No, you don’t have the machines, or the group energy, or the coach encouraging you.
So is that going to be your excuse? It might be harder in some ways and different now that you aren’t going to the gym.
This doesn’t mean you can’t keep exercising. Use this as a chance to explore the fitness and strength you’ve been building in the gym in new ways. You’ve already been training in the gym, so now it’s time to get outside and play.
During the coronavirus outbreak, you can combine the benefits of the outdoors with exercise while keeping a responsible distance from people and improving your mindset.
Boost Your Mood
People are experiencing new stresses daily with Covid-19. Stress and isolation like that aren’t great for the psyche.
One solution, training outside, has been proven to boost your mood.
When it comes to outdoor exercise, the first thing that pops into most people’s heads is usually running.
And if you love running, that’s great—but if you don’t, there’s a whole lot more for you to discover.
Whether it’s your own yard, a park, or larger greenspaces and nature, everyone can find something fun and challenge outdoors.
The key to finding the right outdoor workout for you is to engage.
Listen to your body and how you’re feeling. Find what enjoyable for you to do. Look for ways to and play to your workout. Try new things, vary it through the week, involve your kids as well.
Tips For Training Outside
Ease into It. Outdoor exercise is adaptable to everyone’s level of fitness, but it might be different than what you’re used to in the gym.
Exercise early. It’s easier to find excuses to avoid exercising outdoors at the end of the day. In the morning you have more energy, the air is generally cleaner, the temperature tends to be lower. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the post-workout benefits of less stress and a better mood throughout the day.
Avoid temperature extremes. Your body adapts to colder or warmer weather, but you should still avoid exercising outside in extreme heat or cold if not acclimated to it. In warmer temperatures, watch for signs of overheating.
Don’t get burned. The sun is good for you, but too much sun is not. Protect yourself with a good sunscreen. You can also wear sunglasses and a maybe a hat.
Drink enough water. “Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water in the 30 minutes before exercising outdoors. Then steady hydration through the workout should suffice. Remember that you can lose water through sweating even in cooler weather.
Make outdoor exercises part of your lifestyle
Many of us are conditioned to think of exercise as something we do in a gym. With the gym closed and a need to stay away from groups, it’s a good time for training outside.
Get back to nature and start adding some outdoor variety to your training routine even when the gym opens back up.
In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Research has shown that at the professional level in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
Off-season and In-season training are akin to opening an ‘athletic bank account.’ The off-season is where athletes make the most ‘deposits’ in the form of strength training, conditioning, and physical preparation work. Competition is where athletes make the most ‘withdrawals.’ In-season training allows athletes to keep their bank accounts top-upped so that they don’t ‘run out of money’. When they become overdrawn it results in fatigue and potential injury.
Even though this post is not about scare tactics per se, examining point four further, is important. Athletes and parents alike need to understand what actually happens to their body when they stop training in-season.
Just Like Post Number One, If You Don’t Use it, You Do Lose It
In sport science, the technical term for loss of strength, power, speed, and conditioning is known as involution. In other words, when resistance and speed training stop, the body will, revert to its former self.
To illustrate, let’s consider where a young athlete’s performance gains derive from. Structured strength and conditioning training generates a host of physiological changes their body undergoes as a function of the training process. These include (but are not limited to):
Increased neural connections: Strength training is ‘brain training.’ By learning how to lift weights safely, an athlete can make better neural connections within the motor cortex of the brain. This creates better synapses as well, which leads to enhanced focus, and mental clarity. This is why so many studies have actually linked strength training to better grades and performance in the classroom as well!
Increased neuromuscular coordination: Like the brain, resistance training allows athletes to create new neural connections, which means more muscle is activated in the body to cut, jump, sprint, block, tackle, etc. as well as this muscle being activated in a more coordinated fashion. Strength training makes young athletes move better and with much higher degrees of muscular coordination.
Increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue: Through conditioning and strength training, athletes are better able to uptake and use oxygen in the body, which fuels muscle contractile activity. In other words, they can run and compete at higher speeds without succumbing to fatigue!
Improved body composition: Weight training and conditioning leads to reductions in body-fat, which means athletes can move and compete more effectively and efficiently. Reductions in body-fat are linked with better health markers and declines in disease risk all-together.
