If you’re doing everything right by spending enough time in the gym, following a wholesome and nutritious meal plan, taking the advice of top coaches and getting plenty of rest, you’re not maximizing your full potential until you incorporate mental training. Mental training is what divides great from exceptional. To be physically outstanding you have to train your brain. It’s the one thing that even very committed athletes and exercise enthusiasts often overlook. Mental preparation and attitude before and during training are what gets you through a 20 mile run in the rain and beating your best time. Whether you’re seriously committed to developing muscle and definition, want to be a better basketball player or perfect your golf swing, you must include mental training. The more competitive you become, the more important your mental game becomes. Tiger Woods visually rehearses each aspect of his swing prior to picking up his club. Like your physical skills, your mental skills will improve through practice. If your mental game needs strengthening, it’s time to give your mind a workout.
Mental training can:
Strengthen your focus and concentration
Tap your unconscious
Find your ideal “psyched up” state
Sharpen your imagery and mental rehearsal
Build mental toughness
Mental training will help you develop the outlook and skills you need to succeed as a recreational exerciser or a professional athlete. Some of our most outstanding and ageless athletes rely on mental training, including all-time great Michael Jordan. You can incorporate mental exercises into a physical workout by learning, developing and practicing specific psychological techniques.
Some of those techniques include:
Short and long-term goal setting This can be as short as each workout and even each set. Goals should be specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and have a deadline. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Having clear goals in your mind gives you a mental picture of the outcome you aspire to, helps to keep you on track and moving in the direction you desire.
Positive thinking and affirmation Having sayings in your head that are rehearsed will be critical when it comes time to dig down deep for the physical ability to perform. Phrases like “If it’s going to be it’s up to me”, “I am unstoppable”, and “I am a champion” can be the difference in pulling through when the going gets tough.
Performance profiling – Mentally rehearse and visualize exactly how you will perform throughout your event. Picture the positions your body will be in, how efficiently you will be breathing, the strength in your legs, the balance of your torso, the postures necessary to successfully perform and so on. There is a proven transfer from the mental to the physical.
Motivational strategies Know what makes yourself tick. How are you inspired? Where does your competitive drive most thrive from? Know precisely what to say to yourself when you are called upon to perform.
Relaxation and complete breathing Regardless of if your event involves a team or is done solo or if it requires gross or fine motor skills, the use of breathing for relaxation and concentration can keep you centered and in control of your and your opponents moves.
Attention control techniques – If you find yourself becoming physically or mentally challenged, having a technique to regain you focus can quickly change your state and put you back in the game performing your best. For example, you may see a pitcher adjust his cap as part of a ritual to refocus solely on the upcoming pitch rather than become lost in the stakes of the entire game.
Self-coaching You can be your own worst enemy, or your biggest fan. When you are called upon to engage your physical skills, become your own internal coach. Use the best advice given to you by coaches as well as your own good judgement.
Just as you train your muscles by lifting weights, you can develop mental skills by practicing them diligently and consistently. You can build the body you’ve always wanted and perform at your best when you harness the power of mind and muscle.Many successful athletes have described their best performance as a time when everything seemed to flow. Their movements seemed automatic, and they were completely focused. Usually this experience was accompanied by a strong sense of confidence and being in control. This experience is described by sports psychologists as the “ideal performance state.”
To get into an “ideal performance state,” you need to first improve your performance through mental strategies that help you overcome obstacles and refine your workouts. The process also involves dealing with the pressures of competition, finding ways to increase satisfaction and enjoyment and promoting healthy self-esteem. Mental training can also provide assistance with injury rehabilitation. When injured, you can take a more active role in your healing processes by engaging both your conscious and unconscious mind to restore a sense of wholeness and health. In a fascinating experiment, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation discovered that a muscle can be strengthened just by thinking about exercising it.
For 12 weeks (five minutes a day, five days per week), a team of 30 healthy young adults imagined either using the muscle of their little finger or of their elbow flexor. Dr. Vinoth Ranganathan and his team asked the participants to think as strongly as they could about moving the muscle being tested, to make the imaginary movement as real as they could. The little-finger group increased their pinky muscle strength by 35 percent, compared to a control group that did no imaginary exercises and showed no strength gains. The other group increased elbow strength by 13. 4 percent. What’s more, brain scans taken after the study showed greater and more focused activity in the prefrontal cortex than before. The researchers said strength gains were due to improvements in the brain’s ability to signal muscle.
Try the following exercise as an example of the power of mind/body training. Close your eyes and concentrate on your physical performance. Be acutely aware of the space you occupy as you visualize your legs, chest, back, hips, neck, breathing, etc. As you explore your physical movement, connect with your breathing and release all unnecessary tension out of your muscles. Discover the increased focus you develop. Visualize yourself performing, relaxed and powerful. It’ll take practice to clear your head of “noise” and implement mind/body training. Through enhanced awareness of your body, you will be able to perform more efficiently and reach desired goals sooner. Ultimately, using mental training will increase your performance and keep your body young.