When it comes to exercise, it seems your brain has a built-in “Don’t Over Do It” detector. Scientists at the University of Zurich discovered a mechanism in the brain that at slows muscle performance during tiring workouts. That’s good news for endurance sports junkies who want to trick their minds into working out harder and longer.
Angie Spencer, registered nurse and founder of the Marathon Training Academy, has coached thousands of people to the marathon finish line through her training program and podcast. Whether you’re preparing for a race or just aiming to spend a half hour on the elliptical at the gym, her tried-and-true tips will help you overcome mental hurdles that slow your body down.
Set a Goal
Planning to run a 7-minute mile will definitely give you some bragging rights, but having a goal in mind can also keep your mind focused on the “payoff factor” when your body starts to ache. “Your payoff factor is what will keep you going when it gets tough. You are more likely to accomplish your goals if they are specific,” says Spencer. If you’re new to working out, simply telling your friends or Twitter followers that you want to do cardio three times a week will put you in the right frame of mind.
Have a Vision
Visualization is another tool to help you develop mental discipline. By imagining what you want to accomplish, you’ll build mental confidence and get rid of thoughts that make you want to throw in the towel. Spencer recommends envisioning yourself effortlessly crossing the finish line, whether it’s at the end of a 5K, bike tour, or the Olympics games.
Talk to Yourself
Sure, it may seem a little weird to repeat phrases like “Never give up” and “Just do it,” but having a few positive statements in the back of your mind can help you block out negative thoughts. Spencer says that having a go-to mantra will help you stay focused and centered.
It’s no secret that listening to music or watching TV will keep you moving as you sweat away on the elliptical machine at the gym. Another idea to developing mental toughness is to mentally break the course into smaller segments and only focus on one at a time. For example, a 20-mile run can be broken down into four 5-mile segments. It can also help to play counting games. “Keep track of how many cars pass you, how many dogs you see, or how many times you see the color red,” she says.
Of course there are times when you need to listen to the signals your body is giving you. If you feel chest pain, excessive shortness of breath, fever, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vomiting or diarrhea, Spencer says it’s time to call it quits. Otherwise, tap in to your mental discipline. You’ll be amazed at what your body can accomplish.