Tips & Advice

Weight Training for Indoor Rowing

I am very often asked about weight training and its effectiveness for improving indoor rowing times. To answer this correctly, in my opinion, I need to know more about the individual asking the question as it is rarely a one size fits all scenario. It is a really grey area as there have been very fast rowers who have never lifted a weight and there have been very fast rowers who include plenty in their training schedule, and many combinations in between.

There are generally 2 categories of people asking the question. The first are those who have a very limited exposure to weight training in their life and they have started to plateau with their rowing times. They want to know if becoming stronger will give them a further boost in improving their times. The second type are those who have a longer history with weight training and want to know if they are doing too many weights sessions or the wrong type which are potentially getting in the way of progression.

I personally fit into the second category, where for the most part of my adult life I have probably lifted weights 5 times per week – with varying goals. For me to incorporate those levels into my rowing schedule was too much and never allowed me to be fresh enough to progress my rowing. So I slowly lowered the frequency and have settled on 2 sessions per week. I briefly flirted with 3 again, but it was clear to me that upset the training harmony so 2 it was. One of my sessions is more strength based – higher weight, lower reps and longer rest. The other session is more conditioning based – lower weight, higher reps and less rest. I always train with compound movements and both sessions will utilise my whole body including pushing movements that are not necessarily used in rowing, but give your body an overall balance. This system has allowed me to keep the vast majority of my strength, stay in decent shape whilst not impacting my rowing negatively. This feels perfect for me at this stage.

Those who fit in to category 1 would almost certainly benefit from being stronger. However this isn’t an overnight process and needs guidance and structure to achieve, choosing the correct exercises best suited to those muscles used in rowing is very important although with no previous experience this may be preceded with a period of conditioning so your body adapts. Then ideally training would be periodised so that strength was a priority at set times and rowing was very much secondary. Clearly rowing is still a good idea, but excelling on the rower at these times will be unlikely. These gains are best achieved in the off season then the frequency and volume of weight training would decrease as rowing performance becomes more of a priority. Hopefully at this point the increases in strength can be felt resulting in further gains on the rowing machine.

To summarise, and in simple terms, the longer your history and experience with strength training, the less the need for them to help improve your rowing times and potentially they may hinder your progress. Conversely if weights are a new thing then, if done correctly, they may really help you progress. In either category, I am speaking in general terms and it would also need to be considered the distance the individual was training for. Raw strength for a 500m is more relevant than that for a marathon. However, as with most things, it comes down to priorities and consistency is the best approach.

Happy rowing.

Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness for Rowing Performance.

‘It’s OK for you, you are mentally strong’.

‘It’s OK for you, you are good at rowing – you love it’!

I have heard people say these things to me on many occasions. Whether they are true or not is a different story, but what is certainly true is that we are not born with these qualities. They are developed over time with effort, discipline and personal experiences.

In rowing terms mental toughness is often attached to those individuals who keep going when things get tough and where others would perhaps give in. I think it is widely accepted that rowing performance is at least as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, if the brain starts to give in then the body will nearly always follow. A positive (and realistic) mental approach will not guarantee success, but a negative one will almost always lead to a struggle and this is something that we are in control of. I have had many days where I have had a double session scheduled and the morning felt terrible so I feared the evening, yet it went well. This has taught me that there are so many variables in how we feel and perform that we must aim for a mindset where we take each session as it comes. Work with facts and not emotions.

Why do we feel we need to stop?

Putting the handle down (HD or stopping) is common terminology in the rowing community. Some people are more guilty than others, but we are all human so I think it is a situation and subsequent feeling we can all relate to at some point. Generally after an HD we feel angry and wish we had carried on as the pain of giving in is mentally far harder to deal with than the short term pain at the time of the physical effort. Nearly always this is NOT because of the pain that we are in, but because of the perceived pain that lies ahead. It happens far less in training sessions than it does in a time trial when we see our target time drift away as things get tough and the doubts set in. Yet we have been in as much, or more pain, in many training sessions before. The danger of stopping is that will slowly become a habit and more acceptable in the long term

The desire to stop also happens more as our individual performances improve and we near our capacity. The margins we are chasing become finer, meaning the greater the mental and physical effort that is required from us to hit our targets. With improvement and experience also comes greater expectations from ourselves and/or others. With so many variables (energy, mood, nutrition, sleep, hormones, hydration, time of day, health) these fine margins are easily effected so the need for mental toughness grows to ensure those and those greater expectations don’t seem further away.

So what should we do to start to overcome this?

The biggest factor (not easy at all) is to try and work with facts at the time and not your emotions of what you perceive to lie ahead. Be mindful. The pain will rarely be as bad as we imagine and when it does hit, you are close enough to the end by then for us to embrace it and get across the line. There is a critical point (often half way, but not always) where the finish line goes from seemingly miles away to within our reach. This is the first point to aim for when we start to struggle as getting to that point changes our outlook. If the desire to put the handle down is still too big then rather than stop, just back off the pace for a short while. Count strokes in groups of 10 then reassess, even take it a stroke at a time if necessary. These tactics will have a far greater effect on recovery than you think and will also get you mentally and physically closer to the finish.

