Running Hypnosis: Run Faster By Unleashing Your Inner Cheetah

This weekend I was out as usual for my long slow run. For one reason and another it's been a while but I'm now back over the ten mile mark and pretty pleased with that, especially given the freezing weather and strong winds we've been faced with for many weeks. Roll on spring and some warmer times and sunshine!

During my long runs I employ all sorts of psychological running strategies to help me keep going and complete my scheduled distances. I call upon everything from really associating with what I am doing, to dissociating and letting my mind wander, thinking about specific challenges, setting and imagining goals, breaking it down into each individual mile, calculating how much of my run I've completed and a whole host of other techniques depending on how I am running and what is the most useful at the time.

As long runs get longer, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and fatigue become things, I've always found it important to be able to manage that little voice in my head that comes out and can start to plant some negative seeds in my mind if left unabated.

Throughout my running over the last twenty years or more, I don't think I've ever particularly regarded myself as a speed merchant (although I'm happy to share my sprint finish victory story and how fast I ran when chased by a chicken). My style of running and my body seem to be more suited to slower, longer stuff. That said, I've hit some faster milestones that I'm pleased with for myself, such as a sub-20 minute 5km, sub 40 minute 10k and sub 90 minute half marathon. I'm pretty pleased with those personal bests.

Running fast is a personal thing. It isn't necessarily about being faster than everyone else; it's about running harder and faster (in a safe fashion) to reach what you personally are capable of. It requires effort, persistence and the right mindset to push on (even when it gets uncomfortable). 

In this article I'm covering a sports psychology strategy involving mental imagery that has been used by a world champion. It's something I've used myself when I need a hard, fast burst, like when we run at bootcamp and there's an element of competition. There will always be plenty who can run faster than me (and plenty I can run faster than, for that matter), yet it's about doing the best with where you are and what you've got, to achieve that and run faster. As well as taking care of the physical aspects of running and training, you also need to  work on the mindset and psychological side if you want to achieve your best. 

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Increasing Muscular Strength With Hypnosis

At my bootcamp, one of the favourite lines from our coach is about how your mind will give up before your body. In the midst of the high intensity training, the discomfort you feel physically and the levels of tiredness can cause that voice in your head to encourage you to fail even though physically you may be capable of continuing.

It's the same with long distance running. As you get tired and those muscles are depleted, the mental demons can start to get louder and try to convince you that you can't do it, or don't want to. And anyone who has raced probably knows that the kind of images and self-talk that goes through your mind in the lead up, and on the starting line, can affect how you feel and how you perform.

We all know the importance of warming up before exercising to get your body ready for movement and exertion. Yet it's just as important to get your mind in the right zone too. And whilst most athletes spend a lot of time on physical training (and sometimes kit!), the mental aspect of sport can often be overlooked. There's a reason why all those sports people at the top of their game invest in their mindset and mental skills to improve their performance.

Hypnosis and other cognitive/mental imagery strategies can help you to tackle issues such as self-doubt, ​low confidence, ​anxiety, motivation or difficulty recovering from past events, frustrations and set-backs. Even better, sports hypnosis can not only remove obstacles, it can help you to enhance your performance too.

In this article, I'm covering some of the research on hypnosis and other cognitive strategies for improving muscular strength. Strength performance (e.g. maximal strength, local muscular endurance, and power) is pretty important across most sports, perhaps particularly in lifting, body building and power sports. We all use our muscles and all need muscular strength, so how can you benefit from hypnosis for increasing muscular strength?

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Rediscover and Find Your Running Motivation

I come across a lot of runners who seem to have lost their running motivation. They are going through a dip and can't seem to get their grasp back upon their motivation, purpose and reasons for getting out and running.

Essentially motivation means having enthusiasm, a need or a reason for doing something. If your need or reason is strong enough then I'm not sure you have to be too enthusiastic, you just do it regardless. 

Most runners experience dips in their running motivation from time to time, as well as enjoying the motivation highs that come along too. As we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, I think that dips in running motivation have become a bit more common. Whether it's stress and anxiety caused by aspects of the pandemic, a sense of lethargy from how long it's been impacting (with still more to go), the loss of usual activities and routines, the lack of running and racing with others in the usual way, or something else, running motivation can often suffer. 