Given the multitude of positive performance benefits, the problem with stopping training during the in-season is that all these incredible adaptations can become reversed! Yes, all those neural connections that the athlete made as a function of resistance training can become undone with time.
Hence involution can be seen as the technical term describing the physical processes outlined in part 2 of this installment, which is effectively what happens when an athlete begins to ‘spend money from their bank account’ without ‘depositing’ any more through in-season training.
The good news, however, even in as little as one session per week an athlete can maintain all the positive performance gains listed above!
Hence in-season training takes on an even higher degree of significance as it allows athletes and parents to ‘safe-guard’ all the hard work that went into a successful off-season program.
As a result of in-season training, it is now appropriate that the four essential ‘rules’ of in-season training are identified.
Train heavy but at a reduced volume: Many athletes and even coaches mistakenly believe that athletes have no business lifting heavier weights in-season. Unfortunately, this attitude leads lots of athletes to sub-optimize their in-season program by lifting weights that aren’t heavy enough to make them better or even maintain the progress they’ve made up to this point in time in the season. Hence, involution can also happen if an athlete is lifting or training hard enough to stress their bodies! However, by doing fewer sets or even taking a little bit of weight off (i.e., not exceeding 85-90% of max-effort for a majority of a program) athletes are able to train hard, but not encounter the fatigue and soreness that will detract from the competition. Hence, training hard and smart through reduced volume represents a winning strategy!
Focus on Recovery: As stated in a previous installment, the game can take a lot out of a young athlete’s body. Microtrauma, soreness, and dehydration can lead to significant performance decrements. Hence, focusing even more on sleep, nutrition, and hydration will go a long way toward recovering from the stresses of in-season training, competition, and practice.
Address aches and pains before they become full-out injuries: The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is as old-fashioned as the knee-high socks, and leather football helmets are worn by athletes when the saying first took hold. Truthfully, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If an athlete feels significant pain in the weight room or at practice, I tell them to seek out a qualified athletic training or sports medicine professional. Furthermore, a qualified coach will ensure athletes use exercises that minimize stress and strain on the joints during the in-season period, as ligaments and tendons take even longer to recover then muscles.
Don’t Be Reluctant to ‘Live to Fight Another Day’: A standing rule I have for my athletes is that if they can’t go harder, pack it in. In other words, even with reduced training volumes, focused recovery efforts and exercise selections that minimize stress and strain on the joints, if they can’t put in 100% effort in the weight room then that is their body telling them they need to rest, so instead they should go home, recover, and try things again the next day. The most successful athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies and train hard and smart!
In closing, in-season training is one of the single most crucial time, and energy investments an athlete can make in ensuring continued success. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the superiority of in-season training to non-training, with research likewise showing that a lack of training leads to significant reductions in performance, as well as a simultaneous increase in injury risk. As a result, a robust in-season training program is one that allows athletes to continuously ‘top-up’ their ‘athletic bank account’ by utilizing a systematic approach that strikes the right balance between hard-work, intensity, and recovery.
If a young athlete is truly serious about gaining a performance edge that in-season training is simply non-negotiable.
In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:
One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
for athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in significant increases in injury rates.
For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not use in-season strength training!
Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from their best players throughout the season!
Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.
Call to Action:
As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!
Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution for in-season training.
Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved crucial for a multitude of reasons:
In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Research has shown that at the professional level, in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training! For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the difference?”
Understanding Your Bank Account
In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’
With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.
In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.
As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the competitive season to maximize performance!
Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the following:
Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times and straight-line speeds.
Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery times so that athletes can go harder for longer.
Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention, and detail can go into the off-season program.
How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In the Process!
Given that in-season training is all about putting as much physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is where an athlete makes their withdrawals.
For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper nutrition to heal.
When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to ‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder, for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and instead become more susceptible to injury.
However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with competition means it is characterized by the following:
Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises, athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However, certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will feature, albeit in a reduced format.
In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account, off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’ of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season long.
Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.
By: Tim Hanaway – Sports Performance Director – Velocity Norwood
Strength, in my opinion, is the single most important physical attribute that an athlete can possess as strength is literally the precursor to all forms of athleticism. Want to get instantly faster, more agile, quicker, more explosive, and maintain more endurance? Strength training will significantly enhance all of them. Adopting a ground-based, functional strength-training program that utilizes upper and lower-body, compound movements is genuinely the key to athletic success and longevity in my humble opinion.
