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Mental Training Techniques to Reach your Potential

By Sofia Marin | In General, Optimal Performance | on April 21, 2016

How many hours per week do you spend training your body? How about training your mind? Often it’s our minds, not our bodies, that will take us to the next level in athletic performance.

Check out our 9 mindset and mental training techniques below and learn how to use sports psychology to improve confidence, motivation, and help you reach your true potential both on and off the bike.

9) Perception Stretchers

Perception Stretchers can help you identify and transcend any self-limiting beliefs holding you back from achieving your goals. These basic truths allow us to expand our interpretation of experiences and frame them in a new light.

Here are a few to get started:

  1. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
  2. Limitations are temporary.
  3. Events have no meaning except what you give them.
  4. Getting better is more important than winning.
  5. The more you expect from a situation, the more you will achieve.

 

8) Breathing for Relaxation & Body Scan

Deep breathing is a simple way to quiet the mind and relax the body, bringing you into the present moment. Releasing unnecessary stress and tension will undoubtedly improve your cycling performance and your life. You can try deep breathing and a quick body scan on the bike to bring down your heart rate and relax tense areas like the neck and shoulders.

Breathing Exercise: Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Try a few moments of continuous breathing: Inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and repeat. Scan through your body head to toe and consciously relax areas holding tension.

 

7) Positive Visualization

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Strategy, focus and training come together for Jungho Kim who won Sea Otter Circuit Race last week.

Visualization is an essential component of reaching your performance goals. Through visualizing positive scenarios, you condition your brain, nervous system, and body to perform the way you want it to. In fact, researchers have found that visualization produces firings along the neural pathways used during the physical activities you are visualizing. Meaning you are essentially “priming” the muscles and mind for the task ahead.

Be sure to keep visualization positive, detailed, and personal – about you. Visualization takes time; ease into it. Techniques can be used before, during and after workouts. Start out by trying 5-minute sessions and build up to 10-minute sessions multiple times per week.

Visualization Exercise:  Set a timer for 5 minutes. To begin, sit in a comfortable position and take the first minute to close your eyes, take several deep breaths and relax fully into the moment.

Imagine what you want to accomplish while training or racing your bike. Perhaps you imagine yourself as a part of the leaders’ group, feeling very strong on a climb. Feel yourself actually living the experience.

Begin to tune into each of the five senses, one at a time. For 15-20 seconds, tune into a specific detail of the experience. After 15-20 seconds, open your eyes and take a deep breath to integrate the feeling. Then close your eyes and return to the visualization, tuning into more specific details.

Feel your legs, strong and powerful and notice your cadence. Notice your breathing. What do you see? What do you hear? What taste is in your mouth? What do your handlebars feel like, how about the wind on your face? What emotions are you experiencing? Imagine the feelings of pain you will endure, and also the feeling of confidence that you can sustain this pain longer than anyone else. Take in all the sensations of the moment and soak up the positive feelings of riding at your absolute best.

 

6) Positive Self Talk

Tell yourself positive statements about yourself frequently. Everyone struggles with negative thinking and an inner critic. Begin by simply noticing these negative thoughts or self-sabotaging statements. Don’t resist the thoughts, simply acknowledge their presence and use positive and powerful affirmations to replace them.

For example: When you’re thinking “This hurts too much, I should give up. I suck;” instead say to yourself “I have what it takes. I am good enough. This is the feeling connected to getting stronger.”

 

5) Performance Cues

Head Coach Dana Williams used mental training techniques and self-talk to ride solo 10 laps to win Sea Otter Circuit Race.

An efficient way to boost our confidence and performance is through Performance Cues. These can be simple words or gestures that trigger positive feelings. Reflect back to a time when you felt amazing and accomplished. Find a word or gesture to associate with that vivid memory. Then tap into these positive emotions by repeating that word to yourself in training and racing.

For example, at the start of a race, you might use the word “Breathe” to calm your nerves, relax your body, and keep you poised.  When the race or effort becomes difficult to endure, you could use the cue “Believe” to remind yourself you are fully capable. Alternatively, you could use the word “Fight” and/or a gesture like a fist to draw on energy reserves when you need explosive power, like a final sprint to the line.

Tip: Tape 1-3 performance cues to your stem to serve as a visual reminder. Don’t be afraid to keep it on for race day.

 

4) Reframe the Unexpected as Advantageous

The unexpected is to be expected in bike racing. With so many factors outside of our control, it’s important to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and roll with the punches. See if you can reframe a disruptive occurrence as a potential asset or advantage. For example, if a race is neutralized, take advantage of that moment to rest and refuel. You can even tell yourself you are lucky to be neutralized for a moment. If it’s raining or exceptionally hot, you might remind yourself that many racers will easily give up in adverse conditions, whereas you are someone who refuses to give up and can use the conditions to your advantage.

 

3) Pain as Effort

Suffering

Embrace pain. It’s important to welcome the “good pain” of hard effort in cycling. Good pain doesn’t seriously damage your body. It is only by pushing yourself to new levels of discomfort that change will occur. When you notice the sensation of pain, shift your attention to your breathing or cadence and let the discomfort fade into the background. You can also register pain as an indicator of effort level, rather than suffering. You could say: “Now I know exactly how hard I’m working. My body is feeling exactly as it should be.” Ultimately, you are in control of the pain. Trust pain is temporary and will pass.

 

2) Detach from Outcome

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In cycling, it’s all about the process. Every training ride and every race is a learning opportunity. Remember to focus on what you have control over – yourself. Some athletes are ego-driven, focused on results and outcome. Other athletes are process driven, focused on the process of improving day by day. Many of us are a bit of both.

However, keep in mind that the most successful pro cyclists are primarily process-driven. They are typically students of the sport, lifelong learners of cycling. Instead of worrying about specific results, they focus their energy on process, technique, and mastery. They measure their success not by comparison to others, but by focusing on themselves and the small gains along the way. This ultimately leads to superior results and a long-lasting career and enthusiasm for the sport.

 

1) Celebrate Gains

Cycling is a hard sport with low probabilities of winning. It’s essential that we celebrate our gains along the way, no matter how small or large. Were you able to do all your workouts this week? Wonderful! Did you hit your power numbers in a workout? Nice work! Did you have courage to try a new tactic or strategy in a race? Way to go!

Cycling is a constant learning experience. We must make mistakes in order to learn. If you can begin to shift your focus to effort rather than result, you will experience more enjoyment and success in the sport. Giving 100% effort is a gain. Trying something new is a gain. Right now, you have a choice to focus on what went well or what went poorly today. Taking time to celebrate your achievements will help you move forward in the direction of your goals.

Having fun with Achieve athlete Aria Kiani, and Coaches Scott and Dana.

 

Athlete Resources:

The Mental Edge, Kenneth Baum

Why we Race: The Psychology of Winning, CyclingTips 

Meditation for Beginners, Headspace 

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