Tri Coach Tuesday: Making Hard Workouts Easy (Or At Least Easier)

by Will Murray, D3 Multisport Mental Skills Coach

 

When your brain senses pain, it says to itself, “Bad. Make it stop.” When you are doing high-intensity workouts, your brain says, “Pain. Bad. Make it stop.” But you do hard workouts for a reason—they really, really work to make you fitter, stronger and faster.

One easy way to increase the benefit of your high-intensity workouts is to bring your brain along with you. When your brain understands the purpose of these workouts, the benefits of the workouts and what these workouts look like, this brain of yours will help you and stop trying to get you to stop.

 

Here’s how to do it.

1. **State the purpose of your workout.** If it’s a high-intensity workout intending to raise your upper limit (VO2max), state that. If it’s a recovery workout, say that.
2. **State the benefit of this workout to you.** A high-intensity workout brings you benefit by raising your lactate threshold, improving your VO2max, even recruiting mitochondria, the powerhouses of your cells. A recovery workout helps by mobilizing and clearing metabolic products from previous workouts and preparing you for future workouts.
3. **Rehearse your perfect workout.** Make a movie in your mind’s eye, seeing yourself over there, watching a movie of yourself doing your workout. This “seeing yourself over there” is called a dissociated perspective. The key is the perfect movie, just as you want and intend your workout to go. If you hit any snags, stop the movie, back it up, make it perfect, then run it to the end. You are the director of this movie—direct it to be just as you wish it to go.
4. **Rehearse your workout again**, this time seen through your own eyes and feeling it in your own skin (this is called an associated perspective). Once again, make the movie go perfectly, just as you wish it would go.
5. **Make one more perfect movie, in fast motion.** The entire movie should take only five seconds.

 

How does this work?

First, your brain is really good at seeing patterns. It looks for patterns, just as a good golden retriever looks for what you toss at it to retrieve it. So, when you explain to your brain the purpose and benefits of the workout, your brain looks for those things.

Second, there is an area of your brain that stores memories of events that haven’t happened yet (this area is called Brodmann’s Area). You can install a future memory in this area of your brain of exactly what you want to happen in your workout, and that future memory is what your brain is looking for. Therefore, it isn’t surprised by the discomfort of a hard workout, it sees it as desirable. Instead of objecting to the pain, it expects it.

That’s it. The whole five-step process, once you have practiced it two or three times, will take you less than one minute, maybe even half that. And it will recruit your brain to help you do your workout as prescribed, and once and for all eliminate all the negotiations and objections of your mind when you are doing your perfect workouts. Do this process before every single workout and before every race, and soon it will become as automatic as rinsing your swim goggles, buckling your bike helmet or lacing up your running shoes.

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