What happens if we still get the same mental block repeatedly?

If you have applied all the above then quite simply you must at some point carry on when you want to stop. Nobody else can do this bit for you. Even if it means slowing down to below your target. This builds belief for the next time that you can get through also and perhaps at a faster pace. Toughing it out through the hard sessions is in fact building our future performances and the sessions we struggle in are far more important than the straight forward ones for building our physical and mental strength.

Mental strength comes in many forms, from having the discipline and consistency to train when it feels like the last thing we want to do, to not stopping at those vital times when we desperately want to. One thing for sure is that becoming mentally strong doesn’t happen overnight, but takes time to build. We also must recognise that many of these mental hurdles that present themselves will not go away no matter how experienced we get, it is a case of learning how to best deal with them. The good news is that you can make a start with your very next session.

Happy rowing.

Keep Going at Rowing … Sam’s 5 Top Tips

I was recently asked my opinion on the very general topic of ‘Top Tips’ for rowing. Rather than focus on issues related to the use of the machine or technique, I instead focussed on a lifestyle approach to answering the very pertinent question ‘What are the things that are going to contribute to motivation, progress and sustainability when it comes to rowing?’. Essentially  ‘How will you keep going?’.

1.The most important thing for me is consistency. Sporadic, short term goal focussed training won’t equate to much in terms of long term overall progress. Initially of course if you’re new to the sport, short term gains can be massive . Over time however the margins dwindle and it can get difficult to stay patient and consistent with your journey. Dip in and out like a yoyo dieter and your results won’t be sustained and you also won’t progress further. Find a level of training that is sustainable and enjoy the effort and discipline required to execute it.

2. Be clear about the reason you’re rowing. This will be the ultimate motivation for keeping going. What’s your end goal? It could be to get faster, be as competitive as you can, improve general fitness, relieve stress, or a whole host of other personal motivators. Whenever motivation starts to waver look beyond what’s difficult in the moment and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on all the things that were important to you in the moment you decided to give this a go. You’ll likely find that although something is telling you it’s easier not to train right now, there was a really good reason you decided to row, so commit to it wholeheartedly and train regardless (blog – What’s Your Goal).

3. Deal with adversity. Acknowledge and accept that the journey will not always be smooth. Some days are far harder than others for no apparent reason. It’s these days more so than the easier ones, that contribute to growth both personally and athletically. Insightful athletes train smart and know that progress comes in many forms. In my experience training gains come and go in waves . Giving up when things are more difficult simply delays the next wave of progress even further. Surf the urge to give up and you will be rewarded far sooner (blog – Catching a Wave).

4. Aim to complement exercise with a healthy lifestyle. The two go hand in hand and addressing both will multiply your chances of success. Prepare in advance for your sessions, recovery and nutrition. Sleep more, hydrate better. The more we want something, the more perceived sacrifices we will need to make. In time those sacrifices bring reward and no longer seem such a big ask. Lifestyle changes are fundamental to success.
5.Have a structure or follow a training plan. Be accountable to, and motivated by yourself and others. Random, unstructured, mood dependent training is less rewarding and by no means yields the same results. It’s like taking the scenic route in the dark. Know yo ur destination, plan your route and stay patient with your journey (blog-The Importance of a Training Plan).

The “More is more myth”

The “More is more myth”In a highly competitive world where athletes are bigger, better, faster, and stronger than ever we feel it is necessary to increase our volume and length of workouts to reach optimal performance. While one on the outside looking in watches professional athletes working out multiple times a day has to be reasonable and understand that they have the highest standard of care between workouts, best supplements, and have the time to do what it takes to rest accordingly. As a very competitive person and Cross Fit athlete this has been an exceptionally hard pill for me to swallow. However, I know it is best thing we can do for our self is not over thinking our training and to trust the process.

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In all honesty I have fallen in that way of thinking only to be dissatisfied by the outcomes. I was mentally motivated to be better, but my performance were on a downward slope along with life outside of the gym. Health is so much more than physical. Mental health needs to be in a homeostatic state or it will be a dull, dry, unfulfilled, and empty process.

When working out our muscles break down, our central nervous system is working in over drive, tendons strained, glycogen, and electrolytes depleted. Our body enters a catabolic state where we are breaking down enzymes, proteins, and nutrients. When working out our hormones (Cortisol) fight the stress that is produced in our body to build it. Cortisol is necessary for immunity, gluconeogenesis, metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. When we are constantly in a stressed state we never produce enough cortisol which will decrease all the above functions. This depletion of hormones can also cause levels of testosterone and estrogen to deplete which can decrease libido and cause depression. With proper diet, nutrition, and rest our body is able to be in an anabolic state to which we can perform optimally and actually benefit from our hard work. To which, our endeavors can be rewarded. With the less “stuff” in our life. We have a clear mindset and can focus on the things that mean the most and are most beneficial to our happiness.

