The effectiveness of mental training techniques in improving peak performance amongst elite athletes has been shown in many research studies examining various psychological interventions both during and outside of physical training.
Mental training research
A well-cited study conducted by Soviet sports scientists in 1980, evaluated mental training effects on four groups of athletes split into the following groups:
Group 1: 100% physical training
Group 2: 75% physical training, 25% mental training
Group 3: 50% physical training, 50% mental training
Group 4: 25% physical training, 75% mental training
The study found that Group 4, who had the least amount of physical training and most amount of mental training showed the most significant improvements in peak performance, with Group 3 outperforming Group 2, and Group 2 showing more improvement than Group 1.
More recent studies demonstrate that mental training techniques can aid rehabilitation from injury by facilitating mental recovery through the use of psychosocial skills such as goal setting, imagery, motivation, relaxation techniques and objective thinking.
Everyone, regardless of training level, experience and goals can significantly increase physical and/or sports performance through applying mental training techniques during and outside of training. Here are 5 effective techniques which will help you flex your mental muscle and ultimately increase the physical:
1. Improve focus
When you step foot inside the studio or gym or set off for a run, give full attention to your training time. Most people have busy lives and setting aside time for your own health and fitness may feel consistently challenging. However, keeping both internal and external distractions to a minimum, constitutes a more effective training session. This may mean switching off your phone as well as setting aside non-training related thoughts, issues or concerns.
2. Focus on the now
We perform best in a process driven mindset, rather than in a results driven frame of mind. Long term goal setting is important for maintaining motivation and as an instigator for change, however, focusing only on long term goals can lead to a sense of failure when encountering circumstances beyond our control, e.g., illness or unforeseen events. Shift your focal point onto what it is you are doing right now in this moment; if those last few reps or the final mile are challenging, change your focus – concentrate on tempo, core activation, posture, length of your stride or foot placement.
Psychologists have proven that the human brain cannot differentiate between an actual experience and one imagined vividly and in detail . Mental rehearsal and visualisation is one of the most important mental training skills to apply in order to increase performance. Visualisation is most effective when the mind is relaxed – before starting a specific exercise or training session, create a metal image of yourself replicating the exact movement, or reaching the set distance you want to achieve and focus on this image prior to each repetition, set or mile.
4. Think objectively
Without maintaining a consistently objective approach to training, it is difficult to keep perspective or commitment fully to the present moment. This could be focusing, for example, on the various benefits of flexibility and mobility drills such as injury prevention, improved posture and greater range of motion – all of which contribute to success in peak performance, but may not immediately appear to be useful. The ability to think objectively helps to develop patience and consistency which are both key elements in any progressive training programme.
5. Develop resilience
Learn to deal with setbacks or what you may perceive to be negative outcomes, both in the present moment and longer-term objectives. For instance, not finishing that final rep or last mile, or perhaps not reaching a weight loss goal within the exact time frame you have set yourself due to illness or injury. Focus on what is within your control; maintaining a positive and considered response to setbacks will ultimately lead to greater gains and performance success.
Alison Jones has over 10 years experience working as a professional aerialist. This, combined this with her background in contemporary dance (BA) and MSc in Strength & Conditioning, she brings a unique, whole body perspective to training.