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Mentally Rehearse Workouts to Define Your Purpose

By Will Murray | June 18, 2013, 3:21 p.m. (ET)

One of the best 30 seconds you can spend to enhance the quality and effectiveness of your workouts is to rehearse them. Athletes who take half a minute before their workouts to consider their workout goals report vastly improved results.

bikeConsider all that your mind encounters and processes during a day. It has to plan, evaluate, respond, accept, reject, filter, concentrate and remember, all day long. Events during the day that are especially significant or unusual gain focus and attention, and most of the rest gets sent to the recycle bin.

Athletes with busy lives can lose focus in their workouts, losing the sharpness and significance in the daily buzz and jumble. Workouts without focus simply do not have the same potency as workouts that have pinpoint purpose.

For example, on a recovery ride, you may be riding along in zone two when a pack of fast girls whoosh by. It’s a recovery ride, so you know you ought to let them go, but hey, what the heck, and off you go on your chase. Your recovery is blown, your setup for tomorrow’s hard workout is off, and well, since you’ve done this before, you know what happens next.

It’s a little like holding a piece of paper that you need to file, but you have no filing cabinet or folders in which to file it. Are you still standing there holding it? A workout without a stated purpose is like the un-fileable paper, with your mind standing there wondering to do with it.

Now consider this: you remind yourself of the purpose of the workout, identify the gains that you will make by completing this workout well, and then rehearse in your mind’s eye how the workout will unfold when it happens perfectly.

In this instance, your mind has the filing cabinet organized with hangers and folders, and it knows just what it’s supposed to do.

Step 1. Proclaim the purpose of the workout and the benefits. Just announce — to yourself or aloud — the purpose of the workout. If it’s a VO2max ride, say, “The purpose of this workout is to ride above lactic threshold for a portion of the ride to enhance my top end performance.” If it’s a recovery run, say, “The purpose of this run is to do some active recovery to get me ready for tomorrow.”

That takes about 3 seconds.

Step 2. Rehearse the perfect workout. In the rest of the half minute, rehearse the workout the way you want it to happen. In your mind’s eye, make a short video of the workout from beginning to end and see yourself achieving the goal of the workout. Shoot the internal video as though you are seeing yourself over there performing your workout as planned. Use full color and a panoramic perspective to make it vivid and compelling.

Step 3. Repeat. Run the video again, this time very quickly, from start to finish, in about ten seconds.

But how do you remember to do the 30-second set up? Here’s a way to make the rehearsal automatic. The following technique works for most things that you want to remember to do on a regular basis in the future.

1. Clearly describe the action you want to repeat in the future (in this case, rehearse before every workout).
2. Identify specific times and places when and where you want to take this action.
3. Select the next time you want to take this action, and run a short video of you taking that action (rehearsing). Make the video full color, large screen size and see it as though you are doing it now.
Select another time in the future, and run the video again.
4. Pick one more time in the future, and run the video again.
5. Now, think of something you always do before your workouts. Maybe you always have a cup of coffee, or always put something on your head (swim cap, bike helmet, ball cap). We’ll call this thing you always do the anchor.
6. Start making a video of you doing your anchor action, and immediately run the video of you taking the desired action (rehearsal).
7. Repeat step 7.

You now have put this desired future action into the future in the time and places you will need it. When you do the anchor behavior, the rehearsal will start automatically, and then you are ready for a great training session with less mental wandering and more focus, and you’ll be in direct pursuit of the purpose of your workout.

Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach with advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and co-author, with Craig Howie, of “The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes.”

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.