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All in all more is NOT more and realizing that has improved EVERY aspect of my life. It has especially helped me mentally. I am not anxious in my day or wandering off wanting and feeling I need to be at the gym to be getting better. The best programming and hardest workouts in the world will not better you. Your work ethic and intensity for the hour of the day you set aside will be what you need to be the best you.

Rowdy Hurst. Fitness Matters MetCon Rowing Coach.

Limiting Factors

Limiting Factors

This blog is good therapy for me. I know this blog tends to have a different tone to the others with me talking about my experiences and stuff that I went through in my journey rather than anything directly helpful to you improving your 2k time etc. I hope some of you can take something or relate to this story in someway perhaps shedding light on things you had already believed.

I had an interesting moment of reflection the other day. I’ve got a group of girls I coach aged 15-19. Some work incredibly hard, others find excuses and just do what they need to do to get by. The sad thing is at least this early in their athletic careers some “lazy” ones are also some of the best athletes. It seems unjust that some of those who put in less work perform better than those who work their tails off everyday. It got me thinking about my own journey and lessons learnt along the way.

I was never a fantastic rower at school. The Maadi Cup (worth looking up) was the gold standard for all school kids. I was from a small club without a school program. I rowed with adults, kids form different schools, it didn’t matter. In my Maadi Cup career I got one bronze medal in perhaps the most meaningless event at the regatta (Novice 4+). In reality there would have been about 50 odd rowers more capable than myself by my last year at school. Yes I was fit, yes I was strong, yes I was determined but many kids were further along the curve than myself. I look back on last season to see I’m the only male rower in the country left from the class of 2008.

This got me thinking about limiting factors and how athletes progress. We had some absolute studs come through high school. Guys and girls that made winning multiple golds look easy. They had it all, strength, fitness, technique and mentally clued up enough to put it all together when it mattered. That was another world to me, they seemed super human. By the end of that week 80-90% of U18’s at Maadi Cup will never row again. For the remaining 10-20% they would drop like flies over the next 1-4 years. For the 80-90% they were either burnt out or not passionate about the sport enough to want to continue. School rowing was the pinnacle of the sport for most kids from big rowing programs. For the 10-20% this included either die hard fans like myself or the remaining “studs” who could see a path to the top.

The studs progressed, juniors, u21’s, u23’s, they’ve always had a natural ability for the sport and not much of an obvious limiting factor. I was naive, hard work was the answer to everything and it was, although I wasn’t addressing the elephant in the room (technique) I was progressing. Like Daredevil I heightened my other senses to make up for my limiting factor. I still couldn’t put it all together but I was driven and persistent. The studs didn’t seem untouchable anymore. Their puzzle was near complete and I was still finding the edges. I never reached a point where my limiting factor was completely resolved but I became competent enough to make it to the elite level. The studs got a real life and moved on, they had done their winning over years and years, I had only just started to realise my potential.

It would be amazing to know how many talented rowers there were out there who sold themselves short because they weren’t top dog by age 17. This sport is a long game and it’s not fair on anyone to feel inferior because they haven’t put the puzzle together quicker. Often that is largely up to genetics, environment or just dumb luck. So I believe and quietly hope that the hardest workers I coach will get their dues one day. It might not be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year but it will happen. For all those reading this try think about what your limiting factor might be and focus on it. For too long I undervalued its importance but you’ll never know its impact until you explore it.

Attitude is the biggest limiting factor in sport. At least I got that part right.

Getting Your Best Score – 2k Race Words of Wisdom

Getting Your Best Score – 2k Race Words of Wisdom

Probably one of the questions I get asked most is the broad topic of how someone can get their best 2k score. Now the hard work really needs to have been done in the previous months, but there are certainly ways to get the best out of yourself on that specific day, given your fitness levels at the time.

When race day is upon you, it’s a nerve-racking time whether it’s your first 2k, or your 50th. I’ve been racing at British Indoors for something like 14 years now and I’m still a bag of nerves before the race. But I’ve developed an approach over the years that works for me to give me the best opportunity to perform on the day.

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Firstly, make sure you allow yourself plenty of rest in the days before. By race day, you are where you are physically, and you’re not going to improve your score with any last minute tough training. If anything, it is more likely you could make it worse if you’re fatigued for the race. A 2k isn’t an exam, and you can’t do any last minute ‘cramming’. Your last sessions should be short and sharp, with the focus on quality stroking at the required rate and split.

