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Tag Archive: goal setting

  1. How to change habits: part 1


    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

    aristotleAristotle’s quote is often used,  but it is hard to follow. When working with athletes, it is often the intangibles that make the difference to the overall outcome of the training programme.

    I often see young coaches or academics popping out and inflicting paper programmes on athletes and saying “I have shown them, now they have to do it“.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) athletes are human beings, not artificial constructs.

    We must therefore coach the person first and then the programme second.

    Athlete’s do not operate in a vacuum

    In order to make gains in training we know that not only must the athlete work, they need to rest and recover. The two things I never assume that an athlete does well are:

    1. change habitsSleep.
    2. Eat.

    Just saying, “eat healthy food”  and “get 8 hours sleep a night” does not recognise that behaviour needs to change, and that comes from habits.

    Very few people think that 5 hours sleep a night and eating crisps and chocolate are the way to become an Olympian.

    Some education is necessary:

    Mostly though, it is getting the athlete to incorporate healthy behaviours and habits into their lifestyle.

     Working on the intangibles

    Changing behaviour is not easy. Education is one part of it, but people need help doing this. It might involve changing the culture of the team/ club or the home environment too.

    Part 2 of this blog will look at Goal setting and how to get started,

    Part 3 will look at some useful tools on how to help you maintain your good habits.

  2. Happy New Year: How to avoid “pooped out itis”


    Happy New Year to everyone.

    For those of us in the UK, it has been a tough few weeks weather wise.

    Not feeling like going back to work? Then Jack Lalanne has a few tips on getting energised for the New Year.

    Read more from Jack in our exclusive interview with him here

    More training tips and thoughts for the New Year to follow this week.

  3. Discipline versus liberty: how your actions affect society


    “I can eat what I want, when I want”

    self-disciplineThose were the famous words issued by a friend of mine through a mouthful of cake, two weeks before he was admitted to hospital with a gall stone attack. His actions led to other people having to look after him: his wife, nurses and doctors. His children were affected as they were worried and concerned about his health. He had the liberty to do what he wanted, but lacked self-discipline.

    This impacted our society.

    Discipline may conjure up images of either jack-booted police states forcing people to work in gulags (or scanning tourists’ eyes who are adding money to failing economies!), or being forced to stand in a corner when being disruptive in class.

    This is externally enforced discipline and the first example is dictatorship, not discipline.

    DISCIPLINE > Liberty nuremberg rally

    LIBERTY> Discipline  

    Discipline is a restraint on liberty, so most of us have a very natural inclination to avoid it.

    (Field- Marshal Slim (1)).

    Slim was talking in a post war Britain that had been economically devastated by six years of fighting totalitarian regimes.

    He then goes on to say “All history teaches that when, through idleness, weakness or faction, the sense of order fades in a nation its economic life fades into decay.”  Sound familiar? Look at the UK riots in the summer of 2011 and think about our society.

    Discipline can also come from within

    Self-discipline is for your own benefit and also for others:

    • Getting up to go to work when the alarm clock goes off (self, employer, family).
    • Eating a healthy breakfast (self, team, nation).
    • Running that extra set of laps to get fit (self, team).
    • Avoiding a fiery response to a late tackle so you avoid giving away a penalty (team).
    • Washing your hands frequently so you stay healthy (self, family, team, nation).
    • Parking your car in between lines, not across two spaces (society you selfish driver).
    • Paying your taxes (self, family, nation).

    This internal self-discipline is essential as it is that which you will draw upon in times of stress and need.

    Unfortunately, discipline is often seen as a dirty word. The discipline of finishing a task you have set out to do. One local high school allows its female pupils to quit p.e. if they want to. Ill discipline is rife there (I had objects thrown at my car, swearing amongst pupils was left unchecked, pupils walk out of class and school at will!)

    How can we build a Nation on this? The teachers are letting the pupils down.

    Politicians and coaches need discipline

    neil parishIn order for our team and nation to work, those people we elect need to have discipline too. We are trusting them to act and behave responsibly.

