Build mental strength with training – this is how it works

Eva-Maria Sperger is a psychotherapist and professional trailrunner and uses physical challenges to strengthen her mind and thus counteract motivation problems and fear of failure.

In an interview with FITBOOK, the mountain runner reveals his best strategies for benefiting from physical training with mental strength. She gives tips on how everyone can implement them in their daily lives.

“Training is the perfect basis for developing mental strength”

FITBOOK: How can mental and physical training be combined?
Eva Maria Sperger: “There is a lot of talk about mental strength and how important mental training is. But nowhere is it explained how to do this. I believe that sports combined with a mental training program provide the opportunity to combine both. Namely, by first becoming aware of strategies or getting them on hand, and then implementing them in daily activities. We have an incredible amount of resistance every day: motivational problems, the fear of failing or we are confronted with shame. These are all platforms that can be linked to an action, the sport. You can, so to speak, use the sport as a basis for training mental strategies and then you have a combination of both. That’s what I mean when I say that sport is a rewarding basis for progress in personal development. “

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FITBOOK: What does it look like in concrete terms?
“An example from me: I recently completed a very hard training session. 58 kilometers in six hours. It was snowing that day as it has not done all winter and thoughts were circulating in my head: ‘I do not know what the conditions are like on the mountain. Six hours alone, with wind and sleet on his face. ‘ At such a moment, a projection takes place in the head. And that is the moment for me where I say: Today it is my mental training, I want to practice in peace.

So I pay attention to: When does the head project something into the future? And how do I manage to keep coming back to the present? I want to stay in the now, so I ask myself: how bad is it right now? How can I stay calm? For example, I focus on breathing, try to fight as little as possible against the snow, perceive my body and design the movement in such a way that it costs me as little energy as possible. So I have the opportunity to work with these mental problems in a unit that deliberately overwhelms me and for which I have to consciously step out of my comfort zone. ”

FITBOOK: Should training always be an overload to build mental strength?
“None. I can also try to make this a mindfulness exercise in my daily training. For example, by consciously perceiving nature, paying attention to my breathing, listening to the birds, perceiving the water. So you can also use it in situations. , where you do not push your limits. ”

Also interesting: Sports are so good for your psyche

“Those who perceive their body better can control them better”

FITBOOK: What does it bring to be in the moment?
Spagger: “There are studies that have looked at what strategy top athletes use to achieve better results – by fantasizing away or by trying to be more body-conscious. It may sound paradoxical at first, because at that moment you have a lot of unpleasant feelings. But it teaches me to be more with myself, in my body, in the now. Scientifically, it is the strategy that provides more. Because I can perceive my body better, I can control it better. At the same time, you do not build resistance to the pain, but rather an acceptance. It is a conscious permission, it calms the body and the breathing. ”

FITBOOK: Are there mental training strategies that can be used to increase motivation?
“The question I get asked the most is: How do I motivate myself? And I answer: You do not have to be motivated! We are motivated by action and by a plan. Motivation is not the beginning. Sometimes I can really focus on what I want to do and do it well and still have zero motivation. I know that from my own training. But I have the obligation to do so. No matter how it feels.
However, motivation can also be built up by preparing a concrete action plan for how to achieve a goal. ”

Eva-Maria Sperger’s tips for becoming physically active
Create commitment: Specifically, I would advise creating a commitment, for example, making appointments with other people so that someone notices if I am not there. Book a coach or a course with fixed dates, in a group or with your partner. Starting in the gym is very difficult because you can do it at any time and having to choose from the oversupply makes it even harder.
Form routine chains: For example: stand up, brush teeth, exercise for ten minutes. Doing the same thing at the same time – along with other routines – is much easier than committing to training sometime today. Start small, with at least ten minutes. You can definitely handle that and sometimes it gets a little longer. How to get in again.
Availability: It is best to get your sports equipment ready first thing in the morning and put it on as soon as you get home. It would be even better to take them to work and not drive home in advance. For it is a moment when the body has actually learned to shut down. That makes it difficult. I would put the bag in the car and then take the shortest route to training. Do not try to calm down and start again. This contradicts the change from voltage to relaxation.

FITBOOK: What role do ambitions play when I want to achieve certain training goals?
Spagger: “A performance motive and the motive of wanting to compete helps us grow. Participating in a competition means that everyone grows physically. As such, being performance-oriented should also be seen from a positive perspective and not always immediately seen as something negative. However, the danger of performance orientation is when people weight individual training too much. If you look too much at the individual performance, the danger is too great that you either leave it alone, break it off or become too preoccupied with how you feel. So my approach is: I never try really hard, but I work my way through it – always. ”

Also interesting: Science says why sports make you happy

FITBOOK: How do you find the optimal balance between too much and too little when you exercise?
Spagger: “It has a lot to do with my story: did I go hiking with my parents as a child, or was I often on the football field? Or have I not done so much physically yet? It all flows into how quickly the body can implement things. Of course, it is difficult to assess for myself whether the level of fatigue the day after training is such that I now need a break of one, two or three days, and for that Strava is a good tool that can help with the assessment. see: What does the tool tell me – am I in the right area, or should I do more or less? ”

“Talking to yourself can cause stress – or motivate”

FITBOOK: What other strategies can be helpful in building mental strength during exercise?
“It’s helpful to see his self-talk. If I’m very performance oriented, there can be a lot of derogatory, negative conversations. Then you identify with those thoughts and that means additional stress. I’m already at an insanely high level of stress. in the moment that I consciously put on myself and then I stress myself even more.Such self-talk can create muscle tension in the body and that is exactly what you do not need at the moment.A strategy is to practice self-talk by to use the concept of self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion is about engaging in very empowering self-talk, which is treating yourself the way you would treat a good friend or workout buddy. I can consciously practice this and use it in difficult situations. For example, I hate 10k flat road races. My coach then asked me to observe my self-talk and how I handle myself, what I say to myself and to be aware of it. “

FITBOOK: What did these self-talk look like?
Spagger: “Like, ‘Hey, everyone else is super fast, you’re extremely slow. why are you so slow Maybe you’re too heavy for it all! ‘ That shit goes through my head. Of course, I do not believe in all this 100 percent. But all sorts of thoughts pop up. But if I’m paying attention and getting aware of it, then maybe it’s thoughts like, ‘Hey, it’s really cool that you’re doing this, even though you know it’s a weakness. Shame is okay. ‘ Of course, it’s sour when people have expectations of you. But exposing yourself to it is just the way that makes you better in the end. Saying to yourself: be true to yourself, remember what your goal is, make it easy for yourself. Just being kind, benevolent, encouraging yourself – that’s what I’m trying to do in moments like this. “

Background: About the person
Educated psychologist Eva-Maria Sperger runs her own psychotherapeutic practice in Munich. She started her professional career in trail running and ultra trail running in the mid-30s and won the German championship title in 2017. She is also the brand ambassador for the Strava tracking app.

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