When an area of our life doesn't seem to be going great, it can be easy to engage in those negative thoughts and feelings, and that leads to feeling worse and even less enthusiastic to get running or to run well. Certainly I think not being able to train and interact with others (in training and racing) can leave a big hole in your motivation and joy of exercise.

Yet, sometimes the best runs are those where you initially didn't really feel like it. Sometimes it can be useful to think about the reasons you run, the physical and mental health benefits, and how much better you'll feel if you do it (and how much worse you'll feel for not doing it). I often get myself out of bed by reminding myself how much better I'll feel for having done my run. 

Other times I try not to think about it at all. You can't always trust your thoughts and feelings to guide you. So I don't engage with them too much: I just get out of bed and start getting ready and if it's a run day then I run. It becomes a habit to run on the days you run and like any habit, it just starts and seems to happen whether you like it or not. 

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Sports Psychology & Performance: Hypnosis For Peak Performance

Today I'm talking some more about the evidence for incorporating sports hypnosis into your sports psychology techniques if you want to maximise and optimise your performance.

There's no doubt that the mental side of sport is vital, yet often overlooked. Your emotions during training and competition, the self talk (voice in your head) can keep you strong or make you doubt yourself, and your self-belief can dictate whether you achieve your potential or plateau. Getting and spending more time in the zone can certainly influence not only your enjoyment and motivation levels, but also your results.  

I know from my own experience of running marathons that physical training, practice and preparation are key, yet without the mental side and your mindset being right, it can all unravel. Your sports psychology mindset can determine the results you get. Over a marathon distance, your self talk, especially as you get tired, can tell you that you can't do it or can stay strong and encourage you to push on.  

Research has highlighted that hypnosis can be used to enhance the performance of footballers, cricketers, martial artists, badminton players, cyclists, golfers and basketball players. In fact, from a sports psychology perspective, hypnosis can help with successful athletic performance in many sports and disciplines because of the ability to harness thoughts, feelings, expectation, beliefs and perceptions.

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Confidence, Self-Esteem and Sports Performance - Hypnotherapy Testimonial:

Recently I write a blog all about the evidence supporting the use hypnosis for sports performance and improvement (read it here: Hypnosis For Sports Performance - Research and Evidence).

The other Sunday, several of my clients were busy taking part in the Cambridge Half Marathon, while at the same time I was just happy to get out for a 5k run around Ely as I continue my running comeback after injury. There is nothing quite like the feeling after a good run or other form of exercise; you feel better physically and mentally (and, of course, exercise is so good for your mental health. For more on this have a look here: Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health).

And recently one of my clients popped into the office and very kindly recorded a video hypnotherapy testimonial about how her sessions not only helped with confidence and self-esteem, but also how they helped with her sports performance. Have a watch!

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Hypnosis For Sports Performance - Research and Evidence

Last month I headed down to Bournemouth to attend a two day seminar on hypnosis for sports performance. And whilst I've helped many sports people with their performance, it's always great to get new insights and discover new research and evidence about the effectiveness of incorporating hypnosis to enhance sports performance.

And, indeed, there is a wealth of research showing how you can enhance sports performance with hypnosis. I'll be setting the ball rolling by covering a comprehensive review of the research further below, and plan to cover much, much more over the coming weeks.

The event happened to take place over the same weekend that Storm Ciara hit the UK with its high winds and heavy downpours, so Bournemouth certainly was a blustery location that weekend! I'm a big fan of Bournemouth and love wandering through the park with the squirrels and then down to the beach and along the pier. Whether it's sunny or stormy, I could happily watch the sea for hours while drifting from thought to thought. 

It was certainly a very enjoyable place to learn about sports hypnosis and its application for improving performance and I'm super excited to be able to add more research, evidence and strategies to help my sports performance clients.

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Sports Psychology: The Impact of Hypnosis on Athletic Performance:

As I write this, the weather here in the UK seems to have turned well and truly into a very cold and bitter winter. As I made my way to bootcamp this morning, the car thermometer was trying to kid me that it was one degree, yet clearly my car doesn't allow for the cold Eastern wind that sweeps across the Fens. Roll on Spring! 

