Men's Health

Mind Training for Athletes

I'm sure everyone has experienced it: You’re running, cycling or playing tennis for a reasonable time and while you know that your body is able to carry on, your will to continue is being sapped somewhere in your mind.

It's then that all those doubts and questions start arising: "Why am I doing this?" "Aren't I just wasting my time?" "I could just stop here and go home and have a beer."

Suddenly all those well-intentioned plans start falling by the wayside and your 10K run becomes a 5K or your 50 lengths becomes 30. So what's happened? What's changed in those few moments?

The answer: Your mind has changed.You don't have to be working out for long before you realize that it's not just your body that you have to train; you also have to do something called mind training for athletes. Ask any successful athlete and he will tell you that winning that race or completing that goal is not just about having the physical strength, but also having the mental determination to continue when the going gets tough.

So how do you learn to control yourself? More than that, how can mind training for athletes help you succeed?

Here are three suggestions on mind training exercises that you can incorporate into your training regime:

1. Imagine Yourself in Action

This is an easy and natural practice for most people, but psychologists have shown that it can actually help you improve your skill. They did a study with people learning darts, making some people actually practice playing while having other people only imagine that they were practicing.

As strange as it may sound, the people who only imagined that they were practicing improved at playing nearly as much as those who actually played. Now I'm not suggesting that you give up your sport and just sit in the living room thinking about it. However, consider the potential of adding an extra half hour to your workout that’s dedicated to mind training after your body is exhausted.

2. Imagine Yourself Struggling

Most of us have no problem imagining ourselves crossing that finish line to cheers of friends and admirers. In fact, this fantasy can often be hard to stop. What might help you more, however, is to practice the mind training exercise of imagining yourself struggling. Take the time to understand that it's not going to be an easy battle.

Ask yourself those questions that you will ask yourself when you are struggling. Answer them there and then while your mind is not troubled by aches, pains and tiredness. That way, when you really are in difficulty, you can think back and silence those doubting voices with clarity and confidence.

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3. Learn to Stop Thinking

Oddly enough, it can often be thinking too much that gets in the way of success. Most people have experienced "the zone," those times when your body reacts to a situation without your brain getting in the way. The internal monologue shuts down for a while and everything seems to function in perfect harmony. Many people don't realize that this is a skill you can cultivate.Try taking some time to sit in a quiet place every so often and just concentrate on yourself; your breathing is a good place to start.

Every time you find yourself getting distracted by a thought, take a moment to note what you were thinking about, and then go back to concentrating on yourself again. The samurai in Japan learned the importance of this kind of exercise, making them some of the most fearsome warriors in history.

For the Love of the Game

While brain exercises are never going to replace rigorous training, they can often help to augment your program, giving you that added edge right when you need it most. Incorporated mind training into a good workout program can really make a difference in not just your performance, but your enjoyment of the sport.