Ergo tests are stressful enough as it is, so do your best to get everything else about the day ‘right’ so it doesn’t add to the stress. Plan your journey to the venue, and sort out your kit, food and drink the night before. Don’t forget the little things that we all come to rely on like headphones, playlists, heart rate monitor (if you wear one for racing), etc. Think about what you need for the immediate run up to the race – any particular drinks you like, a specific final meal or snack, etc. But ultimately try and stay relaxed as best you can – it’s the same machine that you use all the time in your boat club, garage, gym, etc. Don’t let the change of surroundings phase you – it’s just you and the machine. Master that thought and the universe is yours!

To get the best erg score on any given day, have a clear simple race plan in your mind and barring disaster, stick to it. You’re not going to pull a miracle score out of nowhere, so look at your training, speak to your coach, and agree your target and keep it at the front of your mind.

My tips for race plan would be keep it simple. I go off hard for about 7 strokes and then I am looking to find my target split and sit on it until at least 1250m gone. Then depending upon how I am feeling, the race situation, etc., I will build for home 750m out or leave it to 500m out. I’ve done lots of 750m intervals so mentally just put myself in one of those sessions and find the metres really fly by. I’m not a big fan of pushes, or complicated pace or rate changes, pick a split and try to hit it stroke after stroke. Focus on the next stroke and that is all. It’s always useful to have a few mental tactics ready for when the difficult mental questions appear through the middle section. Remember key training sessions you have done, count the seconds down (I count the seconds from 1000m gone … 9 seconds per 50m is 1:30 pace), or if it gets really tough, count strokes. When you feel like stopping, ask yourself, ‘Can I do 10 more strokes?’ … the answer is almost definitely yes. Do it again if you need to. In my experience, there are only a crucial few really tough moments in a 2k and getting through a particularly challenging section can be key. What feels like an impossible task, 50m later can feel like you’re romping home. Trusting in your training is key. The more aggressive your race plan, the more you need to believe in the preparation you’ve put in. If you’re not sure what shape you are then be conservative for the first k then assess it, but your best score will come from committing from stroke 1 to stroke 200-odd, and you need to know what you are really capable of if you’re to deliver on that plan.

Good Luck!

What’s Your Goal?

What’s Your Goal?

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I’ve spent time this week reflecting on conversations I’ve had with several clients about motivation for training. Mainly from the perspective of how to approach things when motivation feels as if it’s lacking. It’s apparent that a lot of people start to become quite self critical and intolerant when motivation is harder to come by and as a result they begin to question the point of things, seem a bit hopeless and definitely find it hard to let go of all or nothing thinking. There’s certainly no magic fix in these instances, but it’s important to reconnect with what started you on your path in the first instance. What’s your goal?

There’s no one size fits all with this.  We all have different personalities and lead different lives and therefore our reasons for exercising will be dependent on many factors. Generally speaking though I think motivation for training falls into 2 distinct categories:

  1. Progression and improvement in performance.
  2. General health and well being, including:
  • Weight loss
  • General fitness
  • Lifestyle improvement
  • Improve confidence
  • Stress management
  • Interest/stimulation

It is very likely that your reasons for following a training plan or exercise regime will be as a result of one or more of the above, and quite possibly the case that these reasons change over time. All of these reasons are of course completely valid and it is possible to be following the same training plan as someone else whilst at the same time having completely different goals. That’s the beauty of exercise. Target one goal and there will undoubtedly be other positive benefits.img_7899-300x300

When motivation comes into question the best advice I can give is, concentrate on what you want from your training not what someone else is trying to achieve. They could well be on a separate journey. Training doesn’t have to be brutal, prescriptive and directive at all times. If it is, then resentment is the likely outcome…and since when has resentment helped with motivation? Take ownership of your training, approach every session with a clear goal for that session and make adjustments accordingly if that’s what the circumstances dictate. Let go of attachments to all or nothing thinking. Recognise the dangers of an inability to allow yourself some ‘room’. The only real failure is you sabotaging yourself by failing to recognise what’s genuinely needed on a session by session basis.

In my generic training plans I offer individual pace guides that cater for the whole spectrum of participants, from those who are trying to push on and improve their times, to those who are more focused on their physical, emotional and psychological well being. Ultimately training and performance goes in waves, nothing in life is constant.  There’s a natural ebb and flow to everything. The challenge is in striking the right balance between pushing when you can and being flexible when the circumstances change, whilst at the same time giving yourself the credit to know what’s best.

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Experiencing Pain without Suffering: ‘The Journey to the Dark Side’ A Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach to Mental Toughness

 

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Yes, this struggle is real. Training through pure physical and mental pain. Definitely one I can relate to even early on in my indoor rowing career. I also know relative to others, my struggle is minor. Take my coach for example. Less than 6ft and still able to crush a 2k erg in 5.59.8. WTF. How does he do that? I’ll tell you how he does that. He goes to hell and back more times than you can imagine. He got me thinking about mental toughness in relation to sports generally rather than specifically to indoor rowing, although in my opinion rowing as a sport is one of the finest examples.

