help you and the positive feelings associated with it. Get focused right before training and watch yourself achieve a Personal Best you hadn’t previously considered was possible.
3. Leave Your Personal Life at the Door
There is nothing worse than trying to have a workout whilst distracted by your list of things to do, the row you had to with the other half earlier that day or the stressful problems you’re dealing with at work. You end up distracted, your mood and energy drops, you end up having a poor workout and feeling flatter than when you started and probably more annoyed with yourself you didn’t have the workout you originally intended.
When you are in the gym, it should be like being at work. You are there to perform a specific task as best as you can. Leave your problems in your gym bag. So, imagine getting changed in the locker room is like putting on your work hat. It’s about the business… That’s what you’re there for. Have a work plan prepared similar to the way you plan your work day. Execute it to the best of your abilities with maximum focus on the job at hand. On the way out, pick your bag of personal ‘stuff’ up and move on with your day with a true sense of achievement.
4. Work Through Wanting to Quit
The truth about successful training is simple – It’s actually the last few reps of your workout which actually make the difference in relation to you achieving new things or not. If, for example, you are working for 15 reps (15 being where your muscles fatigue), that last gruelling couple of reps are where your muscles start to facilitate your desired change.
Overload is Key
The muscles need to be overloaded beyond your comfort zone in order to begin adapting to the new challenge and for the muscles to become stronger and firmer. Repeating the same old workout with the same weights or weights which are too light for your ability will result in no change at all. The problem is, when things get tough our mind starts talking to us… “It’s too hard! I can’t do this! I want to stop! It burns, it burns!” are the cries heard from our subconscious. We listen, we give in and the exercise becomes less effective.
Embrace The Burn
Many people don’t like ‘the burn’ from exercise. Let’s face it, it hurts! When we experience pain our brain tells us to move away from what’s causing the discomfort, even if in the case of exercise, it’s doing us some good.
Instead, consider the burning sensation is actually a build-up of lactic acid, a process your body must pass through in order to achieve the body you desire. Every repetition moving through that barrier is a step closer to your dream physique, your personal best, achieving your physical goals.
Embrace the burn, focus on maintaining good technique and remember to breathe out as your exert yourself to get through those few extra reps. Remember, if you are aiming for 10 reps and do just one above your target, you have achieved an additional 10% on your original ‘planned’ gain… Moving you closer to your desired outcome.
5. Be Ambitious
Where do you want to be with your training in a year? What will your body shape look like? How fast will you be running and how much weight will you be lifting then? Not sure? Maybe, you are lacking in some serious ‘training ambition’ which is holding you back from moving forward.
Having a plan is essential to succeeding with your personal physical goals. What on earth is the point of working your butt off if you have no idea where you are going with it? If you are in a comfort zone with your workouts, simply going through the motions and repeating the same old routines, you may need a radical change of thinking to kick-start your progress.
People who train for athleticism generally get better results than people who are focused on just wanting to lose weight and tone-up. Get excited about achieving a new Personal Best, set deadlines for new achievements, plan ahead for the physical accomplishment you want to achieve next and the pounds will start falling off revealing your toned body without you even realising it.
Your plan could be anything… to do fun run, a Personal Best in the weights room, to increase your suppleness or to do a certain amount of press-ups without stopping. It has to be something specific to you. Most importantly, it should be something which excites you and ties in with your goals to keep you extra focused and super motivated. For more information on how to plan your fitness routine please my post ‘The Importance of Planning In Health & Fitness’.
Do you need a kick-start with your fitness? What do you find works to get you motivated? Leave your comments in the section below!