Posts

Training For The Mind: Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

To the untrained eye, the reason that we exercise is to simply improve our fitness. We lift to improve our strength and build muscle and we go on long runs, swims or rides to develop our endurance. That is what, at the most basic level, training is all about – improving our athletic performance.

Sometimes I hear people disregard rest days and the importance of recovery. I usually laugh at this as the inner scientist in me cringes. At first glance, this attitude would seem to come from the false belief that improvements in our physiology occur in the gym and whilst exercising, rather than in our sleep and time spent recovering, and for the vast majority of people, it is likely to be true that they are incorrectly taking this ‘no rest’ approach with the aim of improving their fitness.

However, to some, there is more to training than simply improving fitness. To some, training is less about the body, than it is about the mind. Take David Goggins for example, he never has a rest day, and to many, this would seem crazy and futile. But, the most important thing to him when training is the development of his mental toughness. For some people, training is not about improving their body or fitness, these are just welcome bi-products. Instead, training is about the mind. Creating a high level of suffering to develop their mental toughness and themselves as a person.

‘Who on this f**king earth would be going right now? You are! I believed it enough to where my body said: “he’s not gonna stop”.’

David Goggins

I’m certainly not suggesting that you do go at 100% all the time, and you should give yourself time to rest and recover. But we can learn a lot from the mentality shown by Goggins: we should not be using science as an excuse for slacking. In that sense, you would only be cheating yourself. We should however use the science when it is correctly applied and take appropriate recovery for the our exercise. Indeed, by its very definition, you cannot recover without putting the work in first.

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

Marcus Aurelius

If we cave in to feelings of needing to stop we our losing an internal battle with our mind, and the mind is immensely powerful. Under conditions of mental fatigue our endurance performance is shown to decrease significantly (1,2). Yet, the science shows that using Brain Endurance Training over a 12-week programme was shown to yield 3x the improvement in athletic performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial (3). By putting our mind under uncomfortable conditions and testing our mental capacities we can break the boundaries of what was previously possible.

“That’s one of my big things too is, you know, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable”

Laura Kline – Rewire Athlete

To read more about the Rewire Brain Training System, click here.

References

1.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Manning V. Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 

2.        Lopes TR, Oliveira DM, Simurro PB, Akiba HT, Nakamura FY, Okano AH, et al. No Sex Difference in Mental Fatigue Effect on High-Level Runners’ Aerobic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2020;Volume Pub. 

3.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Merlini M. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2015; 

Recommended Reading

Can’t Hurt Me
by David Goggins

Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle is the Way
by Ryan Holiday

The Joe Rogan Experience #1212 – David Goggins

The Tim Ferriss Podcast: Ryan Holiday (#4)

INEOS 1:59 – A week on…

2019, so far, has been an incredible year of sport. The heroics of Ben Stokes in both the World Cup and Headingley Test. Huge comebacks in the Champions League knockout stages. Japan’s unexpected dominance in the pool stages of their home World Cup. And most recently, a weekend to remember in the marathon…Brigid Kosgei breaking the women’s record, taking a staggering 81 seconds off a 16 year record, and Eliud Kipchoge breaking the 2-hour marathon barrier.

I distinctly remember two years ago watching the Breaking2 attempt and being both amazed and upset about how close Kipchoge was to breaking 2 hours. It was incredible how much he actually knocked off the previous record, yet was only 1 second off the pace-per-mile to breaking 2 hours. However, this made the most recent attempt even more incredible. Kipchoge is relentless and with a goal in his sight he will never gave up. Almost uniquely, he is an athlete that is impossible not to like. A quiet man with a humble lifestyle and background, coupled with almost everything he says being a motivational quote makes him the ideal candidate for such a feat.

In life, the idea is to be happy. So, I believe in calm, simple, low-profile life. You live simple, you train hard and live an honest life. Then you are free.

Eliud Kipchoge

Following the record last weekend, a few things were thrown into controversy. The use of pacemakers, drafting and most notably: the shoes. Both Kipchoge and Kosgei were wearing models of Nike’s latest developments. Whilst Kosgei seemed to be wearing the commercially available Next% shoes (in accordance with IAAF rules), Kipchoge was wearing what Nike has called ‘A future version of Nike’s Next% marathon shoe’. The initial Vaporfly 4% were named due to the 4% improvement in running economy that they created on average. The Next% goes even further than this and Kipchoges mystery shoe, rumoured to be called alphaFLY, goes even further still. Some called the shoes a form of ‘Technical Doping’ giving athletes an unfair advantage due to the three individual carbon fibre plates and four individual cushioning pods to name just a few innovations each providing propulsion and economy to the runner’s stride.

Eliud Kipchoge (white vest) and his pacemaking team run through Vienna. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Vienna, Austria. 12 October 2019. Photo: Joe Toth for The INEOS 1:59 Challenge

For me, I have no problem with the development. In fact, I welcome it. Firstly as an unofficial record, the attempt is there to show that a sub-2-hour marathon is possible allowing other athletes to push to achieve and exceed this. Kipchoge said this himself: ‘I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.’. Secondly, innovation in technology is a huge part of sport. Huge teams are behind every elite athlete. In 2018, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team had around 950 employees working on the same goal of achieving the best car. Something they have just achieved for the sixth time on the trot, by winning their 6th Constructor’s title in a row after last weekend in Japan. Innovation allows this to be possible. Each of those employees is able to innovate and push technology further than ever – building on the idea of marginal gains. It allows creativity and competition between teams each pushing each other’s limits. This makes the races and season more interesting with teams like Mercedes being faster in the corners and teams like Ferrari being faster on the straights. Hopefully, companies like Adidas are able to catch up with Nike and start to compete with them. It would be great to see a ‘space race’ between companies like these to achieve new records. The technology used at an elite level also trickles down to the commercial consumer level improving lives for everyone.

