Following on from my last post (for CXP Zen) where we covered Mindset and Its Role Regarding Your Recovery, I knew ahead of time that I wanted to approach things from a different angle; one pertaining to *Performance* and how you can improve yours.
Now – as always – you know I like to use “The Elite” as my standard to look up to; I mean, who better to emulate than the people in the world that are the absolute BEST in their fields!?
Whether we’re talking about Olympic Athletes – throwing javelin and shotput, jumping at unimaginable height/length, blitzing down or around the Track, shattering records in the pool or landing a triple-axel off a high beam…
If we’re referring to NBA players working on their long range; Rugby players practicing their conversions / penalty kicks; Taekwondo practitioners breaking boards with their hands & feet… We could even be talking about Royal Marines kicking down doors during Room Clearing exercises; or the SAS ‘tabbing’ throughout the “Fan Dance”.
It doesn’t matter what kind of training we’re talking about – there are basic principles that can be applied to them all, and the Elite know this, and practice this EVERY day!
One of these principles is: Positive Mental Attitude
My best example of this comes from our boys in the Green Berets – the Royal Marines; one of their creeds is, “Cheerfulness through Adversity”. Now, in their situation, it is a little more extreme – they’re talking about staying positive in a war-zone when bullets and mortars are raining down on their position…
But to be fair, the mentality is one of the critical factors that determine whether they even earn their Green Berets in the first place! All through training, if they can’t remain calm, collected and avoid a defeatist mentality, they won’t make it through.
This doesn’t just apply to the Military though.
Athletes [of all disciplines] must steel themselves against the inevitable failures that they will endure as they strive for success. To get hot-headed and ill-tempered just from practice will only result in possible harm being done – either to themselves or to a partner in the field.
For example, if someone doing Taekwondo gets too annoyed by not being able to break a board with their punch, they could try too hard [with poor technique] and break their fist instead. Or if they’re practicing Kyorugi (the one-on-one [padded] fighting/sparring you see in the Olympics) and get p*ssed off that their partner keeps landing the same heel hook, they could go ahead and land a counter-move too aggressively and inadvertently do some serious damage.
A gymnast unable to execute their double-back-somersault could overdo it and have a terrible landing with a nasty injury as a result.
But okay… what about us mere mortals, huh? In the gym – just trying to “keep fit” – not competing to be the best in the world… Well, same thing applies. You’ve gotta stay positive – even if Jack & Kimberley are kickin’ everyone’s butts in that HIIT class; try to keep up, and you could strain something. You have to just focus on yourself and your effort. Your results!
If you’re training solo and trying to lift that heavy-a$$ bar off the floor, but it just won’t budge… Be humble, take the weight down a little, and try again. It’s better to lift a lighter weight with perfect form, than risk losing to your own ego by hauling a weight you can’t actually manage, using lousy form, and ending up with a torn lower back muscle (or worse) as a result.
Having a Positive Mental Attitude really will pay off dividends – not only in the gym (or the sport/discipline you’re passionate about), but in life!
The next thing I want to look at here is: Visualization
This is a technique used by the vast majority of Pro Athletes; and at a Youth Level, it is something that the savvy Coaches out there will implement to prep their young prodigies for taking their game to the next level.
See, I first heard about this back in my early days at Boarding School; I remember watching Jonny Wilkinson out on the fields practicing his kicking skills (at the tender age of 17-18yrs old). He would spend hours out there (after Team practice) going over and over his kicks again and again. But it was his “pre-kick-ritual” that caught my attention…
He would carefully place the ball – ready for the kick – then pace back three lengthy strides, pace to the right three broad strides, and then sit into a partial squat position with his hands cupped in front of him, standing side-on to the posts. From there he would “size up” the kick. Taking a good several seconds to analyse the distance, the wind speed, the ball angle, the power needed to boot the oval ball precisely between the posts from whatever distance or angle he needed.
He was *visualizing* his goal. In his mind, he’d be playing through the scenario of performing the kick and watching it fly between the posts. In a mere matter of seconds, he has seen it happen in his head, and so, now it’s time to make it happen.
