‘And you’re wear­ing a polka-dot top and spot­ted trousers, so you have noth­ing to say to me. Also, you have no neck’,

Be mind­ful of the best re­sults in the gym and on the run

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

THE BEST RUN­NERS, we of­ten hear, are black belts in the art of fo­cus. While the rest of us are won­der­ing if we left the ket­tle on, those at the front of the pack are cen­tring their thoughts on…well, what, ex­actly? Be­ing fo­cused, on its own, isn't nec­es­sar­ily help­ful – your per­for­mance de­pends on where you fo­cus your at­ten­tion. The best way to fo­cus de­pends on the con­text.

1. DUR­ING STRENGTH TRAIN­ING

Hoist­ing a weight seems sim­ple, but it in­volves co­or­di­nat­ing the pre­cise move­ments of thou­sands of in­di­vid­ual mus­cle fi­bres in the cor­rect se­quence. So, once you’ve prac­tised an ex­er­cise enough that it be­comes fa­mil­iar, your best bet is to let your body run on au­topi­lot. In­stead of fo­cus­ing in­ter­nally, on the move­ments of your mus­cles and limbs, fo­cus on the ex­ter­nal re­sults of your ac­tions.

For ex­am­ple, in a re­cent study, sub­jects pro­duced 12 per cent more force in a bi­ceps curl mo­tion when they were told to pull on the weight as hard and fast as pos­si­ble com­pared to when they were told to con­tract their mus­cles as hard and fast as pos­si­ble. The study found sim­i­lar re­sults for ply­o­met­ric ex­er­cises such as jump­ing, where fo­cus­ing on push­ing off the floor was bet­ter than con­cen­trat­ing on con­tract­ing mus­cles.

2. WHILE RUN­NING

Much of the re­search on fo­cus has dealt with tasks in­volv­ing strength or skill, but run­ning, too, is a com­plex ac­tiv­ity. A 2009 study found that run­ners be­came less ef­fi­cient when they were told to fo­cus on the move­ment of their feet com­pared to when they con­cen­trated on their en­vi­ron­ment.

Of course, sus­tain­ing fo­cus dur­ing an hour-long run re­quires more ef­fort than do­ing so dur­ing a few press-ups. So stick to pe­ri­odic form check-ins, em­pha­sis­ing ex­ter­nal cues (‘claw the ground’) over in­ter­nal ones (‘snap your legs back’).

Be­tween check-ins, choose your fo­cus ac­cord­ing to the con­text. Dur­ing in­ter­vals, fo­cus on your pace and how it re­lates to your sense of ef­fort; dur­ing a race, fo­cus on your com­peti­tors. And dur­ing an easy run, en­joy the scenery and let your mind wan­der.

3. DUR­ING RE­COV­ERY

The phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of ice baths, com­pres­sion gar­ments and mas­sage re­main hotly de­bated. But if you have a post-work­out rou­tine that makes you feel good, there are rea­sons to be­lieve it will help you.

In a 1998 study, a group of den­tal stu­dents agreed to have two wounds punched in the roofs of their mouths: one dur­ing hol­i­days and the other just be­fore their ex­ams. The hol­i­day wounds healed in an av­er­age of eight days, while the exam wounds took 11. Sim­i­larly, a Yale study in 2012 found that stu­dents who re­ported higher stress lev­els took longer to re­cover their strength af­ter per­form­ing a hard work­out.

Your mental state af­fects re­cov­ery, so fol­low­ing a tough run, re­lax. Whether that’s with a mas­sage or, as au­thor and run­ning coach Steve Mag­ness sug­gests, en­joy­ing so­cial time with train­ing part­ners, re­lax­ing helps en­sure you're primed for the next run.

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