A great deal has changed in the world of mental training in terms of acceptance by both elite and recreational athletes. Back then I felt that in order to make my point, I had to prove the merits of mental training and explain the science behind it. Today these concepts are much more common place – and even if you don’t believe, it doesn’t matter. These techniques will work on you anyway! So, without further delay, let’s delve right into the streamlined, updated, 2007 version of the Periodization for the Mind training plan.
Step 1: Get Focused
Objective: Teach your body to relax on command
Exercise: Breathing techniques coupled with progressive relaxation imagery
Duration: 5-10 minutes/day for 2 weeks
Seasonal Progression: 9 weeks out from a major event
The first two weeks require nothing more than 5 to 10 minutes per day of deep breathing. Doing it in bed at night is okay, but most people fall asleep before they finish the exercise. I suggest finding some time during the day, either at lunch or when you get home after work. The purpose of this step is to teach yourself how to relax on command gain a broader idea of the mental blocks that might be holding you back.
1. Take a deep breath in, allowing your chest and belly to fill with air
2. Hold the breath for a 5 count
3. Slowly expel the air from your lungs for a 10 count
4. Pause for a 5 count and then repeat
With each inhale, imagine your body filling with a detoxifying, invigorating, blue energy. With each exhale, imagine you are expelling negative energy, stress and pollution. Starting with your scalp and progressing down to your toes, focus on relaxing each body part as you exhale.
Step 2: Become Aware
Objective: Identify conscious and subconscious negative thinking
Exercise: Carry a journal and jot down negative thoughts as they arise
Duration: One week
Seasonal Progression: 7 weeks out from a major event.
After two weeks of relaxation breathing you should notice an increased ability to relax and focus. You’ll notice you’ve gained the ability to take a step away from the tension and anxiety of your every day life in order to expand your view of the horizon. Anxiety creates virtual tunnel vision, a mental state that only allows you to see what is directly in front of you. Self perception becomes clouded by years of negative thinking and detrimental reinforcement from the outside world but we take obvious notice because we are deeply entrenched in it.
As you come out of the tunnel, you will realize that some of the negative beliefs you’ve accepted as truth are merely thoughts that have manifested into reality because of internal reiteration. As you gain perspective you will become aware of mountains of unnecessary negative thoughts which infiltrate your sense of self worth each day.
Carry a pen and paper with you at all times during this period and write down every harmful thought you have. Don’t try to analyze whether it is a truth or just a belief. For the purposes of this exercise your thoughts are your reality and your reality is what you think it is.
Step 3: Create your NEW reality
Objective: Replace your negative thought processes with positive ones
Exercise: Implant new, affirmative thoughts to counteract ongoing critical ones.
Duration: Peak results in 4 weeks – ongoing maintenance advised
Seasonal Progression: 6 weeks out from a major event
Looking over your list of negative thoughts, you’ll probably notice a reoccurring theme. For example, a more common concept is: I’m not good enough or I don’t deserve to be here. Find four of five of these debilitating thoughts. Analyze the essence of the negative fixation and create a counter point to the suggestion. This will be your positive affirmation. Try to come up with something that is distinctly positive but not so outrageous that it’s unbelievable.
Negative words NEVER belong in your mantras. For instance, instead of saying I am not a bad climber, try, I am a good climber. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb here. You will be surprised to find out how many of the limitations you put upon yourself are absolutely baseless and can be easily fixed by changing your thought process. One that works for me is I am confident, powerful and relaxed whenever I’m on my bike. This particular affirmation was created to counter fears of crashing and self-doubt regarding my place in the Peleton. Though this works for me, your affirmations should be written in your own voice.
Create four or five mantras. During every ride, repeat your mantra out loud and with conviction to yourself for at least 20 minutes. I like to finish each ride with another five minutes of repetition. It reinforces what you’ve already done and keeps the positive thoughts spinning in your head long after the ride is complete. You may feel a little silly at first, but once you start noticing the benefits I guarantee you won’t worry about what anyone is thinking about you.
Step 4: Visualize Success
Objective: Create a picture of success and then achieve it
Exercise: Write a detailed script for your perfect day on the bike, revolving around your upcoming race or event
Duration: 2 weeks
Seasonal Progression: 2 weeks out from a major event
Everything you have done thus far has been designed to improve your general mental state. If you’ve followed the progression, you should notice a greater sense of tranquility, motivation and confidence, not just in your cycling, but in everything you do. Step 4 targets a specific event and channels everything you have done into just a few hours of perfect riding.
Start by writing a script describing, in detail, the most ideal and faultless progression of the big event. For example, you wake up after the perfect night’s sleep feeling rested, excited and optimistic. Your equipment is laid out and ready to go. You drive to the event in record time following perfect directions. You have the ultimate warm up. You feel powerful and confident throughout.
Next, describe the event itself. For this part, it is helpful to draw on past experiences; days when if felt like nothing could hold you back. Contemplate one of those days when everything was “on” and use that to create a vivid, three dimensional painting with words, complete with sounds, smells and sensations. The more detail you include, the more effective your script will be.
Once it is complete, read it out loud to yourself before you go to bed each night. Think about the script as you are falling asleep. Experience every word as if you were in that moment. When you get to the day of your event, you will find that you not only feel and act very much like you did in your script, but that things seemingly outside of your control (such as the pace of the race or the actions of your competitors) seem to be controlled by your visualization. It’s quite amazing – perhaps something that must be experienced to be believed.
You don’t necessarily have to go through this entire process before every big event, but I suggest keeping up with the breathing and the affirmations. The more you do this, the quicker you will be able to incorporate new visualizations and new affirmations into your routines. I look forward to hearing your success stories!
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com. To find out more about the Liquid Cycling club, go to LiquidCycling.com. Membership is free through October 1st.