Mindfulness. It’s a bit of a buzzword within the health and fitness world, with mindful training hitting the headlines in the form of meditation and working out for mental wellness. But don’t sweat it- we’re not saying you have to swap those gruelling hours in the pain cave for something more ‘om’- thanks to The Sufferfest’s mental training programme, you can train mindfully the Wattbiker way- but focusing more on your mental strength instead. We spoke to Dr David Spindler, a High-Performance Cognitive Specialist and Athlete Welfare Consultant who’s currently working alongside The Sufferfest on their mental training program.
WHAT DOES MENTAL STRENGTH MEAN?
“Mental strength is the capacity to effectively address the pressures, challenges and stressors regardless of circumstances to produce as optimal performance as possible,” says Dr David Spindler, referencing Crust & Clough (2011).
So, for us, It’s getting out of bed to hop on the trainer at an ungodly hour of the morning. Coming home after a bad day at work when it’s already dark outside and still committing to training. It’s picking yourself back up after a bad race. Fighting the wind and rain to get outside. Pushing for the breakaway when every fibre is telling you to stop. It’s the Wattbiker mentality and the obsession with performance.
WHAT IS THE SUFFERFEST’S MENTAL TRAINING PROGRAMME?
“The Sufferfest Mental Training Programme is designed to build the four habits of the mentally tough: Goal Setting, Review & Improving Performance, Strong Focus and Positive Thinking,” says Dylan Robbins, Head of Marketing at The Sufferfest. “The programme is a 10-week series of audio modules and associated exercises that teach you practical techniques to cultivate the four habits and establish the foundation for a strong mental game — transforming your performance both on and off the bike.”
The programme recognises that the mind is even more important than the body, a sentiment that’s probably graced our minds on at least one occasion- when doubt creeps in or motivation slowly slips away after a bad race or session. With so many of us balancing our training with full-time work, families and every possible other commitment you can think of, remaining in that training mindset is more important than ever.
HOW CAN DOING THIS LEAD TO AN IMPROVEMENT IN PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE?
The big question. “Individuals with high levels of mental strength have an increased capacity to overcome obstacles, adapt to situations, admit when things are not going as planned, are in tune with their physical abilities and moderate behaviours and emotions that lead to producing performances irrespective of external or internal pressures to perform.” explains Dr David Spindler. So yes, it’s worth your time.
BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S WORKING?
“Scientists measure improvements in mental strength and physical performance by looking at the differences between athlete’s mental strength (pre- and post-mental training interventions) and their ability within physical time-to-exhaustion tests,” he explains. “Research indicates athletes with higher mental strength have the ability to elongate the amount of time before they choose to cease an activity (Nicholls et al., 2015). Put simply, individuals with high levels of mental strength take a longer amount of time before deciding to quit or stop an activity.”
TRAINING MINDFULLY VS TRAINING FOR MENTAL STRENGTH
Still not sure on the difference, or which one you should be paying attention to? Allow us to explain further.
“Mindfulness conceptually pertains to the ability to be conscious or aware of something, and accepting the feelings, sensations and thoughts associated with the situation. Mindfulness includes paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging them [sic].” David explains, noting how it differs from pushing through barriers. “Using this technique, mindfulness within exercise is about performing that activity while focussing inwards, letting go of unrelated thoughts, distractions and focusing your attention to the sensations experienced while performing.” “In essence training while being mindful may help the athlete be more in tune with the sensations and thoughts happening within the chosen exercise. This may mean that they are more aware if when the body needs rest or understanding how the mind and body work in relation the rate of perceived exertion occurring. Although the attributes contained within mindfulness may improve psychological wellbeing, the elements required for mindfulness are a small percentage of those needed for improvements in athletic achievement [as opposed to training for mental strength].”
DOES IT WORK?
According to Sufferlandrians, yes.
"I've completed The Sufferfest Mental Toughness Programme 3 times since last August in preparation for this event. It's changed my life! I find solutions to problems before the obstacles are even seen; I feel positive in any situation; I set myself goals and mini-goals; and I now have the ability to switch on my focus for an event. If you have any goal in life, no matter how big or small it may seem, this programme is for you." -Mark Day
"The Mental Training Programme has massively helped me, dare I say, changed me. Not just with my training, but I've been using the habits and techniques for my professional development too. Thank you isn't enough." -Louise K.
Crust L. & Clough P.J. (2005). Relationship between mental toughness and physical endurance. Perceptual Motor Skills. 100(1), 192-194.
Nicholls A., Perry J., Jones L., Sanctuary C., Carson F., & Clough P.J. (2015). The mediating role of mental toughness in sport. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 55,7-8.
Rivera O., Quintana M., & Rincon M. E. (2011) Effects of mindfulness on sport, exercise and physical activity: A systematic Review. International Conference on Physical Education and Sport Science, Paris – France. 77. June 2011.
Sarker M. & Fletcher D. (2014). Psychological resilience in sport performers: A review of stressors and protective factors. Journal of Sports Science, 32(15), 1419-1434.
Walsh Z. (2016) A Meta-Critique of Mindfulness Critiques: From McMindfulness to Critical Mindfulness. In: Purser R., Forbes D., Burke A. (eds) Handbook of Mindfulness. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, Switzerland.