Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Book Review: Mind Gym

My Fancy Dancy Coach gave me the book Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack for Christmas. My first thought was, "Hmm... does he think I have mental problems?" This is probably a legitimate concern. Since he is my coach and I am worried that there may be a pop quiz at some point, I have finished reading it and am prepared to submit my report. I will resist the temptation to copy someone else's review off of Amazon and try to give you the highlights of what I learned.

Before I begin, I should disclose the fact that I follow absolutely no sports. In the last year, I watched the last 15 minutes of the Super Bowl. That's it. This book is filled with inspirational quotes, advice, and anecdotes from top athletes in many different sports. Other than recognizing their names, I really don't know much about any of their careers. If you follow sports then you may get a kick out of getting inside these top performers' heads. It has also come to my attention that Alex Rodriguez, who wrote the foreword, may be in a little bit of trouble. Just thought I should add that in the spirit of full disclosure.

Mind Gym, as the title suggests, is about the mental aspect of athletics. Gary Mack is a sports psychologist that has worked with all types of athletes and teams. Some of the topics he covers include:
  • the way people defeat themselves and sabotage their own success
  • detailed visualization to mentally prepare for best performance
  • goal setting
  • relaxing the mind so that it doesn't get in the way of the body
  • being in "the zone"
  • the qualities of "inner excellence"

There were several lessons that I will try to incorporate into my "mental game". Mack observes that it is human nature to like to practice what we already do well. We tend to avoid areas that we are weak. I notice at the gym that I avoid exercises that I don't do well. I also don't like to do agility drills because it's embarrassing. Mack says, "Work on your weaknesses until they become your strong points." I'll give it a try.

Relaxation is a key to peak performance. There is a section specifically on running. One study showed that sprinters ran faster at 90% effort. This is because opposing muscles relaxed instead of being tense and counterproductive. I've noticed that when I'm tired, I'll try to relax and actually find myself running faster. Focusing on relaxing may help with speed and fatigue.

The final lesson that I'll share with you is Mack's discussion of Aristotle who said, "Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do." I make an excellent habit of following my work out schedule. I rarely miss a run or workout. I like to ignore other aspects, though, important things like nutrition (I'm eating chocolate covered pretzels as I write this). All of our daily habits add up to the ultimate performance and our ultimate performance is comprised of more than just one race. It is not our best or our worst effort, but the culmination of all that we do.

Mind Gym is a quick read and certainly worth the $11 on Amazon. Let's face it, most of us runners are head cases and could use a little mental help.


Nat said...

Hey Thanks for stopping by my blog! I loved Rochester last year. I did not do so hot but it was a ton of fun! Hopefully, I'll see you at one of the three races!
The book sounds great, I have many mental "fights" with myself during races.

Porkchopwi said...

See, this is what I like about your blog. Useful information other people can use. And it's humorus.


Chad said...

I have that book on my shelf - don't think I've ever read the whole thing. Although the Aristotle quote is one of my all-time favorites. I even have it written on a 4" x 6" notecard somewhere.