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Overcoming Nerves Before A Big Workout

Use these tips to squash those fears and anxiety.

Use these tips to squash those fears and anxiety.

If you spend most of your day dreading your next big workout, you’re not alone. Most of the runners I coach, along with myself, have a tendency to fixate on the impending pain and struggle the next workout will bring. Fretting over one or two important workouts in a training segment isn’t a problem — it’s normal and an important part of preparing yourself mentally for race day.

However, when you begin to dread and fixate on every single workout, it can become an emotional drain that causes mental burnout and saps the fun out of running. Moreover, this nervousness and fear can convince you a workout can’t be done before you’ve even tried. You beat yourself before you start.

In this article, we’ll look at two strategies and mental tricks you can implement to help reduce anxiety before workouts. More importantly, we’ll provide a mental road map to help keep you emotionally and mentally fresh throughout your entire training segment.

Learn to compartmentalize your running

The most effective way to overcome worrying about workouts is to compartmentalize your running. Think of it like wrapping your training in a cocoon and separating it from your life outside running.

Compartmentalization is a mental technique taught to me by a sports psychologist I worked with at the Olympic Training Center. I was having trouble not thinking about running all the time. I would spend hours and sometimes a day after a workout analyzing splits and comparing them to previous sessions. Then I’d spend the next few days worrying about the upcoming workout. I’d fret over my ability to hit the splits, fearing the pain I was going to put myself through, and worrying if what I was eating was going to impact my workout. Training became a mental burden.

RELATED: The Importance Of Recovery Runs

Luckily, the sports psychologist taught me how to compartmentalize and training quickly became more enjoyable. I spent an hour before and an hour after each workout thinking about it. I called it my “training zone” time. I didn’t allow myself to think about training or upcoming workouts outside this zone. This hour before the workout provides enough time to get mentally geared up and focused, while an hour after a run provides time to reflect, recover and move on.

Like any change, compartmentalization is not an easy or quick fix. It will take you a few weeks before you stop unintentionally thinking and worrying about the next workout. You’ll find you compartmentalize running easily for a few hours and then have a slip when you get bored or you start planning your day. However, this practice will get easier over time until it becomes second nature. Once I learned to stick within this two-hour window, not only did I start to enjoy running more, but I became more consistent in workouts.

One tip my sports psychologist suggested was to create better routines to take the thinking out of a workout. She had me write down and design my optimal pre-workout meal, my warm-up and anything that helped me perform. Try writing down the elements that help lead you to an excellent workout. This will help you plan your day so you can release the worry of forgetting or over-thinking them. Once these elements are built into your daily routine, you can stop over-thinking the next workout.

Shift your mindset

Fear, nervousness and worry arise from not knowing the outcome of an event. Are you going to be able to hit your target splits? Is the workout going to feel easy or be one of those sessions you have to grind through? If you knew the answers to these questions ahead of time, you’d stop worrying, especially if the outcome was favorable.

To combat this, shift your thinking to those aspects of the workouts within your control. I tell the athletes I coach to focus on the purpose and effort of each workout and to concentrate on achieving that outcome. As such, all they have to worry about is giving their best effort, which is easy to do regardless of how they feel. The goal is to remove the fear and nervousness that comes with needing to hit specific splits and shift their focus to taking a step forward in their training.

RELATED: Overcoming Race Anxiety

Along the same lines, keep your workouts in perspective. No single workout is going to make or ruin a training segment. Every workout is a very small step towards you getting fitter for race day. Sometimes, it’s even the most difficult or bad workouts that advance your fitness and mental preparation the most. If you’re putting in the effort, you’ll still make the gains you need. This simple shift in mindset can help ease your worry.

Develop a mantra or mental cues that help you think positive and bring your focus back to those elements you can control. Whenever you begin to get nervous or start to over-think an upcoming workout, repeat this confidence-boosting mantra to yourself. This will keep you confident and help realign your thinking with the true value of the workout.