Top ten habits of elite athletes (for the non-elite athlete) – part I

Joe and I went to the gym this morning and had a good quick workout. My training plan called for 4 miles today, and I was going to run outside until I saw this:

It’s also doing a weird heavy-misting-not-quite-raining deal, and since this is how I felt about being outside…

….to the gym it was.

Since I am an elite athlete, we made it home with plenty of time to spare.

SPEAKING of deranged people elite athletes, I came across this interesting article:

Top 10: Habits Of Elite Athletes

(As a side note, there was a link to a video called, “Produce the Best Breastmilk” at the bottom of the page. On a men’s website. Right.)

Reading through the article made me think about my fitness and health habits compared to those of elite athletes. While most elite athletes have access to resources that us non-athletes can only dream about (like personal coaches and trainers and heaps of gold), a lot of the habits here are completely adaptable for the lehman. Below I’ve listed the ways that I think any average person can improve their personal habits using the habits of the elite as inspiration.

10. Envision success

By playing a “mental movie” of their conquests in upcoming competitions, [elite athletes] not only improve their performance, but also pre-emptively calm their nerves. The clearer the visualization, the more powerful the impact.”

Non-elite habit: fortunately, this is an easy one to adapt. Anyone can envision success. The hurdle that many non-elite athletes (and especially those just starting fitness plans) come across is finding the confidence to truly believe that the success they are envisioning is attainable. I have found that the best way to build confidence is by setting SMART goals. Breaking down your objective by making it specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely is proven to increase success (and therefore, your confidence that you can achieve more!).

Here’s an example of a non-SMART goal:

I am going to get famous really quickly from writing an awesome blog.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal:

I am going to earn one million followers for my blog by next January 22 by posting pictures of cats, promising to make my readers into elite athletes, and putting up as many pictures of my attractive husband as possible .

See how breaking it down inherently gives me a plan to follow?…

9. Cooldown

“Cooldowns help facilitate recovery by processing metabolic waste products, restoring shortened muscles to their resting length, and allowing the athlete to unwind mentally.”

Non-elite habit: this is where I messed up when training for my first half marathon. Because I never stretched or cooled down after my training runs, I wasn’t doing my body the favor of allowing it to restore itself. If running were my livelihood, would I have committed to those extra 10 minutes at the end of a workout? Definitely. But just because I’m not getting paid the big bucks or getting publicity for my physical abilities, that doesn’t mean that keeping my body in top condition isn’t important. Remembering that we only get one body, and that we want to be able to comfortably do the activities we want to do for a long time is a great mindset to practice.

8. Consume sports drinks

“Consuming a sports drink during [a] workout also helps maintain blood glucose levels within the normal range so athletes don’t have peaks and crashes in their energy levels.”

Non-elite habit: water is essential for staying hydrated throughout the day and through moderate workouts; however, high-energy activity longer than 60-90 minutes requires that you fuel your body with sodium and electrolytes that you may be losing (source). While most elite athletes probably have little concern about gaining weight, I know many people who want to lose weight and avoid sports drinks because of the high amount of calories or the long ingredients list. There are a plenty of great alternatives to Gatorade for your fueling pleasure, including regular (or chocolate) milk, coconut water, and homemade remedies (see here for a couple of easy, delicious-looking options).

7. Identify with successes

“When athletes make mistakes, they try to learn from and forget them instantly so they don’t linger.”

Non-elite habit: if I had a dollar for every time I have thought in my head, “I KNEW that was going to happen!!” angrily when I got sucked into Bridezilla and let my Eggos burn in the toaster, I would have at least $6. Obviously, harping on the fact that I continue to make the same mistake has not helped me move forward to improve.

The same goes for any situation  – my jump rope coach loves to remind the team that preparing for competition is 90% mental and 10% physical. If you have trained for an event, likely you are physically prepared for what you’ll need to do (unless you get injured or are sick). The mind is a tricky muscle to train, though, and in high-stress situations, it can make even the strongest athletes’ bodies do crazy things. Prepare yourself mentally by practicing in the exact conditions you will be performing in – if you’re running a marathon, eat what you are planning to eat on race day, run the race route before the race, do your specific warm up and cool down, and if you can, do as many races (even if they’re shorter distance) before the marathon day as possible to become comfortable with the race-day atmosphere.

6. Post-game training

“Training after a game “clumps” competition — and training-related stresses — and allows for a prolonged recovery window.”

Non-elite habit: to be honest, I had never heard this tip before. BUT I do have an idea of how to adapt it!

Elite athletes tend to practice or train the same day as a big event in order to have more down time in between games – this allows their bodies more time to fully devote itself to recovering before the next event. The lesson here is that even high-level athletes (well, especially high-level athletes) know the importance of pushing their bodies to become faster/get stronger by pushing their limits and then taking REST days. Though it may seem counterintuitive, training hard four or five days a week with two or three complete rest days will help you grow and recover faster and more efficiently than lack-luster training seven days a week.

5. Pre- and post-game nutrition

“Athletes make sure they get the nutrition they need to maximize their intensity, energy and recovery.”

Non-elite habit: fueling our bodies is just as important (if not more) for optimal physical performance as training is. The article explains is succinctly here:

“[Before working out], [t]he goal is to ingest the right nutrients to provide the athlete the energy he needs.   Afterward, the goal is recovery. Post-workout, the body is “primed” for shuttling carbohydrates into the muscle to replenish depleted energy stores and for stimulating protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding).”

Not only does splitting up your food for the day into little meals help keep your metabolism humming (plus you get to eat more often…aWeSoMe), but it provides your muscles with the fuel they need to perform at their peak and fix themselves after you DESTROY them during your workout (insert caveman scream here). If you feel like you can’t eat anything right before training, even a spoonful of peanut butter and a coconut water will help you power through without weighing you down. Afterwards, fix yourself a balanced meal within a few hours of working out to keep the benefits rolling instead of stalling out when your body runs out of gas.

Aaaand with that, this post became a whole lot longer than I was anticipating! So I’m breaking it up into two parts and then next part will be coming tomorrow.

Happy New Week’s Eve! (aka Sunday).

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