Everyone has experienced the unexpected pop-ups that appear on your computer screen. Like the ‘Get Ripped With one Easy Step!’ or any other company telling you the far-fetched, nearly impossible achievement that every American strives for requires no work. For those who have restrained from hitting the ‘x’ in the upper-left hand corner long enough to read these unwanted advertisements, you know they are geared towards athletes and businessmen alike who share one desire. Get muscular.
Every successful athlete works out in some way, whether it’s going on a run or lifting weights at the local gym. Not many athletes, however, train to strengthen their minds.
“Most people never live up to their potential,” says Atlanta sports psychologist Dr. James Millhouse, “athletes undershoot what they are capable of and then live down to what they believe is true.” Dr. Millhouse has been working with athletes ranging from middle school age to Olympic medalist skill level since 1974. He expressed his beliefs on how important mental strength is when preparing for a race. “It’s impossible to be nervous unless you’re thinking incorrectly. Focus on the process, do not focus on the outcome.” This slight change in a pre-race routine can relax your muscles and result in a win.
When training, the mind controls how much past your comfort zone you’re going to venture. Top physical condition will never be reached unless you are willing to hit a wall, or burn out, in training. You have to hit the wall to give yourself the opportunity to get over it. Practicing mental skills and strengthening your mind will increase your opportunity for optimal relaxation, and most importantly, successful races.
Dr. Millhouse discussed how often the significance of mental toughness flies under the radar, “Every single person that learned mental skills got faster. Yet, when I talk at high schools or even colleges I almost never find anyone who knows anything about mental training.” He went on to provide several ways to enhance mental awareness and strength: positive thinking, placing no limits, and thinking about the process rather than the outcome, just to name a few.
“Most runners carry more tension in their body than they really need,” Dr. Millhouse says, “the more you relax yourself the less oxygen you will use and the more you’ll have in store for running. Relaxed muscles are quicker than tense muscles.” Dr. Millhouse, who works with young runners on this very technique and uses these skills himself, suggested athletes pick up a routine named Jacobson Progressive Muscle Relaxation (JPMR).
JPMR involves finding a comfortable location, tensing then relaxing every muscle group in your body individually. This will train your mind and muscles to relax during a race and provide each muscle group the familiarity of relaxation.
Build a training routine and insert time for working on the mental skills that will improve your performance. When simply asked how important is mental toughness, Dr Millhouse answered, “The athletes with superior mental skills are the ones that get it done.”