Friday, April 23, 2010

The Cognitive Component of Training

One the hottest topics in the world of endurance sports and training is barefoot running. It’s amazing how much people are embracing the idea of when they run without shoes, they are suddenly forced to land properly on their feet, mid to forefoot, instead of heel striking.

There are companies latching onto this idea and craze, and creating shoes which they claim will help the athlete accomplish this barefoot running style, which is a more natural and efficient way to run.

I’m not going to debate the claims of the research or these products, or even a lack of products with barefoot running, but instead point out another perspective many athletes are not seeing.

Do I believe in the idea of running more mid-foot to forefoot? Absolutely! But the belief that removing shoes or changing shoes will suddenly replace the need for an athlete to think about their form and technique is flawed. It is the same belief and concept of a magic pill, where we are allowed to be lazy.

Athletes can wear regular shoes and still accomplish good running form, plenty of great runners have proven this. They just need to maintain the cognitive component of training, where they focus on technique, foot-strike, pacing, relaxation, strategies, nutrition and hydration needs, etc.

When an athlete hits the tougher portions of a race, such as the run in an Ironman or later miles of a marathon, their ability to focus on the things which will determine their performance will be a key skill. Shoes or no shoes will not be the difference.

Some call this mental skill “mental toughness”. Coach Vern Gambetta calls it, “mental discipline”, which I like a lot.

There is no room for laziness when it comes to performance. The higher level of performance you crave, the more important mental discipline becomes, and therefore needs to be a bigger part of your training regimen.

Cognitive training means knowing and understanding what technical and logistical goals an athlete has, and making sure these are met, along with the fitness goals.

If you’re running with these products, or barefoot, that’s fine, but don’t let it make you lazy about your form, technique and other important elements which you need to be mentally in tune with. Be sure to pay attention to the “Cognitive Component of Training!”

Coach Vance

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