    If they espouse “just do as I say” and then act irresponsibly we lose trust, respect and then our desire to act in a disciplined fashion.  Examples might be:

    • Spending our tax money wisely.
    • Stop fiddling expenses.
    • Setting an example with our own healthy and ethical behaviours.
    • Treating all players with respect and courtesy.
    • Avoiding nepotism.
    • Have a clear vision of what is trying to be achieved, and inform, explain and engage others in that vision.

    “Serve to Lead”

    This is the motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst . When I was there, it was drummed into us that it was our responsibility as future leaders to look after the welfare of our troops. If we failed in that, then we would be negligent in our duty.

    This includes explaining and informing others of what we are trying to achieve, opportunities that exist , constraints that might stop us, and how we are trying to overcome them. It is then down to the troops, citizens, or team mates to fully commit and exhort every gram of effort into this common goal.

    everest disabledThis comes down to discipline versus liberty. You can eat that extra cake, you can stop that run short of the line, you can park in that disabled bay, you can turn up late to your practice and you can give that defence contract to your old college roommate… but be aware it has an impact beyond yourself.

    We are privileged to live in a free society.

    The alternative is to be told what job we have to do, how many children we are allowed to have (and what sex), and what friends we are allowed to associate with.

     “You can have discipline without liberty, but you can’t have liberty without discipline.” (Slim).


    1 Courage and other broadcasts. Field- Marshal Sir William Slim.Cassel &Company LTD: London (1957).

  4. How can I increase intrinsic motivation?

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    Get the vibe right and intrinsic motivation will follow

    intrinsic motivationI was training 3 athletes in the gym a couple of weeks ago, they were doing one of my usual warm ups, no music, no shouting, no distractions.

    The three were focussed and busy.  Another coach walked in, and said

    I wish I was training now, rather than earlier, there is a good Vibe.

    The three athletes were all teenage boys, and were good examples of how young people can train.

    What is a Vibe? Is it something we can create, or something we can enhance.? If you are training where there is a good Vibe, then you will probably find that time passes quickly, and you get better results and satisfaction from your training activity.

    intrinsic motivation

    Running in the country

    When on holiday recently I was going for a morning run on a footpath from the campsite, through some woods along a coastal path. The path was uneven, with tree roots, steps and other obstacles.

    I had to pay attention to every step that I was taking. The air was clear and fresh, the sun was sparkling on the sea, and I didn’t know what was around the corner. I was fully engaged in the run and was not thinking of anything else.

    Compare that to walking into a commercial gym, stepping onto a treadmill and plugging in headphones and watching breakfast television, whilst trying not to listen to dance music or adverts in the gym itself.

    The gym is telling you that the run is something to be endured, and that watching tv is a more beneficial activity.

    Which run is more likely to create a “Vibe”? 

    Here are some tips on creating a Vibe in your training sessions:

    Having a purpose helps motivation

    It is next to impossible to get a good training session under way if you have no plan. For me, it always starts with the warm up, if this is done correctly then the session will follow well. Avoid giving yourself or the athletes an opportunity to ease into it. Have a purpose for the session and then make sure the warm up is related to it.

    As a coach, if your programme involves sitting on a foam roller, then moving to a stationary bike, followed by some generic resistance machines and you let them wear headphones, expect your athletes to be bored, demotivated and unengaged.

    Have an environment with no distractions

    motivating athletesEasier said than done, but if there is a group of you, it is better to train in an empty facility with limited equipment, than a super duper facility surrounded by numpties.

    Better to run outside, away from traffic, than on a busy road. Again, we are victims of circumstance and environment, but try and do what you can. That might mean going to the gym at quieter times, or earlier in the morning.  Music can be part of it, but should be background, rather than overwhelming.

    Get good training partners

    intrinsic motivation

    Having training partners helps when it gets hard

    You can train alone, or with other people. If you do train with others, then make sure they are there to work and improve too.

    I train groups of athletes from different sports, but they work well together because they are all dedicated to improving.

    Competitive banter is part of it, but avoid mickey taking. They can afford to make mistakes in the gym, because that helps them learn. The competition is partly with each other, but mostly for themselves.

