PUSHING Yourself During Exercise [Competition Technique]

Competition brings out the best performance in us.

Competition is a technique to PUSH YOURSELF to the ultimate level of fitness.

This is the last article in the series. This technique can be applied to any exercise, but in this series, I’ll talk about running and walking and running up steps. Those are the two exercises I do most frequently.
You might be thinking that I’m going to cover competition as in racing or joining friends for your exercise so you can push each other to greatness. That’s an amazing technique, but one that everyone already knows. In this series about pushing yourself past current levels of fitness, I wanted to give you some techniques you may not have heard of.

Pushing yourself through competition goes like this…

Usually, I use this technique when I’m feeling unmotivated or even a little down about the state of my run, step climbing, swim, bicycle ride or whatever I happen to be doing. I realize there’s no spunk in my effort and I need something to pick me up and get me up to at least a moderate pace.

In my mind, I assemble a group of my competition. My running competition? Nope. I blog in the motivational / life development area with Aim for Awesome so my competition (though really they are not directly competing with me) are people like Steve Pavlina; Yaro Starak; Albert Foong of Urbanmonk.net; Leo Babauta of ZenHabits.net; Donald Latumahina at LifeOptimizer.org and others. There are so many more. Usually, I name a group of twelve. I know what they look like and I picture their natural running style and abilities based on how well their blogs are doing. Choose competitors from whatever area you are striving to excel in. For me, it’s blogging.

I guess the people I named aren’t really direct competition, but they are my role-models and those that I’m striving to equal and eventually surpass online. They’ve got far more readers than I have and they have a high standard for their writing – one that I aspire to. My writing is obviously different and I’m not sure if it has mass appeal yet – but, I’ll find out in a year or so. Anyway, back to the mind-trick.

I picture each person close to me and running with me at first. We’re all in a group and none of us is feeling all that great. This makes me realize, I can beat all of them today because as bad as I feel, I’ve been running all my life. I can crank it up a notch and drop some of them right now.

I go just a little bit faster and see who starts to drop away. I see who picks it up to match me. There are some fighters in the group and I know I’m going to be kicking my own ass to get going as fast as I need to in order to beat them. After the first couple slow slightly I devise a plan. I say to myself, “Around that corner is the slight upgrade. Pretend to go slow right now and then crank it up just around that corner to a 75% effort and see who drops!”

And so I do. I drop a few people there. Steve Pavlina, Yaro Starak, Darren Rowse, Donald Latumahina and a couple others are still with me. Damn they won’t give up.

Depending how I feel I’ll either map out a long-term run strategy where I gradually pick up the pace dropping off everyone except Steve Pavlina or I’ll do some mini-bursts of speed usually up hills to drop people. Steve is great at the high speed, long distance, but I use hills to wear him down – the up and down wear him out. I love the hills so that’s where I destroy him.

Ha, it sounds funny as I write it but! I’m not joking at all. This is a very powerful technique that I love to use. I combine this mental competition with both positive self-talk and with self-coaching to bring out the best in me on bad days. Almost always it succeeds in motivating me to go faster.  Sometimes Steve wins and I vow to break him the next time we run. Sometimes Darren Rowse pulls away and beats both me and Steve. Sometimes Donald comes from behind in a surprise pass that leaves me dumbfounded until I regroup.

Though I haven’t read about any top runners at the international level using mind games to push themselves to greatness like those I’ve written about here, I KNOW they must exist. I guess if you had some really good techniques that you could call on during your deepest moments of suffering during hard exercise that would make you crank even harder you’d keep those a secret. Top secret.

I don’t have many secrets, so I shared the few techniques I use that came easily to mind. As I experience more or as I remember more I’ll post them here to help you take your exercise to a new level.

I use this Competition technique for pushing myself harder about once a week on average. One key to using these techniques is not using them every time you exercise. I use each of these techniques maybe once a week on average. But, sometimes I plan stage races where I race the same group of people over 3 days. I might even include Lance Armstrong as a runner in the pack. I visualize snapping his persistence like a dry twig as we push up a long hill…  haha.

Eat my dust Lance!

So then, try this technique as you need it. Be creative with your own ideas and let me know if you come up with anything cool that I can try while I run or bike.

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 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!