Here we go again. In week 1 of the Alps Challenge, we introduced Endurance as this spring’s focus and heard from professional athlete Matt Wilpers about how to incorporate this type of physical training into your busy life. This week we’d like to focus on how Endurance is often mind over matter and how you can improve your own mental toughness.
How Does Your Mind Affect Endurance?
Back in 1898, fellow Illinoisan Norman Triplett published what’s now recognized as the first study in the field of sports psychology. He observed that cyclists raced faster when joined by a competitor than they did while riding alone (1). While this effect may seem obvious, it reveals an incredible aspect of human athleticism and endurance: your brain exerts as much as if not more control on your ability to push yourself than your muscles, cardiovascular health, or fancy equipment.
In the more than a century since Triplett’s study, psychology and physiology researchers have examined how mental toughness is often the factor that separates victors from otherwise physically comparable packs of athletes. Some, like exercise physiologist Samuele Marcora, suggest that it is mental not physical exhaustion that causes endurance athletes to slow down or stop a challenging effort (2).
What Is Mental Toughness?
So what is mental toughness, and how can you harness it to improve your endurance? Noted mental toughness researchers Doug Strycharczyk and Peter Clough define it as ‘The personality trait which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenge, stressors and pressure … irrespective of circumstances’ (3). In observing people’s differing levels of mental toughness, Strycharczyk and Clough broke down the trait into its composite parts:
In the 4 Cs model the overall mental toughness is a product of four pillars:
So how would you assess your response to challenges? Your confidence level? How well do you commit to a task? How in control do you feel? Identifying an opportunity to improve in one of these measures could be the key to improving your mental toughness and overall endurance.
Building Your Endurance: Challenge 2
For this second week of our Alps Challenge we encourage you to try one or all of these tips from Matt Wilpers’ to improve your mental toughness. Let us know on social which strategies brought the most improvement to your workouts:
- Get out of your comfort zone: There are workouts that make you fall in love with sport, and there are many that just don’t. Pick a (safe!) workout setting you would normally avoid, and give it a try just to see how it feels. Fair weather runner? Go for an easy jog on a cool / rainy day. Night owl? Try working out in the morning. Yes it will be uncomfortable, but you might notice some positives like fewer crowds or more peaceful views. Plus, if you can conquer this challenge, just imagine what else you can endure!
- Visualization: Imagining how you’ll get ready for a workout, what the course will look like, how good the finish will feel and other aspects of sport can help reduce anxiety and improve your performance (5). Before your workout think about what you’ll pack, what each step will feel like, how good that recovery beverage will taste, and pay attention to how this mental exercise impacts the physical experience.
- Smile: A 2018 study published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise Journal noted runners who smiled used less oxygen and felt a lower perceived rate of exertion than those who did not. Even champion marathoner Eliud Kipchoge is known to grin through his blisteringly fast races (4).
But don’t mistake mental toughness for neglecting to care for your mind and body: ‘If there is one thing that shatters you mentally, it has to be too little sleep’ (2). Rest and recovery are essential to building mental toughness and endurance. More about that next week!
And let us know on social what you plan to do to improve your mental toughness!
Products for the Long Haul
We have a couple recommendations that just might help you address 1 of the 4Cs and improve your mental toughness. Each week we'll point out a couple products and why they're great for those who exercise.
Anti-Everything Body Powder
Made with Cornstarch, Aloe Leaf Extract, and Peppermint Oil, this targeted powder keeps friction at bay so you can push on without chafing.
Texturizing + Thickening Spray
A confidence boost in a bottle, this spray “gives hair character,” adding extra texture and helping hair look thicker and healthier.
Join the club!
Subscribe to The Oars + Alps newsletter for email updates and extra special content!