    Positive feedback

    Finish on a good note- well done, good job, and then some points to take forward for the next session. You can pat yourself on the back, and then think how that has helped you become a better athlete.

    I had never thought about creating a “Vibe” until someone else pointed it out to me, but it is something I try and focus on now.  I hope you can get the Vibe soon too.

    Further reading:

  5. How to take charge of your fitness training


    herschel walker“If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.”

    Herschel Walker

    Training hard is one part of fitness training, but any idiot can get tired (or indeed make you tired)!

    I want to give you ideas that will help you get fit for your purpose.

    That may be to run faster, get stronger or jump higher in your sports arena.

    It may be to get you fitter so that you can deliver the goods at the end of a match, or for life in general.

    Here are the key points that I have developed over the years that work with people just like you.


    how to warm up for runningKnowing where you are going is essential before you start out on your journey (I have covered this previously in The power of goal setting). You need to know what you are trying to achieve this month, this week and today in your training.

    #Key tip 1: write down what you want to achieve for the month, for the week, for your next training session.

    An example might be “I want to be able to run 5km in less than 20 minutes by the end of January. This week I will do a time trial and 3 other runs. Tomorrow I will run 1km fast, walk for 2 minutes and repeat for a total of 5 times“.

    Your resistance training programme must be more specific than “best workout plans” gained from a magazine. Now you know what the aim of your session is going to look like, you can plan your warm up accordingly. Start with the end in mind.

    If your session is running, or lifting weights explosively, then by the end of the warm up you should be performing activities that resemble that.

    But, at the start, you will probably be feeling tired, stiff or lethargic after a day of school, work or from previous sessions. The picture of me is doing a pre track warm up, using hurdles to help warm up my hips.

    #Key tip 2: You need to increase the range of motion, speed, and complexity of movements gradually in your warm up.

    (Read more on how to design your warm up).


    split jerkThis is the meat of your training session. What changes are you trying to make in your body? If it is to get stronger, then what movements are you trying to get stronger: a push, pull or a squat? Are you trying to develop speed? Then you need to be putting fast work in here.

    If your goal is to increase speed, then what aspect of speed: acceleration, deceleration, maximum speed, repeat speed, reaction speed? 

    Here is where your exercise choice, equipment choice, rest periods and amount of work done need to reflect the aim of the session. It is a common mistake to see a new exercise or new piece of kit and then jump straight into using that, without knowing why.

    #Key tip 3: Make sure your choice of exercises reflects the aim of the session, rather than dictates the session.

    For example, you read about Mo Farah’s 120 mile a week training and you see that he does a circuit in the gym. You copy that circuit without knowing why he is doing it, or even if it helps him. Worse still, you are a 15 year old runner with very little training background, you are in danger of getting hurt!

    Here are two example session plans for rugby players (other sports can follow the same principles), one in the field and one in the gym:how to start your fitness training

    how to start getting fit for sportI have left the sets/reps and loads blank because that is down to each individual. But the adaptation theme is for lower body strength in the gym, and for acceleration up to 20 metres on the field.

    I usually recommend using only 2 major lifts, plus minor lifts around that in the gym. The exercises in brackets will be lighter loads and are complementary to the major lifts. This allows you to practice those movements in what otherwise would be down time. (Picture is of hurdler Becky Brown doing the power snatch).

    #Key tip 4: Makes sure you work hard on the adaptation part of the session, allowing adequate rest between the major exercises (unless work capacity is your goal and rest will be reduced).

    (See how this works in practice with young athletes )


    how to start fitness trainingThis is the dessert of the session, or indeed the week. It is very,very easy (and common) to get caught in a numbers trap in the gym or field.

    But, unless you can apply your new found strength, speed or endurance on the field/court/mat or track what is the point?

    An example would be squash players only running on treadmills to improve their VO2 max (aerobic endurance) score to satisfy the physiologists who are unable to measure endurance where it counts: on the squash court!

    Your body has undergone some fatigue in the adaptation part of the session. It will remember this fatigue: you will be slower, weaker or more tired after this (every time you put a barbell on your back you move slower).