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Developing mental toughness is one thing, but seriously how do you keep going when you consistently achieve the goals you set yourself. Where do you draw the line when it comes to volunteering for pain? Is there any way of increasing your capacity to apply yourself in this way longer term without giving in to the urges to crash? 

‘Mental toughness’… “the ability to act in a purposeful manner, systematically and consistently, in the pursuit of the values that underlie performance activities ,even (and especially) when faced with strong emotions that we as humans naturally want to control, eliminate, or reduce” *

Just reading this you get a sense of the enormity of this task. Easy to see therefore that developing the skill isn’t straightforward. Yet some people have the ability to go head on into things using this skill or some other slight variation of the ‘mentally tough’ definition, every day. They’re likely to be big achievers in whatever context they operate…but at what price? What’s the impact longer term of being someone with a level of toughness that means regardless of thinking and feeling you consistently throw yourself at incredibly physically and mentally demanding situations? And how do you maintain the ability to be ‘tough’?

If you are indeed tough enough to embark on the process regardless, then you’re over the first hurdle of acting willing in a situation where willfulness, non-acceptance, judgement and emotion are rife so fair play to you, you obviously have some strategies for getting there. It could be that these strategies have been along the lines of skills training interventions offered historically by sports/ performance psychology (goal setting, mental rehearsal, arousal control, positive self-talk and precompetitive routines) with the aim of creating a better performance state through greater self-control of internal experiences such as attention, emotion, cognition **. But how long is it possible to maintain ‘control’ over these intense experiences given the energy they consume prior to being energetic?

More recently there has been a huge amount of literature across a range of psychological disciplines that have questioned the assumption that negative internal experiences invariably lead to negative behavioural outcomes. Is it possible that athletes experiencing negative internal states can still perform optimally? Well actually yes it is. It is now believed that strategies aimed at suppressing unwanted thoughts and emotions can have a paradoxical effect, triggering metacognitive scanning that actively searches for signs of negative or unwanted cognitive activity and brings it to awareness***. Studies have identified the value of acceptance based strategies as an alternative to change and control focussed techniques where the goal is to recognize internal experiences of all kinds as something that will naturally come and go and that do not have to be judged, labelled, managed, controlled or in fact understood if performance is to be enhanced. Enter the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach* which promotes acceptance of one’s internal experience, no matter what it might be, while at the same time focusing the performer on the contextually appropriate behaviours required to fully engage in the valued activities and achieve the determined goal. A fundamental underpinning to this approach is the idea that a flexible approach to experience including thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations is essential for optimal functioning. An unwillingness to remain in contact with difficult internal experiences is a central factor leading to reduced behavioural functioning. In other words the control or reduction of internal experiences is not necessary for creating the ideal performance state, in fact mindful, non-judging, awareness and acceptance of moment to moment cognitive, affective and sensory experiences is evidently more useful*.

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 So in short there’s a useful way to move beyond the gates of hell day to day. Acceptance based strategies seem to fit nicely with the types of internal experience described earlier which occur in anticipation of the next ‘hard’ session whatever form that might take. Acquiring the knowledge and developing the skill obviously takes time, time that we don’t have here but at least we’ve identified the start line. In the absence of time here’s a couple of useful links to follow up at a later date about mindfulness and ‘Teflon Mind’.

What about staying on track without derailing at some point though? Once we’ve developed the skills of mindfulness and acceptance as a means to get on the train day in day out, how do we maintain the commitment to keep driving it in the right direction? When something really hurts, like physically, mentally, everything, how do we find the energy to invest in keeping going? When the going gets ugggggghhhhhh…can the tough really just keep on going?

How about setting goals? Surely when we lose the plot, the point, the purpose, the place to start is being clear on the goal because once we know that, we then know the ‘why’…actually maybe not. Despite the universal belief that goal-setting procedures are gold standard techniques for the enhancement of performance, only six studies have been found that evaluate the value of goal setting and only 2 met the necessary criteria for adequate research design, and NEITHER of these two studies found and significant performance enhancing effects for goal setting procedures* #noway #whoknew.

It’s a good job there’s an alternative. Let’s leave goals and look at VALUES and value-driven behaviour. According to MAC * “Personal values are the anchor point for all behavioural decisions that need to be made in the course of enhancing performance and achieving goals”. They’re the thing that keeps us committed to behaving consistently in line with things that have real worth. If something has REAL worth then obviously it’s much harder to dismiss or lose sight of when the going gets tough right? That makes total sense to me.

By being able to define values and live a life that is directed by these values (including performance related components of life) means the likelihood of performance goals being met is increased. The flip side to a ‘value-directed’ life is an ‘emotion-directed life’ where actions are not in line with what really matters to the individual but instead are in line with what the individual feels or is looking to avoiding feeling/experiencing at any given point…cue inconsistency!!!

