This is the number one area that I see 90% of athletes getting wrong.
A simple, effective tool and mindset shift that can change an athletes life and performance.
Endurance athletes are wired to go go go and go and go. It may be ingrained in their personality and habits or maybe involvement in endurance sport transformed them into this non-stop go-getter.
I still remember the day it FINALLY clicked with me.
I’ve been told most of my adult and teen life “you need to slow down”.
I’m a hard wired, A-type, high achieving, superhero wanna-be and you’re telling me to SLOW DOWN? – “Meh – get stuffed” I would say.
They were totally right. The ingredient list of University, two jobs, triathlon training, parties and general life is a recipe for disaster.
I survived, but only just.
And I sit here, 8 years later still feeling the affects of being a person who took on way too much at rapid speed. And I just hit age 30. Not cool.
What my brain couldn’t compute at the time, but what has finally clicked is THIS…
There is a difference between CALMING down and SLOWING DOWN.
Can you see it?
Of course my superhero self didn’t want to back off from all the great things I was doing, I loved them all. But later down the track my body gave me an ultimatum because I didn’t back off, slow down or calm down. And so, I experienced two years of horrible health consequences that have taught me a HARD lesson.
Personally, I would relate slowing down to being less productive, being less successful, being slower at swim, bike, running. So of course I didn’t want to.
Calming down however is a different story. Because what if you could do all your superhero activities each week, in a mindful, present and happy nature?
The result would be a body that feels calmer, happier, stronger, resilient and healthy.
All that is required is a shift in the way you go about your week and the THOUGHTS that you have along the way.
Is getting stuck in traffic inconvenient for 90% of people? I would say yes.
Is getting stuck in traffic STRESSFUL for everyone? Not necessarily. Because it’s all a matter of perception and pre-disposition to experience stress, physically and mentally.
I conduct seminars on a number of performance and wellness topics, so the content varies. HOWEVER there is one slide that you will find in every seminar that I conduct;
“Your body does not know the difference between physical and mental stress”
Stress- physical, mental, perceived or actual; is processed by your body in the same way. Which is why, even the most zen endurance athlete can experience the affects of rampant stress hormones, namely cortisol. The result of this can be inflammation, lack of recovery, high heart rates, lack of adaptation, poor gut health and digestion, susceptibility to illness and poor weight management.
To look after our physical and mental well being while training for endurance is critical, but often overlooked in the pursuit of performance.
“The only time fitness comes before health is in the dictionary.” – Brett Jones
I’m not going to tell you to stop training, to stop achieving, or to stop being productive. Because I wouldn’t listen to that advice either. However, you can still respect your superhero self and activities by bringing in more CALM and presence into your life, while simultaneously kicking butt.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to sit cross legged for one hour while burning incense in a corner. There are simple and effective strategies that we can all implement seamlessly into our lives.
Here are 7 ways to bring more calm into your day, all while being your superhero self.
1. Waking & morning rituals
The way in which you awaken your body into a new day will set the tone for the hours that proceed that first alarm or eye lid flutter. Do you have one of those alarms that is loud, harsh and abrupt to ensure you wake up? It’s so startling that it gives you no other option than to jump out of bed and start running from the boogie man? You may have relied on this crazy loud alarm up to this point – it’s time to switch your alarm tone with something more calming to bring you out of a slumber with a sense of calm and peaceful energy (yes, this is possible even when training for an Ironman). Utilising light is a great way to naturally re-set your melatonin levels if you need to rise before the sun does. Check out a great devise called “the wake up light”.
Once you’re up and about, spend sometime cuddling your loved ones, animals or giving back to yourself with a cup of tea and some stretching before hitting the pavement hard for training.
2. Time management
I know it’s a skill that doesn’t always come naturally but it is a skill that can be learnt – so there are no excuses. If you want to train for an endurance event, work, have a family, a social life and have some relaxation time – time management needs to be a priority. A well planned day, week and month will ensure you minimise the tendency to rush and be stressed by lateness. It will provide you with the opportunity for consistent training, which is the key to performance changes. The key to good time management:
don’t over commit
always allow extra time for travel
if you’re super busy & the diary is stacked to the brim – schedule in relaxation and down time
communicate your life movements to your coach so they can adjust your program to suit life commitments.
Such a simple concept that is essentially life changing. I’ve worked with athletes where this was the ONLY element of their life and training we changed. This resulted in a more positive outlook on life, their performance and racing – I also saw changes in their aerobic efficiency and breathing.
You can implore mindfulness habits throughout your day or even in training. It’s just about drawing yourself into the present moment to focus on what is NOW. What do you feel? What can you sense? What do you smell? What do you notice? If mindfulness training is new for you, I recommend an app called 1Giant Mind – it will help guide you through effective mindfulness practise.
Your breath is the key to enhanced aerobic and endurance performance, but again, such a simple tool that goes under the radar. But more than endurance performance your breath is also the key to unlock a calm state of mind and body. In a stressed state, your breathing will become restricted to your upper chest. This type of breathing keeps your body in an alarm state. All it takes to calm your entire system are some simple deep belly diaphragmatic breaths. This style of breathing during your training will also make you a more efficiency endurance athlete. Win win. Give it shot by checking in with yourself throughout the day. In the car, at your desk, right now – relax your shoulders – let your belly ‘flop’ out and take nice calming breath. To integrate this into your training – start my practising during your warm up and cool down when intensity is lower.
5. Night time rituals
Just like your morning rituals, your night time rituals will dictate your quality or quantity of sleep which in turn will affect how you wake up the next morning. Think grumpy athlete versus motivated athlete! Backlit devices such as TV’s, IPADs and phones will disturb your melatonin levels mainly due to the blue light, impacting your sleep. Switch your screens for books, a light walk, legs up the wall or mindfulness activity or you can even buy blue light blocking glasses to enjoy your favourite TV shows before bed. If it’s an absolutely necessary to work or study on your computer prior to bed (try and minimise this with good time management) you can install an application called f.lux to minimise the blue light exposure. You can even get light globes more suited for bedrooms to assist with quality sleep
This is the simplest thing you can do right now is turn off app, social media and email notifications on your phone or devices. This constant stimulation is a contributing factor to the stress that our bodies and minds are being harmed by in this modern world. If its truly important – you will check it yourself when it suits you. No excuses, turn them off, NOW.
7. Stop the rush.
Rushing from one task to the next creates an environment for stress hormone production. Plan your time well, say no to things that will stretch you, stop procrastinating on social media which then means you have to rush around to be on time. Simplify life and watch your enjoyment and performance sky rocket.
To be honest, I don’t expect many of you to read this article in it’s entirety, so for those of you who made it thus far – I’m proud of you! Calming down can seem like such a fluffy action step to take in the driven and precise world of endurance performance. But time and time again, athletes have shown me that calming down can be the key to unlocking performance gains, while achieving a level of life satisfaction and balance, foreign to most people. I’ld love to hear from you if you have experienced the results of calming down on your performance.