Peak performance is about three things: physical excellence, technical ability, and mental toughness – many people spend money on equipment or a personal trainer to get an extra edge and think nothing of it.
But they often don’t think about the mental side.
Are you mentally tough?
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Vince Lombardi popularized the term “mental toughness” with his well-known quote:
“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”
Mental toughness isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage from watching some YouTube video.
It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions without second thought. It’s about getting yourself into a routine that commits you to your training, whether you are “in the mood” or not.
A mental approach to workouts
What’s important to realize is that this is not an overnight process. No one walks into a gym and squats double bodyweight their first time.
Mental strength requires that you continue to build new neural pathways by learning new things.
When we don’t activate the prefrontal cortex in the brain — the part that deals with new situations, surprises and threats — then we operate on autopilot. That’s why most people just get into a habit of doing the same workout, week after week.
The more regularly you pick up a new skill, the stronger your mind becomes
So add one new exercise every week to your workout, then continue working on it as you learn a new exercise the following week. Build up your mental strength gradually.
One way to do this is to challenge yourself and try exercises that you’re not sure you’ll be able to pull off.
Maybe you saw someone in the gym throwing a tyre along the floor or jumping up onto a high box.
Approach one of the personal trainers and ask them to show you how to do it right and ask them how to progress the exercise so that you can become better at it each time.
To become mentally stronger always make sure that each workout you do one more rep, or one weight higher than the last time you did the exercise. By constantly progressing with an exercise strengthens not just the body, but also the mind.
Mental toughness is like a muscle
It needs to be worked to grow and develop, it’s about choosing to do the 10th rep when it would be easier to just do nine.
And if you find that you struggle with a particular exercise, see it as a challenge so that each time you go to the gym you ask one of the personal trainers what you need to change to get over the hurdle that you may be struggling with.
This will allow you to develop a greater confidence in your skills and training.
Finally – an area people tend to struggle with in the gym is staying in the present moment
A study by the National Institute of Education found that those who reported a greater sense of mindfulness were more likely to experience a higher state of flow (the feeling of being totally in the moment which has been linked to enhanced performance). These individuals also scored better in terms of control of attention and emotion, goal-setting and positive self-talk.
Our thoughts and internal dialogue create a stress response, it also impacts our behaviour, so visualization is a great way to stay in the present moment.
Say for instance you are doing a squat:-
– Concentrate on how your muscles feel while you drop down into the movement.
– Focus on the specific muscle being worked, like the quadriceps at the front of the legs.
– Focus on your exhalation as you push the weight up from the bottom of the movement.
– Focus on how your muscles feel at the top of the rep, and how they feel as to go into the next rep.
– Feel the difference between relaxed and contracted muscles.
This is a very powerful way of really connecting with what you are doing in your workout.
As Vince Lombardi said “A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”
Connect with Expert Dean Griffiths.
– Relationships between mindfulness, flow dispositions and mental skills adoption: A cluster analytic approach