The biggest challenge with strength and power training is that all the amazing benefits we associate with it from a scientific standpoint (i.e. increases in force production, speed of muscle contractions, inter-muscular coordination, enhanced ground-reaction time, etc.) are in fact reversible. Yes, you read that, right! All the hard work and performance gains an athlete makes during the off-season, or pre-season can, in fact, go away when this type of training is not maintained for prolonged periods.
The realities of In-season:
The above fact is one that I find often takes young parents and athletes by surprise. “How could this be?” A father might ask, as they then explain that their son or daughter plays for 2 travel teams, a rec team and their school team. “Surely, all that practice and hard-work would go a long way towards enhancing fitness?”
The truth is that more often than not, practices are simply not focused or intense enough in-season to stress a young athlete’s body to develop or maintain strength or fitness levels.
To illustrate this point, let me give you some perspective: A head coach is more often than not focused on their own “one thing” during the season, which is winning. Simply put, priorities change once the season starts! Head coaches are instead more focused on tactics, plays and improving all the areas of need highlighted in the previous week’s game, compared to fitness and strength gains.
In using basketball as an example, if the team didn’t get enough rebounds during the last game, you better believe the coach is going to have the athletes perform lots of ‘box out’ drills in order to re-enforce technique and try to remedy the situation. Likewise, if the team’s offense wasn’t functioning properly, chances are that same coach is going to spend a significant amount of time in practice that week walking through/going over all the plays at a moderate pace/intensity in order to “iron out the kinks” and fix any confusion.
So what does this mean from an observational/practical standpoint? Well, it most likely means that the 5 starters on the team will go through the plays at a moderate intensity (at best), with the remaining 10 players standing around and watching from the sideline for prolonged periods of time. Yes, the truth is, go to any team practice in-season and chances are that you are going to witness a significant amount of standing around, talking, and direction from the coach, with much less time dedicated to all-out scrimmages or drills attempting to simulate game-day conditions, compared to pre-season activity. This same trend is far from uncommon and readily identified within a scientific study conducted by Wellman and colleagues (2007) that looked to compare the differences between pre-season and in-season practices and game-times among NCAA Division I football players.
The fact is, whether discussing the height of collegiate sport or your average middle-school or high school team, studies like this one show that athletes simply do not experience the same kind of workloads during the in-season period compared to pre-season, as much more time is instead dedicated to tactics. So, what is the outcome of this rather apparent paradox if an athlete is no longer strength and power training, while simultaneously experiencing even less fitness training within a typical in-season practice?
In a study performed on elite male rugby and football players, McMaster and colleagues (2013) found that strength levels have a tendency to decrease after a three-week period when no form of strength activity is maintained. In addition, according to Meylan and colleagues (2013), the decay rates of strength parameters for youth athletes can show an even more marked difference, especially for those athletes who have not yet hit their growth spurt. According to the researchers, these athletes lost more strength and forgot it even quicker compared to their peers who have had already hit their growth spurt!
The Good News:
As dismaying as this information may be, the good news is that there are some very practical solutions that athletes can undertake in order to mitigate the negative effects of the paradoxical in-season strength and fitness loss. For example, If the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ is clearly relevant in this case, the simple solution, of course, is to ‘use it’ by strength training in-season! However, in speaking with the same parent from the above example that is already questioning how they could possibly train 4x per week in-season when they are already juggling so much between the numerous teams and practices their son/daughter is already participating in, the good news is that you do not need to train nearly as long or as frequently in-season in order to maintain all the performance gains made in the off or pre-season!
To illustrate, in a study conducted on male handball players (Hermassi et al. 2017), researchers found that in as little as two sessions per week athletes were able to maintain their performance gains, while another study found that so long as intensity was kept high, athletes (in this case rowers) were able to maintain their performance gains in as little as one session per week (Bell et al. 1993).
Call to Action:
So now that the negative effects of training cessation have been presented, and the fact that as little as one session per week can effectively maintain strength and fitness gains throughout the course of a season, the question beckons, what can you do to safeguard and maximize your son or daughter’s performance gains?
The answer is
Maintain an in-season strength and conditioning routine that can be executed in a little as one hour per week.
Our experience – and the experience of the athletes who train with us – confirms that this is all it takes to make sure they finish the season just as strong as they were at the start. In addition to meaning these athletes perform well during the season it also means that their strength improvements do not have to be regained at the end of each season, effectively accelerating their performance at a rate greater than their peers.
