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Mental warmup: how to build it

In preparation for the competition, the warm-up phase represents an opportunity to mentally prepare yourself at the start of the race, giving you the time to focus on the tasks to perform at the best. It is recognized that many top athletes complete some form of mental preparation before the competition. Typical strategies include:

  • visualization of performance
  • repetition of keywords
  • search for optimal activation through physical and technical exercises
  • speed and accuracy





The warm-up is for the body and mind

In relation to warming up, I would like to take up what Jurgen Weineck said in his book “The optimal training” because it is a text known to all coaches (psychologists should study it). In fact, it clearly illustrates the physical and also mental role of this phase of training. It thus highlights how important it is to teach young athletes to use this phase of training in the right way and not simply as boring exercises to be carried out to avoid injury.

“Warm-up means all the measures that, before a sporting load – whether for training or competition – useful both to create a state of optimal coordination of psychophysical and kinesthetic preparation and to prevent accidents.

“In active warming up, the athlete practically performs the exercises or movements, while in mental warming he only represents them… If it is used alone … mental training is of little use, because it only partially sets in motion, and often with little intensity, the adaptation processes characteristic of warm-up. However, in some sports (e.g. artistic gymnastics and athletic) it is very effective when combined with other warm-upmethods” (p. 547).

“As can be seen from various works there are interrelationships between warming up, motivation and the psychic attitude towards the activity itself. Thus, on the one hand, a high degree of motivation and a strongly performance-oriented attitude can strengthen the effectiveness of warming – among other things, thanks to the psychic parameters of the pre-event state that prepares the body for a high performance – while, on the other hand, a negative attitude towards it reduces or totally eliminates the benefits … warming up, starting from an initial “neutral” situation, serves to form a psychic state of readiness to perform, evokes an optimal state of excitement of the nervous system, thus improving the attitude towards sports performance and concentration on it” (p.551).

A common bias: the warmup is useful to avoid the injuries

There’s a lot of confusion among athletes in relation to the warmup function.

For some is practiced to avoid getting hurt.

For others it’s something to do well just before the races, but during the training they do not do ever in that way.

For almost everyone it’s a rather boring phase in which to prepare to start very well the competition.

It is often regarded like a school homework and it’s performed without conviction and with a reduced mental effort.

For example, almost no guy gets exhaling during the stretching. Let us remember that the first determines the later. Then bad stretching corresponds to a limited elongation and reduced muscle distension, with all the negative consequences coming if this kind of execution is repeated over time.

The warm-up role

The blog about the warm-up has raised many confirmations by coaches, who recognize the difficulty in making live this experience as the essential condition for putting ourselves in the best mental and physical condition to start a competition, that is individual or team sport.

Which is the warm-up function. “Warm-up regards all measures that, before a workout or race, are useful both to create a state of mental and physical preparation and kinesthetic-optimal coordination, both injury prevention” (Weineck, 2001).

It must be understood that the warm-up consists of an integrated set of thoughts, actions and images activated in a consistent manner before the performance. These routines are useful because they allow to:

  • shift the focus from irrelevant stimuli
  • help not to think to the performance to execute
  • be in an appropriate level of physical and mental activation

The warm up must prepare to do the best

The warm-up is

the last sequence of motor and mental actions

to prepare yourself

to do what you are able to do

and nothing more

The 10 ultimate questions to build a winning attitude

10 ultimate questions for coaches and mental coaches:

  1. How much are you convinced that beyond the technical/tactical and physical fitness, attitude is the basis to achieve great successes?
  2. How much time do you spend to change the attitude of your athletes to their mistakes?
  3. How do you teach that the warm-up is not only physical but also mental?
  4. How do you teach that the attitude towards the physical and mental fatigue is crucial for improving confidence during the events?
  5. How do you teach that it’s necessary to fight moment to moment without thinking about the result?
  6. Do you stop the training because the attitude is wrong?
  7. How often do you award the attitude rather than the result?
  8. How much time do you spend on teaching that attitudes before the competition and during the breaks are the basis of the following performance?
  9. How much time do you spend thinking about how your attitudes affect those of your athletes?
  10. How do you specifically assess and talk with athletes about their attitude in training and competition?

