Thursday, 7 July 2011

Arousal and Performance Part Deux

I spent Sunday following Gabriel Sayer’s progress at Ironman Austria. He had a fantastic race setting a new PB in the swim and finishing the race in 9h 24m 55s! Going under 10 hours is a real milestone in long distance racing. So he smashed that milestone good and proper! Nice one Gabriel.

Following on from the first blog on 'Arousal and Performance' here are some strategies that might help you regulate your arousal level before and during a performance:

To increase arousal levels

  • Goal setting: Write down some challenging performance goals that you want to focus on. Put your goals in your pocket or bag so that you can review them before the race and think about them during the race if you find your effort levels falling.
  • Visualisation/imagery: Spend some time visualising positive performances from the past or imagine yourself performing exactly the way you want to in the event you are about to compete in.
  • Positive self-talk: Try repeating positive words or statements to yourself or have a positive quote in your pocket for quick reference. For example: ‘I will swim strong and relaxed’. Remember what Chrissie Wellington said – ‘No limits!’
  • Body language: Try to project a positive, energised, confident image. The body can influence the mind just as the mind can influence the body. You don’t have to strut around like a peacock dressed head to toe in compression wear but at least try breaking into a smile!
  • Environment: Surround yourself with positive people (this is pretty easy when you have a club like ours) and place yourself in an environment where there is some activity such as in the transition area. No matter how small the triathlon is there always seems to be a buzz of excitement in transition.
  • Music: Listen to some high-energy music. No personal music devices are allowed in transition or on course however.
  • Physical activity: A structured warm-up routine is a great way to get both body and mind prepared for racing. If you watch elite athletes you will see them take a very methodical approach to warming up for this reason.

To decrease arousal levels

  • Reduce your mental load: Share your thoughts and feelings with someone in your support network such as a coach or club mate. Ask about their experiences with anxiety/high arousal and how they coped. I can share a few nightmare swim experiences with you for sure. It’s ok to be nervous – every athlete experiences anxiety/high arousal at some stage! The trick is to be able to control it and turn in into something positive.
  • Distraction: Talk about things unrelated to triathlon or engage in a distracting task (i.e. listen to calming music, read a book, magazine or a newspaper).
  • Environment: Distance yourself from anxiety-provoking people and situations. Set yourself up in transition next to someone you feel will have a calming influence if you can. If you find the transition area a bit stressful, get set up and then leave the area so that you can find a somewhere to relax pre-race.
  • Focus: Remain focused on the things that are within your control – yourself, your performance, and the present moment.
  • Thought control: Reduce or “switch off” any inappropriate or negative thoughts. Try to decrease the amount of time you spend thinking about your performance and allow your body to perform automatically.
  • Visualisation/imagery: In your mind, rehearse performing well and feeling confident and relaxed.
  • Physical activity: A warm-up can also have a calming influence depending on how you perform it. The key is having an established routine that works for you.
  • Relax: Engage in activities that relax your mind and body (e.g. breathing exercises, listening to relaxing music, meditation, having a laugh, having a pre-race massage). Ask Andrew Finn and Joe Dale about their experience with laughter at Wimbleball. Here is a clue: Would you pee on the bike or hold it in?
  • Preparation: “Tick all the boxes” with regards to your physical and mental preparation, plan your performance and be organised. Get to the event in plenty of time and allow yourself adequate time to set up warm-up and make last minute toilet stops if need be.

It’s a good idea to trial several different strategies over a period of time. After each performance, keep a record of the strategies you used and rate your arousal level on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 = very low, and 10 = very high). The goal is to try to find the strategies that help you reach your optimal arousal level (a number somewhere in the middle) and achieve peak performance and then reproduce them every time you race.

This Saturday is our aerobic swim session. With some big races coming up we will include some open water skills as well. Sunday is a technique session but there will still be a fitness component. On Saturday you will need fins and Sunday you will need fins and a pull buoy. Our Saturday interval session is another tough one. 5km pace and 1km pace efforts over 300m and 100m respectively.

Here are some interesting videos looking at 5 steps to learning flip turns. Have a look and see what you think. If you want us to incorporate flip turns into our sessions let us know. Just click on the links: One, two, three, four, five.

See you on Saturday, Tim (LFTC Coach). PS. Promise not to skive off early for breakfast this week!