Bell, G. J., Syrotuik, D. G., Attwood, K., & Quinney, H. A. (1993). Maintenance of Strength Gains While Performing Endurance Training in Oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology,18(1), 104-115. doi:10.1139/h93-010
In today’s day and age, most people have become familiar with the ‘SMART’ goal system. This stands for
The common knowledge shared is that as long as an individual’s goals are sSMART, success is virtually guaranteed!
However, the truth of the matter is not so simple. How come so many people continue to “fall off the wagon”? They experience short-term success before succumbing to their previous habits.
When it comes to successfully modifying lifestyle behavior and achieving both the results and sustainable change they so desire!
Emotion versus logic in behavior
The answer to this paradox may surprise you. So much of what drives behavior and behavior change comes not from the logical, rational part of our brains, but rather, the emotional centers of our minds. The parts that effectively govern all aspects of how we experience the world.
So why then is this fact so important?
If you can hack the emotional centers of your brain, you can create compelling goals that are deeply tied to your own values, thoughts, feelings and emotions.
You will be able to create powerful goals that can be further refined using the ‘SMART’ acronym. This results in the perfect combination of clear, strategic goal-setting combined with emotional driving forces.
Responsibility for behavior
As a consequence, the first-step to attaining success in every aspect of your life by cultivating these newfound goals comes down to one simple rule or principle. That is accepting 100% responsibility for your life.
Yes, you heard me right: As soon as you accept 100% responsibility for every aspect of your life you will be amazed at the things you accomplish.
However, ignore this vital step and it is virtually impossible to enact the lasting change that leads to truly great things.
Principle One: Practice Extreme Ownership –
Two people that embody this principle are world-renown author and entrepreneur, Jack Canfield, and world-famous Navy Seal Commander, Jaco Willink.
What sets aside both men apart from others is their acceptance of taking 100% responsibility for their lives and the effect that this has on goal achievement.
To understand the concept of extreme ownership, you must first acknowledge your behaviors all come down to choice. Virtually every decision you make in your daily life (i.e. from the company you keep to the habits you enact daily) come down to choices you make.
Yes, that’s right; choice.
Everything from the friends you surround yourself with to the foods you eat, the job you keep and spouse you share a life with all come down to choice.
Now, isn’t this a simplistic and naïve viewpoint of the world you might ask?
The answer however is a resounding “no” when you really take a moment to pause and think about it.
For example, you can choose whether or not to organize your shopping. Then, you can have a greater likelihood of purchasing and preparing healthier foods. You choose whether or not you set aside money to hire a trainer.
Have a problem sleeping? You can set your alarm clock under your gym bag to reduce the likelihood of sleeping in.
Now are all these choices obvious?
Of course not, but that is not the point. By simply accepting 100% percent responsibility you know that the answers are out there. Finding the right people and systems to help and support you are likewise within your control. This creates a liberating sense of possibility and empowerment.
Yes, just like so many others, you can cultivate change too. It is going to take work. It is going to be hard and it may mean putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.
You might upset people (i.e. like telling your friends that you won’t be joining them for your usual Thursday ‘Happy Hour’ for the forseeable future).
The fact remains however that the choice is fundamentally yours. Once you accept this, it is possible to realize how much is within your control. This results in plans and action.
Get the ball rolling and it is much easier to move! However, you need to realize first that the ‘ball’ really is in your court…
Principle Two: Get to “Why” –
Once you take extreme ownership and acknowledge the way to get over the ‘finish line’ is to find your “Why.” This concept was originally popularized by the famed author and speaker, Simon Sinek.
The “Why” paradigm is one that acknowledges the power of emotion in shaping behavior change. By tapping into emotion and the limbic system of the brain it is possible to create compelling goals. Goals that truly pave the way for everlasting change.
For example, in the health and fitness world, a popular goal is to simply “lose weight.” You can attempt to add some substance to this goal via the SMART system.
The goal is repurposed into something such as:
“my goal is to lose 10 lbs. by March 1, 2019 by strength training and performing interval training an average of 3x per week for the next 3 months.”
Emotion & Logic in Goal Setting
However, although the latter has much more substance, there is still a key component missing. Namely the driving emotion behind it.
Why do you want to lose 10 lbs. by March 1st?
