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Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In the Mind of an Athlete: What we can Learn to Improve our own Fitness

I firmly believe that exercise requires as much mental strength as it does physical.  Last March, I read an interesting article related to this philosophy, "Mind Gains" by Bruce Barcott, which was published in Runner's World magazine. In his article, Barcott discussed the role that sports psychology had in helping runner Kara Goucher (of whom I am a fan) overcome her mental barriers so that she could be successful in her physical feats as a runner.

Goucher is a talented athlete.  At the 2009 World Outdoor Championships, she was the top U.S. finisher in the Women's World Marathon Cup Competition.  In 2008, she turned heads when she placed third in her marathon debut at the NYC Marathon - a performance that was the fastest time ever by an American at the event.

Goucher's running career has not been free of barriers and disappointments, however.  In the past, she has struggled with confidence issues that got the better of her.  And, she has been plagued with physical injuries.  These factors started to make running unenjoyable for her.

According to Barcotts's article, Kara Goucher met with sports psychologist, Darren Treasure, under the advisement of her coach, Alberto Salazar, in March of 2007.  I was intrigued by the insight and advice that resulted from that meeting, as outlined in Barcott's writings.  The lesson that struck me the most was a reference to the fact that elite athletes are willing to go to a 'place' others are not  -  a place that requires endurance and perseverance of the "unbearable" (e.g., long hours of high volume training).

I would like to expand on this point.  In my opinion, this "willingness," is fueled by a belief in one's own abilities - an attitude that scoff's at naysayers by asking "Why wouldn't I be able to do this?".  According to Barcott's article, Goucher struggled with this belief; therefore, Treasure set out to re-establish a positive mindset within her.  To do this, he wanted Goucher to practice self-affirmations (e.g., "I am good enough.") and to recite a key word to motivate her before and during training and racing events (e.g., "persevere").

Practicing self-affirmations and reciting keywords are not just for the elite athlete.  These practices can, and should be, used by recreational athletes and those who are interested in improving their overall health by engaging in regular exercise.  Why?  It's hard to get motivated to do something that you feel you can't accomplish successfully; and, lack of motivation is one of the top excuses people cite for not engaging in regular exercise.

To improve your health, you do not need to exercise at the intensity or at the volume level characteristic of an elite athlete's training regimen, but you do need to get physically active.  Instead of thinking "I can't run 3 miles," think "I can walk for 20 minutes after dinner."  Pick a key word or phrase that you can recite that will keep you going.  Mine is "I am not defeated."

By overcoming mental blocks, you can break down the perceived physical barriers (e.g., I'm not strong enough) that interfere with your goal of improved health.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

Runner's World, March 2010, "Mind Gains," pp. 62-69 and 104, Barcott, B.

USA Track and Field Website

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