    Now you have to teach your body how to apply better movement that resembles or even better, replicates movements in your sport.

    This may mean getting out of the gym to run, jump or throw things! (picture is of Modern Pentathlete Greg Longden doing some hurdle jumps after squats).

    #Key tip 5: Get your body moving faster, further or in a complex pattern at the end of your training session. 

    This video shows an example of a good application exercise: the fire hydrant start.


    Finally we come to regeneration. This includes physical, mental and emotional recovery, repair and renewal. The cool down in the session should gradually restore your body to its resting state, rather than stop abruptly.

    If your training session has included a lot of one type of movement, then you might need to do some of the opposite movement in the cool down to restore balance. This video shows an example of what to do ensure your shoulders and back stay healthy.

    You need to think about what food and water you consume immediately post training, and later that day or evening (you will have prepared this previously of course!)

    You need to think about showering or bathing (I work with school age rugby players, so please forgive me as assuming this is a given is a mistake) as this can help speed the recovery process.

    But, what is often forgotten is the fact that you need time away from your sport (and especially team mates) so that you return to training refreshed and invigorated. Of course, for some of you, your sport is your time away from work/ family and is your chance of regeneration.

    # Key tip 6: The most important recovery tool is sleep, and all your post training activities should be designed to help increase the quality and quantity of your sleep.

    Read more here about our recovery pyramid and how much sleep you need after training


    fitness trainingI hope this has given you some insights into how to take charge of your fitness training. These methods work with the athletes I coach, whatever their sport.

    (This does apply to females too, read more from one female coach here)

    The detail of each session is changed according to the sport, but more importantly to the individual person.

    If you would like to benefit from this type of training, then you might want to use the programmes contained in my 3 books: Run Faster, Get Stronger or Jump Higher (all are readable on tablet, or pc and contain detailed training programmes with video clips).

    Or, if you want individual advice please contact me here 

    Good luck.

  6. 11 questions every aspiring athlete should ask themselves


    “If you ask me how I want to be remembered, it is as a winner.

    walter payton trainingYou know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something.

    It doesn’t mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they’ve given it their best. That’s a winner.” 

    Walter Payton NFL Running Back

    In the current climate of “because I’m worth it” generation of young athletes who expect a lot, but maybe don’t realise the work involved here are 11 questions every athlete should ask themselves.

    1. Do you have a goal or a wish? Lots of athletes have idle day dreams, but taking the time to write down your goals and set up a plan is crucial.
    2. Do you have self -discipline? That is the discipline to make every training session, to do the little things well, consistently. The discipline to follow a plan even if you are tired or busy.
    3. Do you get quality sleep? Sleep is the foundation from which you can recover. It is also an indicator that there is balance in your life: too much stress, poor diet, or poor lifestyle can all impact on sleep quality.
    4. eating like an athleteDo you fuel yourself properly? After sleep, this is an easy way of distinguishing between those who are serious about performance and the also-rans. The 3 step approach to fuelling properly will ensure consistency.
    5. Do you have the 4 cornerstones of training in place? It is easy to do what we are comfortable with, or what seems most urgent. However, you need to have all 4 cornerstones in place to be most effective.
    6. Are you mindful: of others, of your body, of your strengths and weaknesses? Mindfulness allows you to focus on one area at a time. It will help boost your immune system and reduce blood pressure. Being mindful in training means you are less likely to get injured and more likely to improve.
    7.  Do you train to gain an edge? It is often easy to get the big things in place, but the little things accumulate over time and soon add up. If you are doing them daily, then you will be gaining an edge over your opponents who are resting.
    8. football fitness training devonDo your sessions have purpose? Or are they organised despair? There is a big difference between doing “stuff” that gets you tired and training with a purpose so that you get better.
    9. Are you getting stronger? Strength in some form underpins all athletic movement: posture, stability, power, balance and pure strength all require a strength training plan of some form.
    10. Do you challenge your technique? “Skill is technique under pressure” so do you seek to improve and develop your technique in different circumstances and environments? It is easy to be good when training at your own club: very different in the maelstrom of away fixtures under pressure.
    11. tom baylis cycle fitnessHave you given it your all? This may be hard to quantify, and you can only give the best that you are capable of at that time.  If you look in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I had a little bit left” then how will you be able to cope when that choice is taken away from you? Sometimes you have to empty your tank and train beyond your reserves.

