Watching a professional athlete perform—a swimmer’s powerful arms propelling her through the water, a shooting guard’s perfectly floated three-pointer—is a thing of raw beauty. And although you may never compete in the Olympics or the NBA, you can aspire to peak physical performance, in athletics and in all other aspects of your life.
Just as all those hours in the weight room allow a tennis player to dominate on the court, your own athleticism lays the foundation for manifesting your most fulfilling life. Whether you sweat it out on the yoga mat or literally climb mountains, working toward your own peak performance will empower you to reach new heights in your career, relationships, spirituality and free time.
You already know how great exercise is for you—it improves your health, brightens your outlook, focuses your mind and even makes you live longer (not bad if you’re seeking the ultimate in boldness and fulfillment). So if you’re all-in for a more daring, adventurous life, it’s time to get a move on.
Cultivate mental toughness.
The difference between an athlete who thrives under pressure and one who caves? Mental toughness. Cultivating an optimistic mindset will help you reach peak performance not only as an athlete but as a human overall.
Sports psychologists and elite athletes define mental toughness as the ability to stay confident in spite of difficulties, whether it’s a downpour on race day or a persistent injury. Sports psychologists point to the power of self-reflection to build this psychological muscle: Think back to a time you felt on top of the world—medaling in a triathlon, say, or the time you finally found kurmasana. Channel that sense of triumph before and during any event (or even right before a presentation at work or a first date). Don’t gloss over the difficulties, though. Learning from letdowns, like how you’ll never ignore your body’s signs of dehydration after you cramped mid-marathon, is just as important as recalling your wins. In fact, research shows that developing a positive self-image as an athlete (“I have the power and stamina to endure”) helps you bounce back from setbacks.
Another aspect of mental toughness is resisting the temptation to compare. Self-doubt will eat at your ability to perform (not to mention the joy of moving your body), so keep your gaze inward to hit your own—not someone else’s—peak performance. You’ll also have to guard against comparing yourself to, well, yourself. You may not be as fast or strong as you were before an injury, but you can be the best where you are now.
You stretch your muscles and lift weights, but you’ll never reach peak performance if you neglect training your lungs, too. When you exhale into the Breathslim breathing trainer, you teach your diaphragm to properly engage to increase oxygen absorption, lung capacity and endurance. You’ll not only notice a difference in your athletic performance; you may feel more energetic, more rested and even crave food less, as study participants did at the University of Southern California. You can also wear the TrainingMask when you work out, which mimics the air composition of high altitudes and provides resistance to each breath to teach your lungs to do more before becoming fatigued. You might get some double-takes on the hiking trail while wearing the mask, which covers your face from nose to chin, but fostering self-improvement isn’t always pretty.
Another organ critical to your physical fitness? Your brain. To get your mind in the game, the Halo Sport uses faint electric pulses to prime neurons in the motor cortex—the section of your brain that allows you to sink a putt or power your kayak through a wave—to learn to fire more precisely and efficiently. The results are impressive: Study participants were able to run longer and throw a ball faster. The effects can also be applied to other aspects of your life that require your mind to be in the zone, like learning a new Mozart piece or teaching yourself calligraphy.
When you push yourself on the field or in the studio, your body needs a chance to recover. Take a cue from Ironman triathletes and pro football players and try out the NormaTec PULSE recovery system. You pull a sleeve- or boot-like covering over your muscles and let the science-backed massage patterns increase blood flow, stop fluid buildup and speed recovery between workouts. Studies in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research find that using the high-tech massage technology decreased pain, sped recovery and increased flexibility in elite athletes. (And who can say no to having an on-call, live-in massage therapist?)
For a slightly lower tech solution, upgrade your rollers. Throw out that old tennis ball you use to loosen knots and upgrade to the Mobility WOD Supernova, a sphere with grooves on its surface that massage and grip tired muscles. The ThermXRoller has a freezable and microwavable sleeve you can slip on the cylindrical roller for cool or warm TLC as you stretch. And the Hyperice VIPER vibrates as you roll out tired hamstrings or a sore back, adding a subtle myofascial massage to your recovery. Your muscles will thank you, and you’ll be back to peak performance—and leading your fullest life—in no time.