Your Mind Needs a Warm-Up Too!
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
It is well-known that physical readiness is important for optimal performance. Most active individuals get into a warm-up before exercising without having to think twice. But... What if your body is ready to perform, but your mind isn't? A lot of athletes go through this type of situation without even realizing it. Here is what not being prepared mentally can look like during exercise: irritability, fatigue, poor effort, mental mistakes, lack of enjoyment, minor injuries, subpar performance and more. Although these consequences can stem from a variety of sources, it is possible to take control and reduce their incidence by preparing your mind for exercise. In the sport psychology world, we talk about the concept of activation.
The main goal is to reach the optimal intensity level that will facilitate your performance on a given task. It will vary from sport to sport and from individual to individual. For example, the activation state required by a golfer attempting a putt differs markedly from that required by a mixed martial artist entering the octagon. It is explained in the scientific literature that performance is best at a moderate level of arousal, but will worsen if it is too high or too low (Martens & Landers, 1970). Paying attention to your intensity level prior to performance is key. Are you too fired up? Are you "not into it"? Many strategies such as controlled breathing, self-talk, visualization and pre-performance routines can help increase or lower activation states. Take the time to figure out which combination of techniques works best for you. Just like everything else, practice makes perfect. It is all about putting yourself (mind and body) in the best position to perform optimally.
Next time you warm-up, do a quick check-in to identify where your intensity level is at and intentionally modify it if needed!
Martens, R. & Landers, D. M. (1970). Motor performance under stress: A test of the inverted-U hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social.