PUSHING YOURSELF While Exercising [Using Visual Imagery]

Mark Allen, one of the world's top triathletes in the 1980's, finishes a triathlon with a smile.

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.

Best of Life!

Vern

My PUSHING YOURSELF Series Covers:

1. Getting Out the Door to Exercise!
2. Visual Imagery!
3. Shaming Yourself!
4. Positive Self Talk!
5. Delay of Gratification!
6. Coaching Yourself!
7. Competition!

PUSHING YOURSELF During Exercise [Shaming Yourself. Seriously.]

Vern and daughter running on the beach in Thailand.

Shaming Yourself! is the third article in the PUSHING YOURSELF series about helping you get the most out of your self during physical exercise.

This is a series on motivating 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 the two exercises that I do daily – one or the other.

Some psychologists say that “shoulding on yourself”, saying “I should have…” is not a good strategy to go through life. But, this is different. This is shaming yourself, it can result in pushing yourself harder during exercise.

How it works is this…

At some point during a run or a bike ride, I might notice that I’m in a comfortable spot and just sort of going through the motions. I feel good, there’s no injury that’s holding me back. It’s just that the body and mind can get to this equilibrium state that is just too comfortable. If you don’t notice it you might go through a whole hour like that. If you really are clue-less you could go through a whole month of runs like that.

Running in an equilibrium state is OK and you’ll still benefit over the course of doing it. But, why not push it if you’re feeling really comfortable?  For myself, when I notice I’m feeling really good, relaxed, and steady I start to compare myself to other runners – usually older people or kids. Here’s the way it happened the other day.

I was on the second time up the 1,237 steps at the temple. The first time was amazing, I ran up 1,000 of the steps and walked about 200. There are some steps that are too steep to run safely and a fall might mean serious injuries. So I ran up in groups of 50, 70, 100, 80 steps and stopped to catch my breath after each run. I was doing 4 steps a second and by the time I did 80 of them I needed a breather. It was like interval training. I haven’t done it before but it went really well. I was surprised I had the energy to run up them like that.

Then, at the top I was even more surprised that I felt good. My legs were pumped up more than they’d ever been after climbing the steps. I went quickly to the bottom and re-assessed. Yep, still feel great. I started up again at a slow pace. My thinking was, “If I can just do one more up-down that’d be my hardest workout on the steps in 6 months.” Well, I went mindlessly up to step 500 when I realized. You’re way too comfortable. You ran these steps last time – can’t you run them again?

My mind doubted I could.

I shamed myself. My self-talk went something like this…

Man, you’re climbing these steps slower than some middle-aged Thai women do it. What the hell Vern? It was true – I’d seen some 40-year-old women go up faster in certain sections than I was going. You’ve been up this thing 270+ times, you can’t pick up the overall pace and go faster than this? I realized I was too comfortable during the first 500 steps and just happy to go up and down at a slow, meaningless pace.


Run up the next 60 steps to that next level.  You’re a *$$&@! (bad word for wimp) if you don’t. Did you come here to exercise or coast through the last 30 minutes up and down?

I ran up the next 60 steps and stopped to catch my breath. The next group was only 45 steps. Run up the next 45 and see how you feel – hell, you just ran up 1,000 of them, what’s 45 more?

I ran up the next 45 and caught my breath. By then my heart was going strong, my legs were pumped and I felt really good. I kicked myself into high-gear again after the first 500 slow paced steps and now I was ready to see how far I could push it again. I ran up the next 85 steps. Caught my breath. Ran up the next 120. Caught my breath… and so on. I ran up the rest of the steps (737) except the 40 dangerous ones.

It was an awesome, awesome day on the steps. Twice up and I ran up 1,700 out of 2,474 of them.

I sometimes catch myself going at a pace that a grandmother could hold. Sure it’s after I’ve already done something intense and that I felt great about, but still… the idea that any old woman or little kid could run at the pace I am, climb steps at the pace I am, cycle at the pace I am is totally unacceptable for any amount of time. I shame myself into kicking it up a few notches. Almost always this puts my body into a state where I can really push myself further, much further than the mind had resigned itself to.

Try shaming yourself! It works!

Best of Life!

Vern

My PUSHING YOURSELF Series Covers:

1. Getting Out the Door to Exercise!
2. Visual Imagery!
3. Shaming Yourself!
4. Positive Self Talk!
5. Delay of Gratification!
6. Coaching Yourself!
7. Competition!