How to “Walk the Plank” (In & Out of the Gym!)

by Belinda on February 27, 2011

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Today I want to talk about those stressful “walk the plank” type situations in life, where it’s hard to be calm and focused and you dread what’s ahead. I’m using the term “plank” because one of the exercises I often use with my personal training clients. But there’s something about this particular exercise that causes people to put up a psychological block. Those 60 seconds feel like an eternity and often once people hit 30 seconds or so, it becomes mentally unbearable to continue and they usually stop. Most of my clients call it “the longest 60 seconds in the world”!

What I tell my clients might help you too, and is applicable to all “walking the plank” areas of your life, not just when you’re in the gym. In general, whenever I have to withstand serious discomfort in my training and even in my life, I try to separate my mind from my body. Hey, I still feel it, I am still experiencing it (I am not in denial lol) but it’s like I am observing the pain from the outside, rather than experiencing it first hand.

It’s like “yes I know I am hurting” but it’s having no emotional effect on me, my mind is calm, I am focused and in control.  This is one of the skills that has allowed me to push my body beyond average.   And it’s one of the life skills that have helped me overcome major adversity time and time again. As I tell my clients, any emotional energy you spend on feeling stressed about the discomfort is energy taken away from your ability to do the exercise.  You must conserve your energy as much as possible by staying very calm and focused.

That’s one of the big things I first learned from surfing – not to panic when you get into danger because panic consumes your energy rapidly and that could cost you your life.  So by staying incredibly calm in the face of danger, you have a lot more energy to escape from the situation. This has saved my life literally several times.

For example once surfing in Costa Rica on sunset I got caught in a rip and carried out to sea a couple of miles.  Every year people die just like that there – the rips are deadly.   It happened so quickly that all I could see was the lights twinkling on the very distant shore line (it was almost pitch black by then).  I was alone.  No one knew I was out there. There was no one to save me.  A week before a guy had died of a heart attack facing such a situation, just from sheer panic.

But I knew what to do because I had trained myself many times over while learning to surf.   I kept my breathing deep and steady, I focused my mind, I became extremely calm to the point of almost relaxed and slowed my heart rate right down.  I was conserving my energy so I could make that huge paddle to the shore, in the dark, to save my life.  It felt like I was paddling forever but I didn’t let my mind stray.  I stayed completely focused on one thing, paddling and staying calm. When I almost thought I couldn’t go on I saw the white water of a wave breaking just a few meters in front of me.  Somehow I found the strength to paddle onto it and I made it to shore.  It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized how close I had come to not making it.

These days I don’t take quite as many risks like that but it helped me discover how to use that kind of mind control on a much smaller level in my training.  It’s natural to feel stressed and anxious when you get into that pain zone – but if you can train yourself to stay mentally relaxed even though your body is under pressure – it’s amazing how much your performance can improve way beyond your expectations.

Achieving your dream body is not just about time in the gym and eating right – it’s about harnessing your most powerful force of all – your mind.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda February 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Thank you Dennis – great to hear from you and so awesome you can practically apply this! It really works, it takes some practice but the more you do it – the better you get. Let me know how it goes and thanks for always staying contact :)

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Dennis Baptiste February 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Hey Belinda you will not believe it, the weekend gone just done my workout and on reading your blog [daily] i xperienced what you was saying… i felt very tired and in pain, lost all focus and then my energy levels dropped. So i had to unfortunately call it a day, reading your blog it will not happen again. Thank you Belinda you have inspired me again to try and get through my routine. :) [Will try & catch you on f/book] tC you are great as always… *_^

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karen February 27, 2011 at 10:06 pm

i have family in NZ too, few in Christchurch. yes, kiwi spirit is very strong (i have my mother to thank for that) but it is still an emotional challenge… it would be surreal.
when i find myself facing a fear/challenge, i remind myself “this too shall pass” take a deep breath and move on… even if just baby steps to start.

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Belinda February 28, 2011 at 6:47 am

Great thoughts Karen – reminding yourself that the time of crisis will pass over with time, is a great way to find the strength to take those first steps towards overcoming. Thank you for sharing here. xoxo

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Donna Ahu February 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hi Belinda,
Thanks for such a great post it comes at a time when again poor Christchurch has been hit with another Earthquake, I read this and thought how true it was,When it hit this time I didn’t panic I walked outside and took a breath at this stage I started to put my plan into action like check on my husband, get into my car and take the quickest possible route to my daughters school I knew driving would be quicker than trying to get through on the phone, through this one I was relaxed and in control so your words really hit home to me and I intend to share this post with many of my friends as we all go through this devasting time in our lives.
To all my friends and family suffering through this tragic time Be Strong and Be safe we are in this together. xx

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Belinda February 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Hi Donna, it is great to know you are OK. Some of my relatives live in Christchurch and their homes have been damaged, fortunately they are OK (apart from the emotional shock). I can’t believe it is happening again there. I am inspired by your clear headed thinking under pressure – it’s not until you have a life threatening experience that you discover the power of staying calm. I am thinking of you, your family and friends and everyone who has been touched by this tragedy – we know the Kiwi spirit is strong and will pull through!

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