Top tips for doing less to achieve more in fitness

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Most of us go by the rule that to get in shape, you need to work hard. However, mind and body experts have revealed that knowing when to rest and do nothing can be a big boost when it comes to fitness, as your mind can be even more important to getting in shape than your muscles — especially if you happen to be training up for a marathon or sporting event.

Rather than working out until your body hurts, sleep expert Sally Margo and mental performance coach Andy Barton reveal their mind and body mantras to help you get in shape this spring…

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Andy and Sally reveal that your mind is as important as your muscles when training

Sammy's top tips for staying well-rested:

Build a bedtime routine

Try to set aside time in your day to unwind and settle before your sleep. Set a technology cut-off time and avoid using your smartphone in the bedroom. Have a relaxing shower or bath, listen to some soothing music and try having a warm glass of milk or chamomile tea.

Sleep comfortably

The best sleeping posture is one that ensures your body is in the midline position with no twists and turns. This can make the difference between a good or bad night's sleep, especially if you're putting your body through intensive training.

Wake up properly

If you run in the morning, it's important to wake up feeling good. Use sleep apps to monitor your sleeping patterns so you can work out when you're in a light sleep cycle – this is the best time to set your alarm as you are more likely to feel refreshed for an early morning run.

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Make sure to give your body plenty of recovery time when training

Use rest to help recovery

Your body tissue can only be pushed so far before it snaps, so you need to leave plenty of recovery time after training. Embrace 'active rest' – activity that keeps you moving but at a greatly reduced intensity, such as running a shorter distance.

Indulge in 'snooze foods'

Bananas, turkey, almonds and oatmeal are all foods which contain Tryptophan, a catalyst to Melatonin, so include them as part of your evening meal or an evening snack if you're struggling to sleep.

Know your stimulant and sedative cycles

Make sure you understand the effects of common stimulants and sedatives so you know when to avoid or use them. Alcohol is a key sedative that's wise to moderate during training – while it can help you relax, it doesn't help you get a good night's sleep. Meanwhile caffeine is a stimulant that can help your performance but avoid drinking it three to eight hours before bedtime.

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A good night's sleep is vital to your wellbeing

Understand your sleep

An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours afterwards, making it the best time for recovery. Deep sleep, when the body is doing virtually nothing, is also great for encouraging protein synthesis, ideal for recovering from running.

Make your bedroom a haven

For the best chance of a peaceful night's sleep, you need somewhere quiet, dark, comfortable and cool. A temperature between 16-18 degrees is perfect. Keep your feet warm as cold feet reduce the chance of unbroken sleep. If you're at a hotel, try and replicate your room by asking reception for a soft or firm pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.

Return to sleep

If you wake in the night, avoid checking the time as you try to get back to sleep. Turn the clock so it faces away, or cover it up. If you feel you've been in bed for longer than 20 minutes without getting any sleep, try drinking chamomile tea or reading a magazine article, then head back to bed as you start to feel sleepy again.

Remember to have fun when training to keep you motivated

Breathe easily

To help you unwind, try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). PMR is a great way to help you prepare your body for sleep – tense and relax your muscles from your toes to your forehead. Squeeze each muscle group for a few seconds then release and relax for ten seconds.

Andrew's top tips for staying strong mentally:

Enjoy yourself

If you take on a challenge like a marathon it's easy to start taking it a bit too seriously and forgetting about the fun side of things. Don't pile on the pressure if things during training don't always go to plan – if you have fun and stay happy you're far more likely to stick to training and get better results.

Tell the world

Don't keep your goals to yourself – there's a real benefit to sharing your goals with as many people as possible, partly because there is incentive to avoid the embarrassment of not achieving what you said you will, but also because it increases your motivation, focus an energy in both the training and the event itself.

Go for questions instead of statements

Saying 'I will do it' can actually have the opposite effect to what is intended. When people ask 'Shall I go for a run?' they feel it's more of a choice than an obligation, so they embrace their decision to exercise in a far more positive way.

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Keep a positive attitude to help you achieve your goals

Take control of your inner coach

Sometimes our inner voice creeps up on us and tells us we can't do it. I often ask clients what they would do if they had a coach who spoke to them like that, and they often say they would fire them. So, next time you feel negative, replace it with a voice which is positive, encouraging and motivating.

Don't take the 'all or nothing' approach

We all have days we don't want to work out – if you feel like that, don't give up completely. Instead, set a smaller goal. So if you planned to run ten miles, run one instead – you might find that once you get going you will do more than expected.

The power of mental pain relief

One of the main issues with distance runners I've worked with is the pain they experience when competing. Pain is inevitable when you put your body through a fitness challenge, but you can minimize it. If you're running, don't look at the ground because you will focus on the pain – look around you to distract yourself.

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Sally and Andy reveal their mind and body mantras for successful training

Focus on the positive

If you're worried or anxious, avoid negative statements like 'don't be nervous' as this could make things worse. Instead, opt for positive instructions such as 'stay calm', 'be confident' or 'go for it', for a better chance of success.

Strike a pose

Psychologists have shown that 'power poses' (changing your body language to make your body bigger) can make you feel more confident, and reduces the amount of stress hormones you produce.

Fire up your imagination

Exploit your imagination as a mental rehearsal technique. For example, imaging you are running the marathon, and you train your brain to be prepared for the race as it feels like it's something you have already achieved.

Stay in the present

Don't focus on the future, worrying how much you have left to do in training or how effective you will be. If you just focus on what is in front of you and focus on your breathing, you are more likely to succeed.

For more information head to holidayinn.com and greenroom.co.uk/restandrun. Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts is the official hotel partner of the Virgin Money London Marathon, on 26 April 2015.

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