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Training your willpower

Martijn Veltkamp explores the deeper thought processes around improving your sports performance

Cycling is a tough sport due to the long distances and often multiday racing events. How to endure those efforts? How can you persist while your body is exhausted, your legs hurt, cry to stop? Here some tips.

1.    Train your body… and mind: Talking about persistance or your willpower, your brain can be compared to a muscle. You can use it until it becomes depleted of energy. And just like your muscles you can train your willpower. If you want to be able to have longer mental endurance in a race, than you should be training this prior to it! There are many ways to do this. For example by integrating moments in your interval trainings where you push your limits just a bit longer than normally. But any other task that costs you willpower is suited as well.

2.    Save your energy: During a race, make sure that you use your willpower as little as possible. Professional cyclists do this as well. They avoid catching too much headwinds, save their powers, in order to have as much power and mental energy left for the finale. Try to do the same. The better your physical condition and the more power you have, the less you have to rely on your hidden mental motor. And also; keep clear from headwinds, eat and drink well, and recover where you can.

3.    Refocus: What to do when your body hurts? People are in such cases automatically inclined to focus attention inwards, to the body, the muscle ache, the pain. But, this makes things worse! You’d better consciously focus your attention outwards. Focus on the road, specific focus points where you can bike to, and ride from one to the next point. This directs attention away from the pain and you will be able to persist longer.

4.    Mental recovery: This last advice is often overlooked. When you’re exhausted after a long day of riding, not only your body but also your mind should recover. Pro-cyclists do this by keeping away from media (this attention also costs willpower!), read a book, you name it. Rest, recover, and besides cycling engage in activities that give you energy. This way, you will be able to persist just fine!