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When a championship or trophy is on the line, every opportunity for an athlete to practice makes a difference. The same is true of exercise sessions in preparation toward achieving a physical goal. Too many people run through their workout just to check it off as done instead of utilizing the workout to its full potential. Instead, treat the session like elite athletes do – as a rehearsal for the biggest physical performance they’ll do that season.
“Make each day your masterpiece“ – John Wooden
Effort, drive and determination are often attributes associated with athletes pushing through tough practices. Hence, the “no pain, no gain” exercise motto. But enthusiasm, purpose and intense focus may be just as important for progress1. For successful workouts, having a positive attitude, a goal for that session and focused attention are key.
Three Key Factors You Need
Enthusiasm is a cornerstone of the late basketball coach John Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success2. He described enthusiasm as that “which infuses hard work with inspired power.” Without the passion and joy for what you are doing, you can easily slip into worker bee mode to get your workout over with. Enthusiasm is a spark that ignites the willingness to proceed. It’s characterized by feelings of excitement and high levels of enjoyment3. If you’re not loving what you are doing, find another way of doing it or switch up your workouts.
Purpose Personal meaning powers action – it’s caring enough about what you’re doing. Finding your purpose goes beyond the outcome you seek, but the “why” you are striving for it to begin with. Putting your personal values as top priority can lead you to perform better4. Nothing else can take precedent during your exercise session. Purpose is supported by the belief that you are responsible for your own success. Having an identified purpose helps you overcome pressure and stress and to bounce back from losses.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.“ – Bruce Lee
Intense Focus With digital distractions it’s easy for one’s mind to wander off course. Sport psychologists say that being in the moment is crucial for effective practice5. Worry about what you can execute in the present instead of dwelling on the past. Pay greater attention to the action you’re doing instead of smartphone alerts, the environment around you or thoughts of the outcome. Whereas you might get away with reading while doing some low-intensity steady-state cardio, strength-training requires focus6.
Definition: Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement.
All that is not to say that the treadmill setting or weights have to be different or more than your last workout. On the contrary, repetition with good form allows you to improve on quantity or speed later. The TED-Ed video entitled “How to practice effectively…for just about anything” by Annie Bosler and Don Greene has an expanded explanation for the reasons why repeated practice works — one of them is neural processing. You actually create the neural pathway to do an action unconsciously by repeating it until the action becomes reflexive.
Treating your workout like a household chore to get done will likely make the session, well, …a chore. Consider each exercise session a rehearsal – a chance to fix mistakes and move forward toward a winning performance, even if you are the only audience. Embrace what you’re doing, make your purpose a priority and narrow your attention to your present action.
- Developing the Practice Intensity Habit by Larry Lauer, PhD, Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University. AppliedSportPsych.org Accessed July 11, 2019
- Accessed July 11, 2019
- Athlete Engagement in Elite Sport: An Exploratory Investigation of Antecedents and Consequences. K Hodge, C Lonsdale, SA Jackson. The Sport Psychologist, Dec. 2009, 23(4): 186-202
- Purpose Based Identity: Why The Right Mindset Will Determine Your Athletic Success, With Sports Psychologist Ben Houltberg. https://www.hopesports.org/purpose-based-identity/ Accessed July 18, 2019
- Sports: Focus Control by Jim Taylor, PhD, www.PscyhologyToday.com Posted Sept. 3, 2010. Accessed July 11, 2019
- 11 Things I Learned From 20 Years Of Lifting By Dean Somerset. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19547707/lifting-lessons/ Posted Sept. 16, 2015. Accessed July 18, 2019.