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It’s that time of year again, in the Northern Hemisphere the road season is starting up and while many are giddy with excitement, others are losing sleep from the nerves.
Did I train enough? Will I be able to hang? I’m not ready!
For us everyday athletes, performance anxiety is the last thing we need to add to our already mounting pile of work, family and life stressors.
The body is incapable of differentiating emotional lifestyle stress from performance stress, and too much stress is detrimental to one’s well-being, sleep, energy levels, eating habits and performance.
High levels of stress decrease your ability to maintain focus and concentration, which can not only impact your performance but your life off the bike as well.
While some stress is unavoidable -and not all stress is bad –there are ways to manage it.
There are some trends we’ve been seeing among the pros that would be very beneficial for everyday athletes as well. Whether it’s the night before a big event, or a particularly stressful week at work, try these relaxation and meditation techniques to de-stress and focus at the task ahead.
It’s all in the head
“I often start my athletes by learning the basics of meditation,” revealed sports psychologist Kristin Keim, known for her work with athletes like Women’s WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans).
“Meditation helps with stress reduction, improved sleep patterns, speeds recovery time, enhances endurance, and improves one’s sense of identity and confidence. By consistently practicing meditation, your body will learn how to relax in stressful situations, building self-confidence, and ultimately achieve a more positive mindset and appropriate arousal level.”
Keim recommends mobile apps like Headspace or Buddhify to learn about the basics of meditation.
“Using the apps provides [my clients] with the opportunity to do some centering, breathing and meditating before a race,” she said.
However, meditation can be done through a variety of activities and exercises; it’s not limited to sitting in a lotus pose and humming “om”. For many, the mere act of cycling is a form of meditation.
“Life is challenging so it’s important to have tools you can access to cope when you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. Some athletes might do yoga, draw, colour or listen to music as a form of meditation and relaxation,” said Keim. “Again, the ultimate goal is to find the appropriate stimulation level for optimal performance. “
Here are some activities you might try incorporating into your routine.
Stretching has long been an integral part of just about every sport, and these days, you’d be hard pressed to find athletes that don’t roll out their yoga mat at least a few times a week. Yoga is a 5000-year-old practice that engages the body and mind through a series of stretching and balancing poses, and has been proven to improve flexibility, strength, concentration, breathing, balance and more.
“Yoga takes stretching to the next level. Engaging the breath, body and mind, one can get an even deeper experience than simply stretching,” yogi Ali Watts told Ella CyclingTips.
For relaxation purposes, many people will do a short routine before bed, others swear by a morning routine to start off their day in a positive headspace. Give it a try, and see what works for you!
Adult Colouring Books
Among the biggest relaxation trends in the past two years are adult colouring books. What was once an activity to pacify rowdy children and teach motor skills, adult colouring books are now so common that they top best seller book lists.
From whimsical pop-culture inspired themes to intricate mandala designs, there are colouring books for everyone. And while they may seem as a silly fad, therapists and researchers have touted this form of meditation and relaxation for years.
Like yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices, colouring allows the brains to focus on one simple task while shutting off from other thoughts. The repetitive act of colouring has been found to alleviate anxiety, relieve stress, improve sleep and increase focus. For those having trouble sleeping, try colouring for 10 minutes before bed.
The perfect colouring book for bike nerds: For decades, New York-based visual artist and former bike racer Taliah Lempert has painted bike portraits. She was even commissioned to paint pieces portraits of notable steeds such as Connie Carpenter’s 1984 Olympic win road bike, Andy Hampsten’s 1988 Giro winning Land Shark and Greg LeMond’s 1990 Tour de France winning LeMond road bike.
In addition to her painting, Lempert uses her original cycling imagery to create an array of other items such as limited edition prints, silkscreen t-shirts, postcards and, you guessed it, colouring books.
Needlepoint and embroidery
If colouring books aren’t your thing, try keeping busy with needlepoint. The age-old craft is making a bit of a comeback thanks to hipsters, fashionistas and athletes alike.
Effective in the same way as colouring, practicing needlepoint and embroidery –also called art or craft meditation –has been shown to be soothing and calming while stimulating the brain and even release dopamine, the brain’s natural anti-depressant.
Plus, with so many fun patterns out there, you can put a bike on everything.
Pro cyclist Ivy Audrain is a believer:
What meditation techniques do you practice?