If the answer is something vague like “to look better” than the likelihood of sticking to this goal (no matter how concrete) becomes diminished. To fix this, your driving emotion needs to be unveiled.
A better goal that addresses your “Why” might instead be;
“In order for me to feel as confident, energetic and handsome as I did my senior year of high school when I was the Varsity football captain, as well as improve the quality of my married life by fitting into the suit I wore to my wedding five years ago, my goal is to lose 10 lbs. By March 1, 2019 which I will do by strength training and performing interval training an average of 3x per week for the next 3 months…”
What does the above accomplish? Simple! By providing a story, a narrative and a visual focus, the goal now becomes something that is rooted in emotion and value. Losing weight in this case represents confidence, energy and vitality. It is no longer simply a ‘means to an end’ which is what categorizes so many goals.
Practice Extreme Ownership & Find Your Why
In summary, by practicing extreme ownership and reframing your goals to always encompass a ‘why’ statement, you too will be able to unlock latent potential in your abilities, commitment and purpose.
So, keep the SMART acronym, but tell your story and review it constantly. This is how the most successful people in world enact lasting change and the beauty is that this is entirely within your control.
Around the globe, in every religion, spiritual tradition, and culture, we find some form of meditation. Breathing practices, purposeful reflection, chanting, mantras, singing, and prayer are some of the oldest forms of improving mindset, wellness, and performance through meditation.
Whether your goal is to achieve calm, a sense of gratitude, or feeling connected to people and nature, these disciplines can help us live a more centered life. In the world of human performance, when someone is really “in the zone,” we like to call it a “flow state.” When we are there, we perceive things differently actually process information in a different way.
In order to avail yourself of the many benefits of meditation, we believe it’s important to remain intellectually and emotionally open. Open-minded, to the wide variety of meditative practices found throughout our world’s cultures, religions, and philosophies. What is important is that the methods you choose work for you.
Whether or not you consider yourself spiritual or religious, improving your meditative skills teaches you how to control your brain and mindset to reach a state of higher performance.
How does one begin?
This is a beginner’s guide to practical ways for accessing a better state of mind and will highlight some of the benefits they offer.
Your Analytical vs. Intuitive Mind
Once people become adults, they spend a lot of time walking around with their brains in an analytical mode: making choices, solving problems, working, thinking about the future, and analyzing the past.
This is an incredible gift that has helped our species thrive and discover amazing things, but it is not the entire picture of ourselves. Our mind is also capable of incredible creativity, empathy, and connection to purpose and other people. This is also a skill we need to build and use daily.
Analytical thinking blocks emotion and empathy and vice versa, according to some recent studies [1,2]. You can think of your brain as having two modes: the rational, analytical mind, and the creative, intuitive one. When we function optimally, we are able to switch back and forth between them.
Rational thinking is necessary. We accomplish a lot of things in our lives through it. However, we can lose balance when it’s the only mode we are using.
In modern society, we subject ourselves to an increasing level of information input. News, social media, texts, streaming shows, and the web provide a constant stream of input for our analytical mind to process.
Because this endless stream of stimuli is always available for our mind to analyze, it’s essential to actively practice turning off our analytical processes. Quieting your analytical mind opens you up to a performance-enhancing mindset. Here are a few ways to do that.
Being able to alter your state of mind is an immensely powerful skill. As an athlete, performing artist, executive, or anyone who has to perform under pressure, you need to be able to reset occasionally.
When the stress builds, when the conditions change, or when things go wrong, being able to step back and out of the chaos is critical for good decision making. Retaining a sense of calm allows you to tap into your strengths, instincts, and training.
It’s also a valuable switch when the game is over when you’re done with work, or after practice. We all need to go into recovery mode.
Just as you don’t want the engine on your high-performance sports car revving at 5,000 rpm when you put it in the garage at night, you don’t want your brain stuck in analytical mode or your emotions on high when it’s time to relax and rest.
Meditation may be the most well-known way to silence the mind. It doesn’t require a special place or any equipment other than your own time and mind. It doesn’t even have in any particular manner.
Meditation allows you to tap into a state of calm. Turning off (or just down) the thoughts running through your head increases creativity , reduces stress and anxiety, and increases one’s sense of happiness .
These effects are magnified with practice, and you can practice any time, anywhere, for free.