The magnitude of this most recent record is huge. It sits alongside Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and the first sub-10 second 100m time recorded by Jim Hines with a time of 9.95 seconds. The interesting thing about both these records is that people once thought these barriers were unbreakable, and since then we’ve had Hicham El Guerrouj set a mile time of 3:43.13 and Bolt set a time of 9.58 seconds in the 100m – the barriers have been broken even further. Kipchoge’s record will be pushed further and hopefully in an official sense. I also hope Kipchoge takes the official record; he deserves it more than anyone right now, especially with his commitment and devotion to these unofficial records.

A lot has been said about the mindset of athletes like Kipchoge. Relentlessly devoted and focussed towards a goal. The mental aspect of performance is almost universally accepted as being a very important part, yet few people devote time to training their brain. Hopefully, as cognitive training comes more to the forefront of training, athletes will be able to reach higher heights than ever – pushing these records further than ever before. Evidence of the need for cognitive training in sports can be seen by the improvements in performance seen in studies where Brain Endurance Training is combined with regular training. Staiano et al., 2015 showed that those undergoing brain training at the same time as regular training had 3x the increase in performance in a time-to-exhaustion test over a 12-week period compared to a control group doing the same physical training without brain training. This shows that devotion to cognitive training is necessary if we want to push human performance to new levels and make the ‘impossible’ possible. 

Thank you, Eliud, for showing us that #NoHumanIsLimited

Eliud Kipchoge is lifted by his pacemaking team after becoming the first person to break the two hour barrier for the marathon distance. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Vienna, Austria. 12 October 2019. Photo: Bob Martin for The INEOS 1:59 Challenge

I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited.

Eliud Kipchoge

Study Covered in Article for Further Reading

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise” 
by Walter Staiano, Michele Merlini, Samuele M Marcora
Conference: ACSM Annual Meeting, 2015

The Science Behind Mental Toughness

Mental toughness can be defined as a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective or objective performance despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities. (Gucciardi et al., 2015)

Clearly, mental toughness is a beneficial quality to have, it allows you to push past inevitable setbacks to achieve success. But how do we become more mentally tough?

In a study by Jones et al., 2002, athletes ranked 12 attributes of mental toughness in order of importance. Numerous studies, including this one, show that the most important attribute of mental toughness is self-belief in your ability to achieve goals. Self-belief in yourself can be developed through vicarious experiences – by watching others who have embarked on a similar path and have achieved success, you can develop the belief that you can achieve that same success yourself. What you believe about yourself and tell yourself are crucial to mental toughness, Rewire has integrated self-talk mantras to help develop this and in turn, build your mental toughness.

“This record was in my mind for a long time, I’m so happy to have made it reality today.”

Geoffrey Kamworor – On his Half Marathon World Record (2019)
Integrated Self-Talk Mantras in the Rewire app.

In this same study, athletes ranked ‘bouncing back from performance set-backs as a result of increased determination to succeed’ as the second most important attribute of mental toughness. One of the athletes involved with the study was quoted as saying ‘Nobody’s rise to the top is completely smooth, there are always little hiccups or turns in the road.’ Negative results provide increased determination as no one ever wants to be known as a ‘failure’. This increased determination coming from failure is a key part of mental toughness, it differentiates those who will never give up from those who will.

The third most important attribute of mental toughness was a self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents. Rewire is all about developing qualities that set you apart from your competition by providing mental training so that you can develop your mental endurance above that of your competitors, allowing you to have that self-belief that you are better than your opponents.

‘Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast; but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.’

Tom Brady

The fourth attribute, and the final one we will discuss, is the ability to remain fully focused on tasks in the face of competition-specific distractions. Numerous distractions can occur in competitions, causing your mind to be taken off the task at hand reducing your performance. Using Rewire helps to develop your mental focus. You are ranked on mental focus after every training workout, with the ability to track it over time.

The metrics available in the Rewire app.
The metrics available in the rewire app including Mental Focus.

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete and Former World Duathlon Champion, tells us: ‘It’s not letting your mind wander and your legs slow down as it [Rewire] keeps you focused the entire time.’

To summarize, mental toughness is universally accepted as a key part of athletic performance, as Eliud Kipchoge says: “If you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you”. Mental toughness allows you to achieve high levels of performance even in the face of setbacks. It’s time we started to work on it….

‘If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it.’

Michael Jordan

Studies Covered in Article for Further Reading

‘What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers’
Jones G; Hanton S; Connaughton D.
JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY
Copyright © 2002 by the Association for Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology

‘The Concept of Mental Toughness: Tests of Dimensionality, Nomological Network, and Traitness’
Gucciardi F; Hanton S; Gordan S; Mallett C; Temby P
Journal of Personality 2015
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.