We all know that exercise is beneficial for the body in many ways, but keeping your mental health strong requires some effort, too. In trying times, it becomes apparent that the strength of our body is only as great as the strength of our mind — you could be physically capable of pushing 200 watts on an out-of-the-saddle sprint, but if you tell yourself that you can’t do it, then you won’t! You challenge your physical strength every time you hop into a Peloton class, but don’t leave your mind behind. Below, we’re looking at the science behind positive thinking during your workouts, and Peloton instructors Jess Sims and Olivia Amato discuss how mental strength plays a part in their training routine.
Get Rid Of The Negative
A key component of mental strength is setting up your mind to welcome positive thoughts. “Our bodies are capable of amazing things, but it is our mind that tends to get in the way,” says Jess. “We get distracted by what happened before our workout, we get worried about our to-do list for after the workout, and then — when something feels tough mid-workout — we’re mean to ourselves. We tell ourselves we can't do it, we think we are weak, ugly, and it snowballs into a negative tailspin.” Sound familiar? If so, Jess suggests focusing in on a concept from one of her favorite sayings, “you don’t have to, you get to.” “Once you shift your mindset to that of, ‘I get to do this workout,’ and understanding that not every workout will feel like Disneyland, we learn to appreciate the ‘bad’ workout or the ‘failure’ when we had to modify the movement — we start to fall in love with the process and stop judging ourselves and berating ourselves for where we currently are.” Not only will positive self-talk help you power through your workout mentally, but it could also result in visible performance gains. According to one comprehensive study of a body of research on self-talk in sport, “positive, instructional, and motivational self-talk were associated with enhanced sport performance.” The next time you’re searching for a couple more points on your output or a tad more speed on your sprint, know that it’s within your reach — you just have to be your own best cheerleader!
Visualize The Change
Olivia has some fun with the technique she uses for keeping the thoughts in her head mostly positive. “My friends poke fun of me after taking my classes because I refer to my ‘imaginary fly swatter’ — whenever I get any kind of negative thought, I get my imaginary fly swatter out to direct that thought away and replace it with something positive,” she says. “I find this really helps me to keep going when my mind is telling me otherwise — we all have the tools we need to succeed, we just have to hold ourselves accountable and use them!” Like positive self-talk, using imagery during a workout has been shown to produce strength gains past what could be achieved without the help of visualization. In a study conducted by California State University, in which participants were given an imagery script to follow before, during and after a one repetition maximum deadlift attempt, it was concluded that “athletes who are more confident and who use effective imagery during strength training may be able to perform at a higher level.” This points to the idea that the body can indeed achieve whatever the mind believes!
“Our bodies are capable of amazing things, but it is our mind that tends to get in the way.”
Jess uses a neat linguistic trick to help keep her focus shifting towards her future success. “When I’m struggling with a particular movement I add the word ‘yet’ to my thoughts. So if you catch yourself being negative about having to use lighter weights, don't just say, ‘I can't do 20 lbs,’ say, ‘I can't do 20 lbs yet,” suggests Jess. “This speaks to having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset — where you are right now is not where you will be forever if you are consistent and work hard.”
Look Back To Look Forward
It’s important to recognize the difference between challenging yourself and pushing your body to an unsafe place. “A healthy uncomfortable is usually a mix of both mental and physical challenges,” says Olivia. “For example, healthy signs of being uncomfortable could be feeling tired, out of breath, wanting to stop because you feel you’re not strong enough or wanting to stop because it’s something you haven’t done before — these are all signs that you’re challenging yourself in a safe way,” she says. “That being said, if you are physically experiencing sharp pains or any pain at all, that isn’t something you should push through and you should consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible.” When you’re sure you’re safe, thinking about your progress and how much your comfort zone has grown is a super motivating tool. But sometimes you don’t need to look back too far into the past to acknowledge how you’ve grown, as exercise can often have an immediate effect on the way you’re feeling. Aerobic exercise “is associated with improvements in mental health including mood state and self-esteem,” including “improvements in state anxiety and mood,” according to a study conducted by Indiana University-Bloomington. If you’re having a bad mood day, your mindset on the other side of a tough workout might be worlds away from before you started. Olivia uses this post-workout bliss as motivation. “I’m constantly reminding myself of anything tough I’ve done in the past, the feeling I had in the moment and the feeling I experienced after,” she says. “Reminding myself that the end goal is much greater than the feeling of being a little uncomfortable in the moment. I remind myself that the feeling is only temporary and to do what I tell my runners and riders to do: push out of your comfort zone and into your greatness.”