Sure, Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world and you may never even touch the dust from his heels, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. There’s an athlete in you (yes, you!), and it’s itching to make a debut. No, you don’t need to take an only-the-pros-know supplement or swap your day job for eight hours of exercise. Training like an athlete is all in your head.
So what do the pros do that you don’t? They…
Visualize – When you have a race or big event coming up, imagine going through the motions to make for a smoother, less anxious day. This is especially useful for triathletes, whose events have so many moving parts. Regardless of the sport, though, the best way to visualize your big day is to shut those peepers – even put on a sleeping mask to block any trace of distraction – and divide the event into sections.
For a marathon, you might think about your pre-race breakfast, what it will be and at what time you should be done eating. Are you going to warm up or stretch before the start? Take note of where you’ll be standing before the gun goes off. See yourself passing certain mile markers along the course. Even visualize how you’re going to grab a cup at the water stations, or maybe you’ll be equipped with your own sports drink. Think about staying relaxed and how you’ll save just enough energy to sprint through the finish line. Every detail you can imagine will help you prepare for the task at hand and make it feel like you’ve been there, done that (even if you haven’t).
Self-motivate – Some people are instilled with the innate ability to get up and go. Others need five alarm clocks, an ice shower and a cheerleading squad to stimulate them. Stop fighting your instincts by repeating a fire-breathing mantra that’s powerful enough to get you in the zone. Repeat over and over (aloud or in your head) before a race or a workout you really don’t want to do.
For a more direct body-mind connection, listen to music. A heart-pumping playlist will, well, get your heart pumping and ready to work. A pre-workout drink can do the same. I recommend choosing an all-natural formula, such as Vega Pre-Workout Energizer.
If you’re driven by competition, looking at images of people who inspire you is a great way to self-motivate. I often flip through a triathlon magazine the night before a race to get my head in the game. Another way to spark that competitive spirit is to peer at a picture of your toughest opponent. You know the saying: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Eat like a champ – It goes without saying, but you must fuel your fitness with food that makes sense for your body and for your goals. Maybe it’s actually good for you to eat gluten, or maybe your muscles are best fueled with plant-based protein. Whatever your diet, remember it’s an individualized entity that might require a group’s worth of attention. If you’re having trouble nailing nutrition, talk to your coach, personal trainer and/or a registered dietitian. My cardinal rule: never leave home without snacks, because who knows when hunger will strike? (Yes, I’m the neurotic mom-type who always has a protein bar in her purse.)
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – Oh, it hurts so good…except when it hurts so badly. Enduring pain may be one of the greatest assets of any athlete. In the triathlon community our motto is, “Embrace the suck.” This doesn’t mean ignoring injuries or prolonged soreness and fatigue. The goal is to get used to working out of your comfort zone. Get used to your heart racing, your mind wandering to bad, bad places and sweat dripping in your eyes. You might lose a toenail or two, but the beat goes on. Just slather on the pain-relieving Neosporin and wrap your little piggies with Hello Kitty Band-Aids (‘cause why not?). At least you won’t feel your feet blistering, and those pretty bandages might make you literally grin and bear any other discomfort.
Do diligent bookkeeping – Unless you count Lebron’s random Instagram videos, it’s obvious he’s not recording every training session. But his coaches are. Since amateur athletes often act as their own coach, you should be keeping a food and fitness journal to look back on your progress. It will also glaringly reveal any room for improvement (speaking from experience), including ditching your midnight ice cream addiction. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you train smarter, which will ultimately get you to perform with more confidence – the core characteristic of any pro athlete.
Sleep on it – Not only do you need to literally rest your body, taking a mental break is imperative. After all that visualizing, motivating, number-crunching and pushing through the pain, you’ve earned the down time. Start with the physical recovery and your mind will quickly follow. I like to replenish my depleted muscles with raw glutamine mixed into a veggie-and-fruit smoothie.
Next to refueling, meditating is one of the best non-exercise exercises you can do for yourself. It takes practice, but anyone can do it. Grab a yoga mat and some free time to clear your head. Breathe deeply and calmly, letting out any negative energy with each exhale. To help keep your focus, repeat your motivating mantra (or a more soothing one) and let the recharging begin.