Here are two simple ways to meditate:
Sit, close your eyes, and inhale deeply into your belly for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, slowly exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of four. Repeat. Focus on the sensation of your breath filling your body and then emptying out. Observation. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, take a step back from your mind, and watch your thoughts. Don’t judge them or pursue them; simply let them come and go as you watch. There are two distinct entities here: you, the calm watcher, and your mind, the source of your thoughts.
Try these, or do whatever gives you that inner sense of calm. When you notice your mind wandering, simply return to your mind to the meditation. You might do just 2-5 minutes to start. You might build to longer stretches. Most importantly, do it consistently and you’ll strengthen your meditation muscles.
You must resist the temptation to do it the “right way.” This idea deters many beginners because they aren’t sure if they are doing it “right.” Meditation is challenging in that sense because it’s not the type of activity that provides immediate, concrete feedback. Getting guidance from a coach or in performing a specific form of the practice can help. So can some modern technologies.
If you go a traditional route to master meditation, you might spend hour after hour, month after month, year after year, sitting at a monastery meditating. You can take a long, meandering path, meditating daily for 20 to 40 years, finally becoming a Zen master. It’s a long, slow process that demands extraordinary dedication.
Whether this would be beneficial is beyond the point; it is neither feasible or desirable for most of us. Still, many people are looking for a way to incorporate meditation into their lives and want to get feedback along the way.
This is where modern technology like Muse can come in. The system measures your brainwaves while you meditate and provides feedback in real-time through the sounds you hear. This feedback teaches you to rewire your brain faster because you are learning when your brain is actually in the right state.
It also “gamifies” the process. At the end of each session, you get scores on how well you did and points for having a calm mind. You get credit for “recoveries” when your mind started to wander and think but you brought it back to calm.
It also can help you keep on track session to session. Goals, recommendations to increase time, rewards for consistency and daily streaks, and the tracking functions all can help you state motivated to practice.
Other Way To Develop Your Skills
As you try to build your skills and use meditation to improve performance, here are a few more Methods that can help.
Heart Rate Variability Training
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a method of measuring and analyzing beat-to-beat changes in your heart rate that gives us insight into the state of your autonomic nervous system. This feedback can be used when learning how to use meditation for your performance.
The autonomic nervous system is important to understand because it is one of the bridges between body and mind. It has two parts: the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches, which are essentially opposites.
The sympathetic nervous system is often described as the “fight or flight” system. It activates our body, mind, and the resources to act quickly when needed. The parasympathetic nervous system handles the opposite functions of rest, digest, and recovery: the functions that help restore and sustain our bodies.
HRV feedback teaches you to consciously synchronize your brainwaves and heartbeat, which puts you into a parasympathetic (recovery) dominant state. This is a state of calm focus. It’s the same benefit you get from meditation, but HRV training gives you real-time feedback, so you know when you’re improving.
You can train your heart rate variability and track your results with an HRV sensor like the Inner Balance or Em Wave2 from HeartMath. This feedback helps you to recognize that feeling of inner calm and achieve that state of mind more quickly than you would with normal meditation.
Sensory deprivation tanks also called float tanks, eliminate nearly all sensory input to your brain. Suspended in water with more than 1000 lbs. of dissolved magnesium salt, you float without any pressure on your body. You’re in a light- and sound-proof chamber. The water and air are both maintained at your body temperature.
When you lay still, you don’t see, hear, or feel anything. You lose the sense of time. Deprived of any sensory input, you are presented with an opportunity to be one with one’s mind that is difficult to find elsewhere.
A typical float session is 60 – 90 minutes long. For many people that sounds like an eternity to just lay there, floating in the dark. It typically takes three sessions to really get “good” at floating, but the results are usually enjoyed immediately the first time.
This doesn’t mean it is always easy. Often your mind wanders at first. You may have thoughts like: This is boring. This is stupid. Get out. You feel claustrophobic. But if you stick it out, eventually your mind lets go.
This lets us experience a state of calm, of relaxation. For some people, they experience a state of creativity or hover somewhere between wake and sleep. Not only will you reap the rewards after the float, but most people also find that they sleep better afterward and the state of calmness is easier to reach in the following days.
Next to time you want to accelerate your mindfulness practice, or need to reduce stress and anxiety, try a float. In most major cities you can find a float center near you.
Try something and practice it
When it comes to meditation for performance improvement; try something.