“Remember, the JOURNEY is the value. The DESTINATION, is the goal” * If you can define values then you’re on a fast track to staying committed. Simply by asking the question ‘Am I acting in line with my values or am I choosing to respond in line with what might make me feel good right now?’ This ultimately leads to behavioural choices being made not on internal rules or emotions in the moment but instead on more consistent values.

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The first step then is surely to know what your values are. If you were to put me on the spot and ask me, I’d probably struggle to answer and I imagine it would be similar for most people unless they’ve undergone a thorough process of determining what’s important to them in their life and written it down at some point.

The following are some useful questions to consider in the process of defining values:*

  • What do you really want out of your competitive performance EXPERIENCE?
  • How to do you want to be known and remembered by co-workers/team mates/ clients?
  • What journey do you want to experience on the way to the destination?
  • Why is being a solid team member / co-worker important to you
  • What do you value about your activity? The challenge? The prestige? The enjoyment? The interaction with your team? Helping people?
  • Is developing your skill important to you? Why is this meaningful to you? Are there any skills you would like to develop more fully?
  • What issues or behaviours related to skill do you care about? What would you like to do more of?
  • What issues or behaviours related to tactical skill development do you care about? What would you like to do more of?
  • What types of activities do you enjoy? Why do you enjoy them?

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It’s important to remember that the answers aren’t meant to be a statement of goals you want to achieve. They are instead things of real value which you’re able to reflect on, that serve as the anchor when the ‘why’s’ and ‘what for’s’ start to creep in. Spend time on determining values and you will have your anchor. It’s much easier to stay committed when you know it’s because something holds value. Performance and in fact most human behaviour can occur “regardless of the content of thoughts and feelings as long as one stays focussed on the task relevant environment and continues to engage in value driven actions” *. If you’re scared of the dark then values offer a comfort, whether that be a blanket or a night light.

In short, mindfulness and acceptance based strategies along with consistent value directed choices and behaviours NOT emotion focused and directed behaviours are the essence of the elusive ‘mental toughness’ and therefore offer potential light in that often very dark place. So, go find your light and shine it…

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@Drvixtweets

@DBTtweets

Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2402882415/

 

~Inspired by Sam Blythe

www.fitnessmatters.me.uk

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Ref:

* Gardner. F. L., and Moore. Z. E. (2007) The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance. The Mindfulness- Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach.

**Hardy. L. et al (1996) Understanding Psychological Preparation for Sport: Theory and Practice of Elite Performers.

*** Gardner. F. L., and Moore. Z. E. (2006) Clinical Sport Psychology.

https://lifewithnolimitscoaching.com/2012/09/14/mental-skill-of-mindfulness-training/

https://lifewithnolimitscoaching.com/2012/12/02/developing-a-teflon-mindset-in-tough-conditions/

Experiencing Pain without Suffering: ‘The Journey to the Dark Side’ A Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach to Mental Toughness

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Experiencing Pain without Suffering: ‘The Journey to the Dark Side’ A Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach to Mental Toughness

Yes, this struggle is real. Training through pure physical and mental pain. Definitely one I can relate to even early on in my indoor rowing career. I also know relative to others, my struggle is minor. Take my coach for example. Less than 6ft and still able to crush a 2k erg in 5.59.8. WTF. How does he do that? I’ll tell you how he does that. He goes to hell and back more times than you can imagine. He got me thinking about mental toughness in relation to sports generally rather than specifically to indoor rowing, although in my opinion rowing as a sport is one of the finest examples.

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Developing mental toughness is one thing, but seriously how do you keep going when you consistently achieve the goals you set yourself. Where do you draw the line when it comes to volunteering for pain? Is there any way of increasing your capacity to apply yourself in this way longer term without giving in to the urges to crash? 

‘Mental toughness’… “the ability to act in a purposeful manner, systematically and consistently, in the pursuit of the values that underlie performance activities ,even (and especially) when faced with strong emotions that we as humans naturally want to control, eliminate, or reduce” *

Just reading this you get a sense of the enormity of this task. Easy to see therefore that developing the skill isn’t straightforward. Yet some people have the ability to go head on into things using this skill or some other slight variation of the ‘mentally tough’ definition, every day. They’re likely to be big achievers in whatever context they operate…but at what price? What’s the impact longer term of being someone with a level of toughness that means regardless of thinking and feeling you consistently throw yourself at incredibly physically and mentally demanding situations? And how do you maintain the ability to be ‘tough’?

