A few years ago I looked into doing a Masters in Sport Psychology. Having seen first hand how positive attitudes and mental toughness pulls people through their workouts, I wanted to learn more and share it with my students.
In the September/October issue of “Canfitpro Magazine,” Dr. Hayley Perlus has written an article entitled, “Mental Toughness Training for Endurance Athletes.” I do not work with endurance athletes who are running marathons but I do work with students well into their late seventies and early eighties and to me these two groups of people have many things in common. ‘Working out’ for the older crowd is about going the distance and staying fit right up until life’s finishing line. We are all on a race course of sorts; the race course of life. As Dr Perlus points out, the challenges faced by her clientele are threefold: pain, intensity and fear. Seniors face these obstacles every day just in a different form. Her suggestion is that it is how we handle each of these challenges that determines our success.
My students taught me many years ago, that most of them live with constant pain in their joints. “Beth, if you wake up one day and you have no pain, it means that you are dead!” I have watched all of them show up to class, without exception and push themselves through the exercises. I always caution them to listen to their bodies but what I see is that they have learned to navigate the pain just like an athlete does. Dr. Perlus recommends using visualization to power through. She says to focus on skill mastery which is exactly what my students do. They focus on learning that new dance or those new moves. They distract themselves from the pain in order to keep moving forward!
When teaching I remind my students to keep track of how they are feeling. Dr. Perlus teaches us that proper pacing is the key to success. We do not want to use too much energy too fast and not be able to complete the class. Again my senior students are experts at pacing themselves. The students who are the most successful are the ones who listen to the cues from their bodies. It is all about checking in with your performance regularly. Dr. Perlus wants her athletes to ask themselves, “does my race feel faster today?” Or, “am I thinking clearly?” This is excellent advice for anyone. During your workout check in with your performance. Stay focused on how you are doing compared to the last time you were with me and then adjust accordingly.
Fear for the athlete means worrying that you will not make it up the next hill. I would argue that seniors face this type of fear daily however they face it with a great sense of purpose and humour. Dr. Perlus says that, “fear make us retreat while challenges make us defeat.” What a great way to view life. She suggests that we must feel our fears but face them anyway! My students have taught me this time and time again. They show up to class to keep the fear from getting in the way of living. Life gets harder and harder as we age because our bodies and lives are changing so unpredictably. It would be easy to stay home and feed into all of our fears about getting to class; the drive, the road conditions, the possibility of accidents etc. The key is to face these fears but to focus on achieving your goal and go to class anyway! The joys will far outweigh the risks.
I bet you have never considered yourself to be an Endurance Athlete. Well to all of my students I say that you are the best athletes I know! I am so proud of all of you!
See you soon,