The holidays are over, the new year has begun and we're all (hopefully) back into the swing of training. As you consider your goals for next year and create a path to achieve them, are you taking advantage of everything under your control? I believe there are three elements of which we are firmly in control when it comes to our athletic success: the physical, the technical, and the mental.
Everyone is on board with the physical; obviously we have to train if we want to get stronger, faster, fitter. Chances are, however, that you can train smarter. To do that, you need to know what you're training for. Do you want to race/compete/win at Masters Nationals? A head race? An Atlantic crossing? Once you define your goal, you should tailor your training specifically toward that goal. And if you have a partner who has the same goals, you can push each other to work harder than either of you might alone.
Small things can also make a big difference in your training. If you're not getting enough sleep, you won't be able to train as hard or maybe you'll blow off practice and sleep in. More and more studies are coming out saying how important sleep is. Make sure you're getting enough.
Are you eating well? Getting enough protein? Iron? Could you cut out some junk food and add more vegetables? I know I could. While it hasn't worked for me some people swear by a cleansing diet. I don't recommend it for any reason other than if you think you might have some food issues/allergies. If that's the case, a cleanse may be able to help you pinpoint what food is negatively affecting you. Cutting out that certain food could then help you sleep better, make you more energetic, which will help you train harder.
How's your flexibility? Did you get injured last year? A regular stretching routine could help reduce injury and even increase the length of your stroke. You also might want to incorporate something besides rowing and erging into your regime. Weight lifting, Pilates, and yoga could all be great additions.
All of the above should be included in your training, but what about the technical aspects of your stroke? How much time and effort do you put into becoming a better technical rower? Do you even have an image in your head of how you want to row and what changes you need to make to achieve this image? That's where you need to start.
Just like in your physical training, you need to have a roadmap of where you are, where you want to go, and how you're going to get there. Find some specific drills that will improve your weaknesses, then do those drills mindfully and incorporate them into your rowing. As I get older, I know I will never be able to create the same power I did as an elite rower. However, if I can continue to get more efficient in my stroke, I can get more of the power that I do generate into making the boat go.
The third element I mentioned, the mental aspect, is the most overlooked. Don't think this is something only elite athletes need to do, or something you should save for the really big races. Like everything, the way to make the mental game work for you is to practice, practice, practice. There are many books out there that will go into much greater detail than I will and I recommend picking one up.
Visualize achieving your goals
The bottom line is you have to believe in yourself. Pick a goal you want to achieve - the more specific, the better - then tell yourself every day that you can do it, and every day visualize yourself achieving that goal. The mind is a very powerful tool and one that is often underutilized.
So don't just train, train smart. Use every tool at your disposal to guarantee your most successful year yet.