How to train your brain for peak performance

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Improving your sports performance takes more than just physical prowess. Smashing your personal bests (PBs) requires mental toughness – after all, your mind will give up long before your body does. Whether you want to run that extra kilometre or add another weight plate to your barbell, give these mental hacks a go:


Be mentally prepared

There comes a time during every workout when you feel like you just can’t go on. The secret to breaking through that mental barrier is preparation and distraction. 

‘Some of my athletes run, paddle or swim for 10 paces, counting as they go, whenever they feel they can’t keep going,’ says Rachel Jones, Sport and Exercise Psychologist and Director of LIFT High Performance Consultants. ‘This tells the brain that they have more in the tank and gives them confidence to keep going, as well as shifting their focus from the pain.’

Focus on form for moments at a time

When the kilometres loom ahead and you’re ready to quit, focus on perfect form for just one minute. Brad Beer, Physiotherapist and host of The Physical Performance Show podcast, suggests taking inspo from world record-holding Ironman James Lawrence, who completed 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 days across 50 US states. When things get tough, Lawrence practises a ‘power minute’, focusing on perfect technique for just 60 seconds. 

‘It’s a great practical tool for breaking hard physical tasks into manageable amounts,’ says Beer. And correct technique is more biomechanically efficient, which makes your effort feel easier.

Have confidence in your abilities

There’s confidence born from success, and there’s confidence in the process. Don’t rely on feeling good to perform, says Jones. ‘Some days we just don’t feel good, so there needs to be a plan in place to still be able to execute despite those feelings. Trust and believe that you can still execute your role despite what you’re feeling and trust that if you perform your role, the results will come.’

Find the right balance

Don’t fall victim to overtraining or overthinking. ‘Too often, athletes have completed the race, game or event in their heads over and over before they’ve even competed, leading to mental fatigue and exhaustion,’ says Jones.

‘Getting enough rest and sleep will ensure adaptation from training is maximised,’ adds Paul Penna, Senior Psychologist and Director at FOCUS Performance Psychology. Don’t waste your gains with an overactive brain. Adopt proven strategies to rest and recover: sleep, whole foods and restorative practices are key.

Rehearse routines

Routines help you engage robot mode, where you perform without thinking. Lengthy warm-up routines ‘become traditionalised for elite athletes,’ says Beer. ‘This helps the athlete to feel mentally prepared.’ You might not need an hour-long activation sequence before your workout, but lock in your go-to routines: clothes ready, pre-workout meal prepared, program planned and playlist primed.

The fewer decisions you need to make, the stronger your mental focus. ‘I have had endurance athletes decide prior to starting a race that they can only quit if they are injured or in danger,’ says Jones. ‘This reduces the mental battle during the race because the decision is already made.’ Set your rules of engagement before you tie your laces, and don’t deviate.

To read the full article on how to hack your mental game, including advice on fine-tuning your focus and knowing when to quit, read the full article in our April/May digital edition. It’ll only cost you whatever you can afford!