This is a series on pushing yourself while exercising. It can be applied to any exercise, but in this series I’ll talk about running and walking or running up steps. Those are two exercises that I do daily – one or the other.
Visual Imagery is the second article in the series. The entire series is linked below this article.
This is about Visual Imagery and how it can help you turn a mediocre run into a great run… maybe even an awesome run.
While I’m exercising I picture myself as the ultimate athlete. If I’m running I usually picture myself as Mark Allen, a triathlete of years gone by who was amazing at the Ironman distance triathlons. I visualize how Mark ran and then as I run I picture myself running just like that. Exactly like that. If you don’t have the perfect person as a role model go to Youtube and find video of someone doing the exercise you want to visualize. I have detailed memories in my head of a few runners and cyclists that I think had very close to perfect form that are easy to call on. You should have some of these in your mental database too.
Once I’m running just like Mark in my mind, I go another step further. I tell myself I’m running better than than Mark ever did. I visualize running more effortlessly. I breath more efficiently, smoother. I begin concentrating on every aspect of my running style and perfecting it.
I look at my neck and head – are they relaxed? Is my head pointed at the right angle – which, for me is level so I’m looking out into the distance about twenty yards or so. I notice when I look far ahead I think much less about whatever pain I might be experiencing during the run. I notice that I feel more positive. More optimistic. Is my head bouncing at all? If so it’s wasted energy I change my stride so it’s more horizontal without vertical bounce.
Are my arms more tense than they need to be? I loosen my arms and shake them out relaxed from my body a few times to loosen them up. I look at my hands, they should be almost closed and relaxed. I let the arms find their natural bent position and then I open up the angle just slightly and focus more on making them pump forward and backward in line with my forward momentum and without any side to side movement which is wasted movement. I want to feel the little bit of momentum that my arms can give me to go forward as it’s a mental boost that my legs can work just a little easier and go the same pace because the natural movement of my arms swinging is helping a touch.
I feel my breathing and my stomach. I relax my diaphragm and the muscles of my stomach. Once they are relaxed I can breath effortlessly with deep diaphragm breathing. It’s similar to feeling like you’re pushing out your stomach a bit but the result is that your inhalations can be deeper and smoother. You’re much less likely to cramp as well. I imagine that my VO2 max (ventilatory threshold) is greater than Mark’s, greater than Greg Lemond (who tests in the 90’s!) and fallen hero, Lance Armstrong.
Moving down to the hips and thighs and the muscles of the buttocks and lower back I let them go loose and see how it feels. Sometimes it doesn’t feel good if I’m not rested enough and I tighten them back up before I have an injury. Other times it’s amazingly smooth to loosen it all up and I can run for miles like that. I gauge what it feels like and then focus on my stride. I picture Alberto Salazar’s long legs transforming into my legs. My legs have morphed into those same awesome legs. Or sometimes I picture the Kenyans in the New York City Marathon. They glide like gazelles. I glide like that too. I’m a gazelle in my mind. I’m the smoothest gazelle on the planet moving over the concrete or dirt path where I’m running.
Then I’m better than the smoothest gazelle. I’m the ultimate running being, gliding effortlessly over small hills and large ones. My head doesn’t bounce in the slightest. My stride is fluid and strong, yet relaxed. My upper body is helping my run, not wasting effort in any direction. Each foot is landing perfectly on the ground from heel to toe in a perfect rolling movement. I’m pure energy running forward with perfect momentum, perfect timing… My breathing is strong and is powering me forward, creating more energy as it mixes with the blood, oxygenating it with powerful and pure O2 in the lungs.
Running in this state, fully visualized and lost to the outside world propels me into a state of flow that can last the entire run. For me it’s nearly impossible to think about outside problems when I run, but it’s easy to visualize that I’m something else. I can be any runner as I run. Any cyclist or triathlete. I can be any animal that I think mirrors the movements, the grace I need to possess as I exercise with perfect form. Even better I can morph into something that beyond that. I can be better than any person or animal or computer program simulating running. I can be pure running. Or, be pure cycling. Once that happens exercise becomes not something I’m doing – but something I am. The exercise flows like a perfect, seamless movement.
The ‘pushing’ part happens without really trying. Once flow starts, it naturally changes you dynamically into a smoother, faster, and more energized exerciser.
Try some creative visualization as you exercise. Over time you’ll develop a number of visual body-in-motion clips that you become as you exercise. These will help you push it to the next level – usually without conscious effort about it. Pushing results naturally as your mind becomes more involved in the process of visualizing the perfect dynamics of your exercise. Perfect breathing. Perfect flow.
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