If you are indeed tough enough to embark on the process regardless, then you’re over the first hurdle of acting willing in a situation where willfulness, non-acceptance, judgement and emotion are rife so fair play to you, you obviously have some strategies for getting there. It could be that these strategies have been along the lines of skills training interventions offered historically by sports/ performance psychology (goal setting, mental rehearsal, arousal control, positive self-talk and precompetitive routines) with the aim of creating a better performance state through greater self-control of internal experiences such as attention, emotion, cognition **. But how long is it possible to maintain ‘control’ over these intense experiences given the energy they consume prior to being energetic?

More recently there has been a huge amount of literature across a range of psychological disciplines that have questioned the assumption that negative internal experiences invariably lead to negative behavioural outcomes. Is it possible that athletes experiencing negative internal states can still perform optimally? Well actually yes it is. It is now believed that strategies aimed at suppressing unwanted thoughts and emotions can have a paradoxical effect, triggering metacognitive scanning that actively searches for signs of negative or unwanted cognitive activity and brings it to awareness***. Studies have identified the value of acceptance based strategies as an alternative to change and control focussed techniques where the goal is to recognize internal experiences of all kinds as something that will naturally come and go and that do not have to be judged, labelled, managed, controlled or in fact understood if performance is to be enhanced. Enter the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach* which promotes acceptance of one’s internal experience, no matter what it might be, while at the same time focusing the performer on the contextually appropriate behaviours required to fully engage in the valued activities and achieve the determined goal. A fundamental underpinning to this approach is the idea that a flexible approach to experience including thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations is essential for optimal functioning. An unwillingness to remain in contact with difficult internal experiences is a central factor leading to reduced behavioural functioning. In other words the control or reduction of internal experiences is not necessary for creating the ideal performance state, in fact mindful, non-judging, awareness and acceptance of moment to moment cognitive, affective and sensory experiences is evidently more useful*.

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 So in short there’s a useful way to move beyond the gates of hell day to day. Acceptance based strategies seem to fit nicely with the types of internal experience described earlier which occur in anticipation of the next ‘hard’ session whatever form that might take. Acquiring the knowledge and developing the skill obviously takes time, time that we don’t have here but at least we’ve identified the start line. In the absence of time here’s a couple of useful links to follow up at a later date about mindfulness and ‘Teflon Mind’.

What about staying on track without derailing at some point though? Once we’ve developed the skills of mindfulness and acceptance as a means to get on the train day in day out, how do we maintain the commitment to keep driving it in the right direction? When something really hurts, like physically, mentally, everything, how do we find the energy to invest in keeping going? When the going gets ugggggghhhhhh…can the tough really just keep on going?

How about setting goals? Surely when we lose the plot, the point, the purpose, the place to start is being clear on the goal because once we know that, we then know the ‘why’…actually maybe not. Despite the universal belief that goal-setting procedures are gold standard techniques for the enhancement of performance, only six studies have been found that evaluate the value of goal setting and only 2 met the necessary criteria for adequate research design, and NEITHER of these two studies found and significant performance enhancing effects for goal setting procedures* #noway #whoknew.

It’s a good job there’s an alternative. Let’s leave goals and look at VALUES and value-driven behaviour. According to MAC * “Personal values are the anchor point for all behavioural decisions that need to be made in the course of enhancing performance and achieving goals”. They’re the thing that keeps us committed to behaving consistently in line with things that have real worth. If something has REAL worth then obviously it’s much harder to dismiss or lose sight of when the going gets tough right? That makes total sense to me.

By being able to define values and live a life that is directed by these values (including performance related components of life) means the likelihood of performance goals being met is increased. The flip side to a ‘value-directed’ life is an ‘emotion-directed life’ where actions are not in line with what really matters to the individual but instead are in line with what the individual feels or is looking to avoiding feeling/experiencing at any given point…cue inconsistency!!!

“Remember, the JOURNEY is the value. The DESTINATION, is the goal” * If you can define values then you’re on a fast track to staying committed. Simply by asking the question ‘Am I acting in line with my values or am I choosing to respond in line with what might make me feel good right now?’ This ultimately leads to behavioural choices being made not on internal rules or emotions in the moment but instead on more consistent values.

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The first step then is surely to know what your values are. If you were to put me on the spot and ask me, I’d probably struggle to answer and I imagine it would be similar for most people unless they’ve undergone a thorough process of determining what’s important to them in their life and written it down at some point.

The following are some useful questions to consider in the process of defining values:*

  • What do you really want out of your competitive performance EXPERIENCE?
  • How to do you want to be known and remembered by co-workers/team mates/ clients?
  • What journey do you want to experience on the way to the destination?
  • Why is being a solid team member / co-worker important to you
  • What do you value about your activity? The challenge? The prestige? The enjoyment? The interaction with your team? Helping people?
  • Is developing your skill important to you? Why is this meaningful to you? Are there any skills you would like to develop more fully?
  • What issues or behaviours related to skill do you care about? What would you like to do more of?
  • What issues or behaviours related to tactical skill development do you care about? What would you like to do more of?
  • What types of activities do you enjoy? Why do you enjoy them?