My run of 100km

At the end of the month of May it has been run the Passatore 100km, from Florence to Faenza, with a climb of +1000 meters. I participated in this race in 2011. I came from years when I had run several times ultra- marathons and skyrace and at that point I began to think of this experience. I did it for the challenge with myself, and to see what they tell you your brain and your body while you’re involved in making an effort so long. The training is different from that of a marathon, because my run has become slower and because in many sessions have been engaged for four/five hours having only meant to run and let the time goes (this for me that I had the goal to be a finisher). These are tests that train to be patient, calm and develop thoughts that are not challenging, not wasting unnecessary energy. I learned that the warm-up time (the first 35/40 minutes) is not only necessary for the body but also the mind, to gradually move away from its usual state in which dominate the daily thoughts, to concentrate on a mental statemuch more restricted. In other words, once you established that the body begins to respond to the impulse of that type of run and it’s finding the stride you want to keep, my mind turned away from this focus on the body and on itself, leaving to slide thoughts and moods as they appeared but without giving them importance. It’s interesting to feel how the body finds the right stride without an apparent intervention of the mind. The motor memory is well stabilized and this ease access to the stride and especially the ease to keep it for a long period allowed me to better manage fatigue and save energy. In this sense, run alone was particularly useful because it is difficult to find companions who follow this pace without tending to accelerate over the miles. I was happy with how I lived the experience of training; was a major achievement to be able to live with satisfaction the passing of the days, without thinking about what would happen in the race.

The race – At the start, all participants appear relaxed, chat waiting for the go, probably because for most of us there is not the problem of time to accomplish. After the start immediately begins the ascent up to Fiesole continuing for 48km with about 10km down in the middle. The race is addressed by the runners in different ways, there are those who always runs , who alternates between running and fast walking. In addition, there are many cycling accompanying the runners. It’s a show different from the usual road racing, as you are 35km from the start the cars following the runners, which by that time will follow the race until the end. It’s a psychological and practical help, you can change the sport suit, eat and receive psychological support. It’s a kind of caravan like for the bike races. The company of friends on this long journey is essential , they run with you even long periods, and this allows you to maintain your pace, to exchange a few words, to run when it is night and the road is very dark with another light next to you. During the race, if the body is fit enough,the mind is always crucial, not so much to think about anything in particular but to avoid negative thoughts that arise from the sensations you feel and understand the pace you have to keep  in the different parts of the race. The last 25km I focused only on the light reflected on the asphalt of my bulb without worrying about anything and in this state of mind I finish it. It was a great experience of 13h5m .

The questions left out of the mind

Some specific issues about the mental training of the athletes:

Some believe to have a routine useful to start the competitions, but very often it’s only behavioral to warm-up the body and for the mind at max they listen music.

Usually the athletes don’t know that relaxation is useful not only for controlling the anxiety but also to recover from fatigue, to spleep relaxed, to reduce the tension of every day, to be calm most of the time and in a hurry, to control the jet lag.

Have I the feeling or mood to start well my next session? Or do I start just to start? These two questions are not so common in the athletes’ mind.




The mental warm-up

Many athletes have no idea about the mental warm-up and think that it’s enough to heat only the body to be ready for training and the competitions. The mental warm-up guide the mind towards the main activities that the athlete will perform during the training session. It’s useful to activate the relationship between body, mind (cognitive and emotional processes) and motivation. When the athletes activate only the body, the risk is that they do not feel motivated to perform that workout or to begin without having reached the level of concentration needed to work effectively. It also allows to train the sense of responsibility of the athletes to get in each training session in the best physical and mental condition and it’s a way to prove to yourself that you want to be totally involved in what you will do in that day. A question that it should be asked is: ” How do I know that I am ready? And if not,  what I have to do to immediately change this attitude that prevents me”.

The easy actions influencing positively the mind

Start to be more positive towards ourselves and more convinced to provide a good performance is based on the effective start showing some simple behaviors but can pass a performance from negative to positive.

These simple actions are:

  1. After a mistake take a deep breath and immediately imagine what must be done at that time.
  2. When you are too worried about the competition that you have to start, you have to imagine a positive past performance and let you feel the feelings you have while doing this exercise.
  3. During the warm-up you need to find the right feeling with the ball, the racket or the sail, you must feel that this tool is our own.
  4. During the warm-up must also be aware that the body is preparing for the competition and get pleasure from the sensations that tell that you are preparing well.
  5. You have to mentally imagine, for example if your sport is running, to feel the legs moving as you expect it to be or in case you feel too rigid insist in the warm-up to dissolve the useless muscle tensions . In relation to other sports it needs to identify what are the best exercises that tell you are ready, and devote yourself to feel the feelings for you right before the sport event.

These are just some examples of what it can do for an athlete to learn to drive himself to get in the best state of mind before and during the race.