Jonny Wilkinson went on to become one of the best Kickers the world has ever seen! Playing for domestic teams both in England and in France, but also playing for both England’s National Team as well as the British Lions. He developed his skills from an early age, honed a discipline to his training that was second to none, and used the basic concept of Visualization to give himself an edge over the competition.
When I’m out Bouldering I try to visualize the route I’ll take while scaling the wall – what grip I’ll need, whether I’ll have to use a more sophisticated technique like a ‘kneebar’, and I evaluate ahead of approaching the wall.
If I’m practicing Hapkido I have to run through where to locate a pressure point, which direction to move the opponent’s body (in order to flow with their force and momentum), and how to carefully execute the lock/hold/throw without breaking the other person’s joint – clearly, in practicing with a partner it is vital so as to avoid a disastrous outcome.
When I’m standing inside a Hex-Bar (or “Trap Bar”), ready to pick up a hefty load, I go through hand-placement on the bar – too far forward or backward, and the bar could whack me in the legs as I go to lift. I play through the motion of driving through the heels, lifting through the legs, keeping my back from rounding, lifting the chest and slightly retracting the shoulders at the top of the lift. When I’m confident from my “mental run through”, I go ahead and lift.
Look at Steph Curry or Damian Lilliard (from the NBA) – these guys make it “rain 3’s” all night long because they’ve spent hours making those shots from every possible angle around the perimeter. It has become second nature through endless hours of practice. Their Motor Skills have become so refined that how they perform seems somewhat effortless. But they visualize the angle, the arc of the ball required, the power needed to reach the hoop and… Swoosh!!
In a way, we could liken this visualizing technique to that of being “In the Zone”. However, I would argue that ‘the Zone’ is slightly different, but just as important to implement to your Training.
See, being in the Zone is all about *Focus* – blocking out the noise and distraction, being present in the moment, and focusing all your effort to the task at hand. And while this is conducive to Visualization, and complements it very well, they are very different from one another.
The Zone is perhaps something that you would do well to discover for your Fitness endeavours also. Reason being – it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in the false thoughts of what is or isn’t going on around you, and your performance can suffer as a result.
One thing I always do with my Clients is – without directly addressing it – I try to *create* that Zone for them. I get that it can be an uneasy experience when you feel like all eyes are on you. What if you screw up? What if you can’t lift as much as everyone else? What if you trip on the Box Jump? So many “What if’s” can easily spawn and spread through your mind like a virus, but you have to block them out. Get out of your own head, and ignore everyone around you.
After all, what does it really matter if someone is watching you? If they judge you for having a lighter Bench Press than themselves. If they chuckle because you can’t actually perform Pull Ups without bands. It’s not about them. It’s about you. Your progress. Your results.
You have to get in the Zone – focus on what you’re capable of. Accept that some people may stare, but you don’t need to acknowledge it. Accept that you may be weaker [right now] than others around you, but that if you stick at it you can (and will) get stronger, faster, leaner and better!
When Athletes get in the Zone, they score that winning Touch Down in the Championship Game, they nail that Arm Bar in the Title Fight, they land that “impossible” Dismount to win the Gold.
So, you need to ensure that you always maintain a Positive Mental Attitude throughout your Training, as well as when you’re Competing (if you take it to that level). Visualize that winning move before you make it. Get in the Zone and soar higher and higher. Your performance WILL improve, and you’ll actually find that the ‘ripple effect’ touches many more aspects of your life than you thought possible.
Guys, I hope that inspires you to try different things when it comes to how you *think* about your performance. I mean… if it works for the world’s Elite, then why wouldn’t it work for you? Having the right mindset is a powerful tool, and it just requires you to make a simple decision: the decision to look at things differently, react to them positively, and be forward thinking.
That’s all for today’s post. I hope you do decide to try implementing these mental skills into your everyday life – be it in the gym, or out shooting hoops on the court, or in some way that translates to other aspects of your life.
I’ll catch you in the next article, but until then, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO