I was talking to a mental performance consultant for my annual New Year/Resolution article I almost always write for Canadian Cycling. I’m always looking for a new angle, and as I get older, new angles tend to present themselves just because I see the world (and athletics) in a different way each year. I won’t give away this year’s theme just yet, but in working on it, a conversation I had with the sports psychologist got extremely granular. Specifically, we started talking all about how to make each training session align with your goal for the decade/year/season. The trick, she told me, is taking the time to set a specific intention before every workout.
Now, you may have read that and thought, ‘I already set an intention, because I check my training plan and do what’s written there.’ And yes, that’s part of it. But there’s an even more nitty-gritty nuance to making every training session effective: Taking a few seconds to really set a genuine intention for how you want to feel or perform in the workout. Now, when I say ‘perform’, this doesn’t mean ‘I’m going to set a new 5-minute power record.’ This means ‘I’m going to focus all of my efforts on keeping each interval consistent and finishing strong.’ The feeling could be along that line, or for an easy/recovery/endurance workout, it might be more about setting the intention of feeling smooth, focused, or even playful the entire time.
I don’t belabor this: I just use the walk to the end of my driveway, before I break into my run, as my chance to think this through. I’ve said it before: A big thing for me these days is making my actual workouts for the week truly count. Going all in on my intervals, rather than phoning them in, or letting myself take it a little easier than I know I’m capable of. But I really like thinking about it on my regular endurance runs as well: A focus on feeling smooth on the trails made a difference in my very rocky run on Sunday. I’m not changing anything else: I still listen to the same podcasts or playlists, I just have that tiny pause beforehand to decide what I want from my workout.
I set my word of the year this year to be ‘intentional,’ and I’m not going to lie, I don’t think it was my best choice ever. (Long story short, I definitely should have stuck with what popped up originally, which was Strong… and that was before I conceived of and started Strong Girl Publishing!) Intentional, at that point, felt like taking more time and slowing things down, which definitely hasn’t happened this year. But in a full circle kind of way, it’s cool to have that word pop up during an interview for a New Years article!
All that to say: I think pretty often, we take most training sessions for granted, or at least do them somewhat on autopilot. I’m encouraging everyone to test out actually focusing, setting that intention before you hit RECORD on your computer or watch, or before you start your strength or mobility routine. I genuinely believe it makes a big difference—especially when you’re struggling to get into the zone.
Final tip: I said it earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Intention is not the same thing as ‘what the workout tells you to do.’ Make it about how you want to feel during and after your workout.