Whether you’re meditating, praying, chanting, getting feedback or floating in salt water, it’s worth it to learn how to quiet your mind. It only takes a few minutes a day and the benefits to your health, wellness, and performance are huge.
As Velocity coaches, our job is to help our athletes reach their goals. In order to do this, we have to know if an athlete has a goal or if it is really an expectation. The difference is subtle but profound.
I explain the difference this way:
A goal is something about my performance that I want to improve but I know I can’t achieve right now. Because it’s currently outside of my ability, I am motivated to work hard to improve. On any particular day of training, if I don’t yet reach my goal, it’s okay because it just means I need more time to get there.
An expectation is something I think I should be able to do right now.
Before going further, let’s stop to notice the difference in language. Goals are motivational, but expectations are always attached to the judgmental language of “should.” As adults, I think many of us have the experience of “should-ing all over ourselves,” as a therapist friend of mine would say. “I should be eating better”; “I should be excelling more at my job”; “I should be in better shape.” Whatever the statement is, it is never positive and motivating but is always negative and judgmental.
How motivated you tend to feel to work harder at a particular task when you have those kinds of thoughts? Now think about how that changes if you transform your expectation into a goal (the more specific the better).
“I want to cook a meal with fresh vegetables at least twice a week.”
“I want to do one thing every month that will help advance my career.”
“I want to get a really good workout in twice a week.”
For the athletes we coach at Velocity, I like to ask how they feel about themselves when they don’t meet an expectation (e.g. “I should be the fastest in my class”). Almost without fail, their answers are negative: “I’d feel bad,” “I might want to quit,” etc.
I then ask how it would feel if their goal was to be the fastest, but someone else was faster on a given day. The answers here are always more positive and include some thought or feeling about the desire to keep working to eventually achieve their goal.
Simply asking these questions helps bring awareness to our athletes that the way they think about themselves and the words they use when talking about themselves (out loud or in their own minds) makes a difference.
I encourage you to watch out for the words you use when talking to your young athletes about their goals and achievements. Consistently using goal-oriented, effort-praising language (instead of outcome-praising) can be a first step in building a person – not just an athlete – with a mindset that is not only resilient to setbacks but can learn from and embrace them.
When we lift weights, it strengthens our body. Meditation is like lifting weights for your brain: the more you do it the stronger your mind grows. The hard part about meditation is that it’s very difficult to get the same kind of feedback that we get when weightlifting. When I can lift more than I used to, I know I’m getting stronger. But how do I know I’ve gotten better at meditating?
This is what makes the MUSE so valuable for people who are interested in starting a meditative practice. The system senses your brain activity while you’re meditating and then gives you feedback in real time.
Are you staying calm, or are you is your mind active?
While using MUSE, you plug headphones into your tablet or smartphone, open the app, connect the headset, and you’re off and running. When MUSE sees that your brain is calm, you will hear serene weather, as though you’re sitting at the beach on a peaceful day. When you hear birds chirping, you know that you are remaining calm. When your mind wanders, the waves begin to crash louder and the weather begins to sound stormy.
This simple mechanism provides instant and clear feedback on the quality of your meditation. Suddenly you have a way to know if you’re meditating “well.” MUSE also tracks and stores data on your sessions so you can see your progress over time. While it would normally be very difficult to know when we have learned how to stay present for longer periods of time, with MUSE it’s easy. You can, for instance, look at the number of birds that “chirp” during your sessions; more birds equals better quality meditation!
The app then gives you challenges to encourage you to build a regular habit of meditating. Starting with just three minutes at a time, you earn rewards for practicing daily or for practicing multiple times a day. High frequency is vital to forming a successful habit. Just like anything new, it takes practice to get good at it. The important thing is that you carve out time out of your day to meditate. Over time you will get better at hearing more birds and being able to be still and meditate for longer periods of time, but only if you cultivate a meditation practice each and every day.
The benefits of meditation are many and varied. At Velocity, we recommend it because of its benefits on sports performance. Learning how to deal with frustration, loss, and adversity are necessary skills for anyone who wants to compete at the elite level. Meditation is one tool that helps our athletes learn how to calm their minds when the pressure is on, but just like any skill, it has to be practiced regularly. No competitive athlete would expect to get physically stronger by training sporadically or infrequently, and the same is true for meditation. Caring for your mind can be a powerful tool in taking your performance to the next level.