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It’s important to remember that the answers aren’t meant to be a statement of goals you want to achieve. They are instead things of real value which you’re able to reflect on, that serve as the anchor when the ‘why’s’ and ‘what for’s’ start to creep in. Spend time on determining values and you will have your anchor. It’s much easier to stay committed when you know it’s because something holds value. Performance and in fact most human behaviour can occur “regardless of the content of thoughts and feelings as long as one stays focussed on the task relevant environment and continues to engage in value driven actions” *. If you’re scared of the dark then values offer a comfort, whether that be a blanket or a night light.

In short, mindfulness and acceptance based strategies along with consistent value directed choices and behaviours NOT emotion focused and directed behaviours are the essence of the elusive ‘mental toughness’ and therefore offer potential light in that often very dark place. So, go find your light and shine it…

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@Drvixtweets

@DBTtweets

Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2402882415/

 

~Inspired by Sam Blythe

www.fitnessmatters.me.uk

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Ref:

* Gardner. F. L., and Moore. Z. E. (2007) The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance. The Mindfulness- Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach.

**Hardy. L. et al (1996) Understanding Psychological Preparation for Sport: Theory and Practice of Elite Performers.

*** Gardner. F. L., and Moore. Z. E. (2006) Clinical Sport Psychology.

https://lifewithnolimitscoaching.com/2012/09/14/mental-skill-of-mindfulness-training/

https://lifewithnolimitscoaching.com/2012/12/02/developing-a-teflon-mindset-in-tough-conditions/

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

 

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Apparently the phrase defines the modern concept of synergy, and echoes the concept of team spirit…”Together everyone achieves more”. Whilst each individual has a meaning on their own, taken together that meaning may change to create an effect which is greater than the sum of their independent parts…

April 9th 2016 9.00 am saw the start of something new that’s hopefully going to be around for a while. After the success of the Fitness Matters Devon Indoor Rowing Championships (DIRC) back in September 2015, it was time to open the doors on the next FM installment on the race calendar. People travelled for many miles to mark the end of the indoor rowing season with this final event. A valuable collection of both new and familiar faces. Things have gathered momentum since September, the word has spread…and we welcomed just over 100 participants with a mere handful of people who were sadly unable to make the event at the last minute.

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I’ve only recently committed to a partnership with Sam Blythe in the context of Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing, although I have been involved with the online community he’s organically grown for much longer. This was also my first experience of hosting AND participating in an event so in some respects although you could say my view is biased (being a ‘FM Newbie’).

So the day itself was a real cocktail of athletes (I figure anyone that enters a sporting competition warrants the title of athlete if only for the duration), thrown together by a common aim…to achieve . Ergo fanatics  and rowing rookies stood side by side to applaud the races.

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The kids took on 4 minutes of complete madness whilst their parents willingly volunteered and signed up for the 1k. The armed forces did what they do best and made us all proud by turning up en mass to participate and support the event. There were British and World records broken, 17 races in all, and more PBs and SBs than you could shake a stick at (season’s bests not Sam Blythes) Many an indoor rowing seal got broken by those who bravely entered in the absence of any experience alongside the ‘big guns’ which included an array of English, British and World Indoor Rowing Championship competitors.
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The relay finale meant the day ended with a bang, 2000m of chaos for those that took part (or was that just me?) and roughly 5 to 6 minutes of mass hysteria for those watching…a real recipe for success and definitely one we won’t be messing too much with for the future.

As the title suggests the biggest impression I was left with after I sat and reflected during the lengthy drive home was the sense that the whole really is greater than the  sum of its parts. Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing would not be what it is without its participants, either at our races, following our training plans/WOD’s, or taking part in  our Facebook Concept 2 Rowing Hub. I also believe that we (speaking as a participant in the sport) would not be what we are without the opportunities the Fitness  Matters offers us as a sporting community. In essence, together, we do achieve more. There’s a definite hum of productivity and growth when the 2 interact, things mostly  click, and things definitely evolve. Two completely independent agents (the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’) acting in common to create an effect which is truly greater than the sum of  those effects (the ‘We’). It’s a great feeling…and that synergy makes for a great sport.

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For me this day was a success, a real pleasure to be involved in on every level and a huge motivator in terms of my desire to innovate, build, progress (never stand still lol)  in a sport that I have great passion for. A new insight, a chance to socialise, compete, support and be supported. So for now a massive thanks to those that were involved in the planning, the set up, the delivery and the execution of what was a very memorable day. We’re really hoping to see you all and many more at the next one…

FYI…Devon Indoor Rowing Championships 2016

In the meantime you’ll find us here

Fitness Matters Concept 2 Rowing Hub

Fitness Matters Ltd.

FMRowing

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~ Victoria Taylor  ~

Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing

Photo Credit: Anne Yates