    Walter Payton is an NFL legend, who knows if you are going to be as good as him? But , as an aspiring athlete, if you answer Yes to all of these questions, then you are well on the way to making the most of your ability.

    (Pictured are Dan James, Jenny McGeever and Tom Baylis: 3 of our current athletes who answer these questions).

  7. Walk before you run, sports nutrition guide: Andrew Hamilton


    If I had a quid for every time I’ve been asked ‘”What’s the best supplement to take for performance?” I’d be a rich man!

    To some extent, the confusion over sports nutrition is understandable; at its cutting edge, nutrition is a complex and constantly evolving science involving huge numbers of variables and sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

    Probably the most common mistake people make when planning out their nutrition is to worry about supplements such as exotic sports drinks and creatine before putting the fundamental building blocks in place. It’s a bit like a cyclist agonising over whether to shave a few grams of weight by splashing out £200 on super-light carbon fibre pedals shoes while still carrying a spare tyre of excess body fat round the waist!

    Getting started

     A good way to develop a successful nutrition strategy is to think in terms of a ‘hierarchy of nutritional needs’. You can think of this as a pyramid, with the widest layer at the base representing the most fundamental dietary needs and successive layers above representing progressively more specialised needs.

    However, these more specialised needs should only be considered once the (more basic) layers below have been put in place.

    sports nutrition guideAt the base of the pyramid, the most fundamental layer is about ensuring your overall diet is healthy, with ample carbohydrate and fluid to support your training needs and enough high quality protein for recovery and muscle growth as well as plenty of vitamins and minerals (see here if you need guidance).

    The next layer up is about tweaking your day-to-day diet to help your body resist illness and breakdown.

    This is achieved by ensuring that your plentiful fruit and vegetable intake emphasises those particularly rich in antioxidants (to counter the ‘oxidative stress’ that intense exercise can produce in the cells of the body). A

    Also ensure you consume plenty of health- giving omega-3 oils.

    With levels 1 and 2 in place, you’re ready to start attending to the nitty-gritty of sports nutrition.

    However, before you reach for a tub of sports drink or similar, you need to think about something more fundamental – manipulating your basic diet to optimise fluid intake for optimum hydration and carbohydrate intake for energy.

     It’s only when these first three layers are in place that you should consider thinking about level 4 (consuming sports drinks such as energy, recovery, weight gain etc) or the top tier (supplements like creatine, beta-alanine etc.). Remember, sport is just like life – learn to walk before you run!

    Andrew Hamilton BSc Hons, MRSC, ACSM is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American College of Sports Medicine and a consultant to the fitness industry, specialising in sport and performance nutrition. Visit www.andrewmarkhamilton.com for more information and a library of ‘free to download’ articles

  8. Out with the Food Pyramid in with the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate


    Harvard healthy eating plate

    The food pyramid has been discarded in the USA: apparently it is too abstract a concept for the American public. The massive obesity levels might indicate evidence of this.

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a new plate look which featured protein and dairy, with no mention of activity.  The boffins at Harvard have produced an alternative plate which has not been influenced by lobbyists from the US dairy and meat industries.

    Have a look and let us know what you think: Will it help? Is it easy to understand?

  9. New Year’s Resolutions- Healthy Eating

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    healthy eating at christmas for an athleteI always like to get a step ahead of my competitors by ensuring that I start training before they do.

    December is an ideal opportunity to do this as most people are switching off and over indulging.

    They then have a longer uphill struggle in January.

    I have uploaded a useful guide on How to eat like a champion

    If you are trying to lose weight, maintain weight or improve body composition, then it is better to be consistent, then trying to do it in a hurry.

    Much easier to cut down on mince pie intake than trying to burn them off later (but still have the odd one otherwise you will be a weirdo who has a psychotic episode later on in life).