The odds of becoming an Olympian at this year’s games was about 1 in
562,400. This is something that could make even the most confident of
athletes want to throw in the towel. What about the rest of us weekend
warriors? For most people the goals are much more modest like to run a
10K or to loose a certain amount of weight. Whether you want to run
your first triathlon, swim in masters' meet or just achieve better
health you can take a page out of the olympic athlete's training book.
The three practices of olympic athletes that set them apart from
other less successful athletes are goal setting, mental training and
periodization training plans. We could talk about specific exercises or
diets, but they are a whole discussion in themselves. Without the
structure of the above practices to create synergy they wouldn't be as
The first practice that is mandatory for any kind of success is good
realistic goal setting. Olympic athletes have a specific goal; to
compete with the best athletes in the world and win. Our goals may be
smaller, but they're just as important in motivating to get us out of
bed each day to exercise. When setting a goal,
keep it simple, specific and, most importantly, reachable. Remind
yourself every single day what your goal is and how you're going to
achieve it. Write in on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom
mirror or your icebox. The Buddha said, "You are what you think." So
take some time to understand what you want to achieve and why you want
to achieve it. Most importantly assign a measurement criteria (i.e.
pounds lost, event time, weight lifted etc) so that your goal can be
quantified. Then repeat the goal in your mind daily. Steven Covey
often says, "It is easy to say no when there is a deeper yes burning
inside." That goal becomes your deeper yes.
Mental skills training – mastering distraction, conquering nerves,
overcoming fears and instilling confidence – has become an accepted and
valued part of an elite athlete’s preparation for competition, with the
likes of Jessica Ennis and Hannah England talking openly about working
with a sport psychologist in their Olympic build-up. “The more important
an event is to the athlete, the more psychological factors can
influence the outcome,” says Dr Victor Thompson, a clinically trained
psychologist who works with athletes of all levels and is himself a
competitive triathlete. Many athletes and coaches have turned east to
find techniques for improving their mental focus. Yoga, buddhism and
different types of meditation are just some methods being used by top
athletes. They can help anyone trying to increase human performance
both physical or otherwise. One common component of all of these mental
techniques is a quality called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the increased ability to be aware and attentive to what is happening in
the moment. The concept of mindfulness embodies being conscious of the present and
not being in an automatic mode. Mindfulness training has a positive impact on
performance, injury prevention, and recovery time in athletes. A
person is mindful when she is so intensely focused in the moment that
she is aware of every sensation and micro-adjustment needed by the body
or situation. Most people let their mind wander to more pleasant
activities than the physicality of the event at hand. These activities
are usually ones with pleasant memories associated with them. The
olympian trains her mind to stay with her activity and she stays
connected to what is happening no matter how unpleasant. The
consequential small adjustments in stride or technique or diet or
alignment all add up to increased performance. When all of these tiny
adjustments are added over a long period of training it really makes a
difference. This "mindfulness" also applies to performance jitters.
Staying focused on the techniques required to win and not the
implications of winning or losing allows a person to perform with more
precision and less errors.
The last major element of training for the olympics is periodisation. Periodisation
has been time proven for success in achieving training goals and has
been used by training coaches and trainers for over 50 years. Research
has confirmed that periodisation has the ability to produce
significantly better results than straight set training or normal
progression type training. A continued variety of training stimulus is
needed in order to progress after the initial adaptation to training has
taken place. The neuromuscular system learns what we are doing in our
training and quickly adapts to any new training stimulus that we give
it. When this adaptation has taken place then progression will halt or
may even reverse. The olympic training program is broken down into long
and short term blocks or periods of time called “cycles.” Breaking a
program down into cycles is helpful for prioritizing your training goals
and applying more focus on needs that support later levels of training.
They also allow intensity to be ratcheted upward and then lessened
and then ratcheted upward again. This way momentary bouts of peak
performance can be reached and tested without spending everything in one
ill advised period of intense training. Over time this allows the
athlete to adjust to progressively more intensive workouts until she is
ready to go for the gold. It is important to remember that
periodisation should always be goal-oriented, so that fitness increases
steadily during the training period and reaches a maximum reasonably in
advance of the athlete's major event.
Remember that whatever physical goal you have you can learn from the
olympians. Set a realistic well defined goal and internalize that goal.
Train your mind to stay focused during training and during your event.
Let go of any preconceived concept of what you might not be able to
do. Be in the moment and be pure "potential." Finally, use
periodisation to stimulate your body to move to progressively higher
levels of performance without injury. Follow these guidelines and you
can win the gold in your own life whatever that may be for you.