You pre-signed up for class last night. The water bottle is full. You have a fresh towel in the bag and you quickly downed some coffee before you left the house. You’re ready to get sweaty! You’re amped up! You arrive to class ready to work but then you see exactly what’s ahead. Maybe it’s sprint intervals, sled pulls, speed bag work, handstands, an uphill run or even the “b” word (burpees). Yikes! You immediately feel your body get tight as you develop a sense of performance anxiety.
This workout is going to be hard. You begin an hour-long session of pain, sweat, grunting and messy self-talk. If someone recorded on paper all the countless things you said to yourself during that time, they would NOT think you were “amped” anymore.
Your Self-Talk Can Empower You Or Defeat You
Commonly, this internal conversation we use to view our situation, explain our conditions and communicate to ourselves during challenging feats is often diminishing, negative dialogue. Many coaches will refer to this as being “in your head.” Great athletes aren’t in their heads. That’s what makes them great! The best athletes in the world win the race, score the game-winning shots because they envision themselves performing tough athletic bouts perfectly and repeat empowering affirmations like “I am strong.”
How to Replace Messy-Self Talk with Strong Mantras
When I was a pre-teen I spent many weekends competing in tennis tournaments. The game of tennis is notorious for being a challenging mental sport. During matches, you have no coach and no teammates by your side. My mom recounts a time she watched me compete against a girl much better than I was. She said on the service change over, I sat down and pulled out flash cards from my tennis bag. I flipped through a couple of them and then put them back and confidently walked back on the court to finish the match. My mom asked me after the match what my flashcards said. I told her each said something like, “This is my court!” “I’m queen of this court” and “I can. Now watch me!” I was 12 years old and I was learning how to self-talk.
I got the idea to make myself flash cards from a book by Andre Agassi’s coach, Brad Gilbert (1994) Playing Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis. I was using this method of positive self-talk to keep my spirits up. I figured if I forgot to be mentally strong when the situation got tough, I could keep my mantras handy in my bag and influence my self-talk.
Below are some workouts that require mental and physical toughness, as well as 5 mantras to help you kick butt.
#1 POWER YOGA
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still feel like it’s just not happening for you. It’s normal to be frustrated when you are overcoming a challenge, but remember to let go and keep trying. Just because the person next to you can do a handstand, the splits, backbend, etc., doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up because you’re not there yet. Success doesn’t happen at 100 ml/hour.
Do you ever notice how in the movies, when the main character is enduring a challenge, it usually unfolds at a slow and steady pace? This is so you can fully take in the magic of the journey and enjoy the outcome. We often forget that each person has his or her own fitness story and journey and that yours is very personal and unique too. When we constantly compare our own successes to others we get caught up in performance anxiety and don’t allow ourselves time or space to participate fully.
Sure getting out of bed in the morning is hard. I agree! I am a repeat offender of incessant snoozing. Even though I’m still dreaming about crawling back into bed when I’m driving my tired butt to the gym, I know that you get what you go after. See, after my workout, I never crawl back in bed because I am so energized!
Remind yourself that momentary discomfort leads you to the joy and pleasure of a stronger body and your “workout high.” What’s a workout high? Well, you know that feeling at the end of a hard workout where you have a sense of contentment, achievement, and nirvana. You’re like proud of yourself! You know you’re closer to your goals. You know that the squatting, lunging, pulling and pushing all is getting you closer to your six-pack. Here’s what I suggest- when you do finish a hard workout, before rushing on to the next thing, let yourself bask in the sensations of the sweat on your skin, your elevated heart rate and feelings of accomplishment and growth. Enjoy it! Get addicted to the feeling! It will keep you coming back for more.
#3 LONG RUN
When fatigue sets in and you’ve been working your hardest, it’s tough to think that you still have so far to go. See the distance as more opportunity to explore your best that day. If you haven’t hit your stride or found your happy place yet, you still have time to find it. Generally, when we are watching the clock, we are not where we need to be energetically. When we are in our sweet spot and enjoying what we are doing, we don’t count the cost or minutes. So, commit to making the second half the best half, finding your second wind and some extra fuel to go the distance.
#4 HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
Amidst a hard workout, it is easy to look for reasons to disengage or settle for moderate effort. High-intensity workouts are trendy but what they don’t tell you is that HIIT training is not for the weak of heart. It takes guts and fire in the belly to work at the top of your power, hit an anaerobic threshold, keep going and handle it. You have to be hungry, even when the going gets tough. Those who reap the benefits of interval training have to forgo their feelings (i.e. “I don’t feel like getting up. I don’t feel like sprinting another 10 seconds. I don’t feel like increasing the weight load”) sometimes to reach their goals. Embrace the challenge and you’ll walk away glad you did.
The Queen B draws us into her lyrics in Formation with the words,
“Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay”
Group fitness choreography and design can be a brilliant and motivating form of exercise, but it can also be daunting and intimidating. Not all of us are good at tap backs, jumps or anything that require synchronization, and that is OKAY. Remind yourself that even if you get out of sync with the group, the most important thing is that you are still moving and sweating. Stop stressing about being the best in the class and get intent on finishing. Everything else is a matter of time.
Tara Emerson is a Carbon38 #Team38 Trainer and ACE CPT, Spinning and TRX Instructor at Revolution Fitness in Santa Monica.