In my guest posts, I have already examined some of the physical adaptations to exercise, but have neglected to explore the psychological adaptations to training. Training should be aimed to help you accomplish your goal. This means that psychological factors must be accounted for. Difficult training recalibrates your Rating of Perceived Exertion, builds confidence, and improves discipline among other things. Beyond this, you also need to be able to optimally utilize your physical performance gains. This is where visualization can help.
While training provides a stimulus for physical adaptation, it also improves your psychological tolerance to physical exertion. With training, the physical feeling of difficult training becomes commonplace. With enough exposure to this feeling, you no longer hate or fear hard work. You become indifferent to it, or curious about how hard you can really push yourself. When you are aware that your perception of exertion is not accurate, you can reset it properly. Resetting this perception can improve your performance instantly.
Having a high degree of physical ability builds confidence. Instead of fearing an event, an adequately trained person will show up ready to attack the event. Their improved confidence can lead to them doing harder events; events that will push them closer to their potential. They know that their physical and mental ability is equal to or greater than the demands of the event. Even if they don’t have the physical ability to be a top contender for the win, they know that they can grind it out, and the discomfort will be temporary.
Training is more than just workouts. It is doing what it takes to accomplish your goal. The ability to do something, not because it’s immediately fun, but because it is necessary for your long-term health/goal/well being is important for success. Waking up early to train, training when you would like to be drinking with friends, taking an ice shower after your training, and other sacrifices are improving your discipline. This improves your ability to take in a gel or drink when it’s the last thing you want to do. It improves your ability to stay in the race when things aren’t going how you planned. This determination transfers from sports to your career, education and other potential challenges.
Finally, visualization is a useful skill to learn. It helps you capitalize on your physical and mental ability when it really counts. It can reduce nervousness prior to and during an event. Some research also suggests that visualizing success increases people’s motivation to train for their goals. It also transfers to non-athletic pursuits like public speaking, job interviews, etc.
Visualization is essentially imagining success:
Start from the beginning of the event and imagine yourself being successful. Are you breathing hard, are you cold, are you staying hydrated? Including sights, sounds, smells, physical feelings, and other stimuli that you will experience during the event helps connect the visualization and the real event. Visualize success. If you start visualizing failure, start over from the beginning. Done properly, visualization will create a psychological imprint of success. The cool thing is that it tricks your subconscious into believing that you have already been there, done that, and been successful. Visualization reduces your subconscious negative self-talk. I have successfully used visualization prior to climbs on Mt. Hood. When I successfully use visualization I am able to climb more efficiently, and deal with dangerous situations more effectively. Many of my mountain experiences have served as powerful lessons in the importance of a trained mind.
The next time your training session seems impossible, remember that you can also look at it as psychological training. It is recalibrating your rate of perceived exertion, improving your discipline, and your success will breed improved confidence. You can also use training sessions to practice visualization. Visualize yourself crushing your workout beforehand; and again right before your final interval, pull up, or challenging exercise.