By Shem Leong, ironguides Coach

When does your training session actually start? Do you only mentally switch on as soon as you take that first stride/pedal stroke/swim pull of your main set?

To improve the quality of your training, I challenge you to tune in at least 10, or even 20, minutes before you get changed for your session. For most of us, this would take place on the way to your various training locations; in the train on the way to the track, in the car en route to the pool, walking out of the office to the gym for a quick lunch-hour workout. You likely only have this one window in the day to train so make it work for you.

Dial out all distractions and put the mobile to silent. Give yourself the luxury of being unreachable from that point onwards and use this time to daydream a little. Just what was that Personal Best time again?

Rehearse in your head the set that you are about to do. What kind of set is it? Speed, Strength, Tolerance, Endurance? What is the underlying goal of this set? What were Coach’s instructions and/or feedback from this session in the last couple of weeks?  How am I supposed to feel after completing the set? What am I going to do for a quick and convenient recovery meal after?

Am I going to change anything about the way I executed this set, and if so, what? Think about how you have been executing it in the past weeks and pick out the areas that could be improved. Did you go out too hard and blow up half way through? Could you even out your pedal stroke a little more? What does a good catch feel like underwater? How do you breathe when running efficiently?

If you nailed it previously, consider how to replicate that perfect set. Rehearse the current motivations that have been helping you focus when the going gets tough. Run through your mantras, decide what playlist is going to work for you today, do a quick and honest check on current fatigue and/or stress levels. How many hours of sleep you are functioning off today?

Now is also the time to manage your expectations.  If have you been on holiday, sick, returning from injury or just had a patchy phase recently, don’t expect to perform at your previous best level. Instead, shed all preconceived ideas of where your fitness might be and leave the data behind. It is better that you start with a clean slate and re-configure your perceived-effort barometer. Redefine what it feels like to go easy, moderate, comfortably uncomfortable, hard, and all out.

Trying to force it in an attempt to fast-track your way back to your previous fitness level will only work against you.  You’ll push too hard and will not finish the set and/or wipe yourself out for the next day. Avoiding this is especially important if you’re coming back from illness.

Put together a pre-training ritual. Chances are you already have one; just pay attention the next time to what you do before the session and aim to replicate this every single time. Mentally it’s a process that transports you from the wider world around you with its constant demands and to-do lists to your training zone, a place where you are alone with your thoughts, hopes and dreams.

For the record, after I prepare my bottle, I sit on a certain step to strap on my shoes (to a certain tension), fold my towel in a certain way over the bike, clip in my headphones, string the chord under my top and go through my playlist, selecting the one that I feel is going to work for the day.  I do all this even before climbing on the trainer. It’s simple and takes me all of two, maybe three, minutes but going through this ritual makes me aware of what I am about to embark on. It takes my mind into the present and prepares me mentally for the rigours of the next 40 to 60 minutes.

Only then do I start my warm-up … and that’s another article all together.

Till next time, enjoy your training!

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