Today was a good affair at camp where I felt pretty focused and kept my mind on each set, rather than allowing my thoughts to wander to what the next station entailed. Six minutes non-stop on each of six stations (each with two alternating exercises) certainly does require mental focus and the ability to shut up that nagging inner voice that wants you to slow down, or even better, stop and fall into a heap where you no longer need to carry your own body weight.

I work with a lot of athletes from all sorts of sports and with all sorts of personal goals who tend to have one factor in common: all of them want to perform to their best in their chosen sport. That might mean aiming to win, shooting for a personal best or wanting to improve focus, concentration and confidence. In all these cases, hypnotherapy has many tools that can beneficially aid them.

The other day I came across a wonderful research paper on this very subject of sports psychology and performance. This research set out to evaluate the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy with positive imagination of success during hypnosis on athletic performance. In this article I'll cover their findings.

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Triathlon Sports Performance - Sports Psychology Video Testimonial:

As I write this I can already feel my legs starting to seize up a bit from this morning's 6.30am bootcamp. As much as I love the feeling after I've completed it (because it's so blinking intensely tough!), sometimes during it I have to dig deep to stay focused and in the right mental space to keep going.

Anyone who takes part in a sport knows that their mind-set is just as important, and often more so, than their physical state. If you want to be able to focus, keep good technique, push through the burn and get the job done. Then there are times when you've really got to be in control of your inner dialogue. If you aren't in control of your mind-set then it's easy to give up or to think you can't do it or to let any other amount of negative mind chatter take over. We've all been there and the more fatigued you get, the more that little negative voice can start to pipe up.

It's something that, along with physical strength, I continually try and work upon in my own exercise, and it's something that I often help others with in sessions. Developing your sports psychology capability can have huge beneficial impacts on your sports performance and getting the most out of yourself when you want or need to.

The other day, Ashley popped into the office to record a short video testimonial about how his sports psychology sessions had helped him with his most recent Ironman triathlon performance. You can check out what he said about his sessions below.

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Sports Psychology: Trauma, Abuse and Injury:

I work with lots of sports people who are seeking to improve their performance or to bounce back after a setback. At the professional level, the benefits of sports psychology are well understood, and that recognition of the importance of mind-set and mental attitude is something that anyone who wants to improve and perform should be incorporating into their training programme.

Sports psychology can take many forms and will depend on the particular individual. For example, recently I worked with a triathlete who wanted to stop the negative internal dialogue that impacted on his performances. It was those pesky thoughts that can make us hold back and become lost in thoughts of potential injury or things going wrong, rather than focussing on what is actually happening.

I've helped footballers who wanted to get their motivation, confidence and self-belief back, horse riders who had become anxious and fearful after a fall, fighters nervous about competing, cyclists too anxious to ride and many others who knew that they would benefit from effective sports psychology help to engage in and enjoy the sport they love. Many of these have kindly gone on to give feedback on how their sessions helped and there are many, many more who preferred to just get on and deliver in their sporting arena.

And recently new research has again highlighted the importance of effective psychological help in sport. This research looked at the impact of lifetime sexual and physical abuse and trauma and its association with sports and non-sports injury.

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Reducing Anxiety in Sport and Increasing Performance:

Ahh Facebook memories, always there to remind me what I was doing on a particular day over the years (or at least those bits of my life I stick on there). Today I was reminded that on this day two years ago I was training for a road marathon and, judging by my appearance (have a look below), it was pretty hot that summer too!

When I used to line up at the start of a race, I would always have that curious blend of nervousness and excitement flowing through me. At the start, especially in the hanging around quite a bit waiting to get going stage, there's that balance to be found in having enough intensity and energy to perform to your best, yet not too much so that it impairs what you do. You don't want to be throwing up, freaking out or burning up all your energy before you even take a step.

The other day I had a great update from a triathlete I was working with as she conquered her open water fears and absolutely smashed her race.  Awesome stuff! 

And only just recently a clinical trial showed how mindfulness based techniques can help increase athletic performance and reduce sports anxiety in athletes.

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