As an amateur athlete, getting the opportunity to spend three days at the Australian Institute of Sport was a dream come true. Arriving, I felt like one of the pros, excited to be part of the team – but the reality quickly hit that I was a long way from making the grade.
First up senior physiologist Dr. Dave Martin greeted us with what was perhaps not the warmest welcome: “At this stage we’re not that interested in your names; we’re more interested in getting under the hood and seeing if you have the characteristics and the ability to be an elite athlete.” And with that, we were whisked away into the incredible testing labs of the AIS.
Quickly sizing up the fellow participants, I began to assess who would have the endurance, strength, mental toughness and belief to excel over the next three days of fitness challenges and assessments. Quietly, I was hoping I wouldn’t be the worst one in the group.
After three days of experiencing the AIS as part of 2XU’s X:Level training camp, here is a round up of what I learnt.
1. Testing is a positive thing and is relevant to everyone
As much as there were nerves before starting our rounds of fitness testing, there was also excitement. I hadn’t tested myself physically since high school and was interested to see how I would stack up – against others and myself.
What testing really does is give you a benchmark. While my standing vertical leap of 54cm was certainly well short of Nic Naitanui, it gave me my base level – a number that if I trained and worked at, I could always compete against.
This rings true for so many things in sport and life. The opportunity to improve is there everyday and finding your base level is the starting point to improve. Whether you want to run 5km, lose 5kg or find an extra 30 minutes per day to practice mindfulness, you need to start somewhere and you need to start by measuring yourself.
2. Technique is something we can all work on
There is a correct technique to everything. Many sports focus on it – golf and tennis spring to mind. Whether you are a pro or a weekender, you are conscious that your technique impacts your result. But for many other activities it is forgotten.
What I learnt is that no matter your activity you can improve your technique, and improving your technique will improve your performance. When someone is watching you running, swimming or doing squats in the gym and giving you feedback, you find out pretty quickly you have plenty of room for improvement.
Any way you can work on your technique, whether it’s coaching, group fitness, recording your activity or simply becoming more self-aware, you will realise the benefits.
3. Recovery is just as important as training
How do you recover from training or competing? If like me it involves a token stretch, a slug of water and possibly a shower before you move on then you are limiting your performance.
While we don’t all need to have ice baths at home, we can follow the methodology employed by the elite athletes at the AIS. As Dr Shona Halson, Head of Recovery, explained, the important things are:
- Hot and cold treatment
For me it resulted in some simple but hopefully effective changes – get to bed earlier, aim to eat good quality protein, carbohydrate and antioxidants post activity, cold and warm showers after a big session and jumping into 2XU compression socks after every run or compression tights after every bike ride.
Try to factor in these steps after a workout to enable your muscles to recover and grow and your performance to reach a higher level.
4. Make every session count
How many times have you just headed off for a run or a ride or attended a gym class and gone through the motions to tick the box? I am definitely guilty of this. In changing this mindset, it’s important to see every session as a chance to improve.
Set a goal for your session, focus on your technique and measure your performance as part of your journey to your bigger goal. If you can make sure every session is making you fitter, stronger, more flexible, more educated, than you are on the way.
5. It’s okay to fail
Many stories of success begin with failure – and this rang true with many of the athletes at the AIS. Don’t be afraid to set a goal or try something new. Sure, you might fail once or twice or 10 times. But when you finally get there how sweet the achievement will be!
6. Success is a team effort
By this I’m not referring to team sports only. And you don’t need the AIS coaching team either. If you are training for a marathon, do you have some people to train with? Are your family and friends on board and supportive? Do you have a coach or someone to guide you along the way? Who can you talk to about how it is all going?
Surround yourself with people who can help you. You will be surprised about the difference it makes.
7. Natural ability is nice – but it won’t beat determination and will
As much as the AIS is interested in testing and discovering an athlete’s physical ability, they are just as interested in their mental ability. And the same should be true for everyone. Don’t be limited by your physical prowess. Determination can carry you a very long way.
8. Focus is supremely important to performance
You need a plan. You need to know what you need to focus on, maintain focus on this and avoid distraction – sound easy enough? Not many people get past the first point!
If you are training for a half-marathon, do you know what you need to focus on? Are you keeping your focus on this? Have you planned for how you will handle distractions? And for most of us distractions are life – so be focused!
9. You will do more for others than you will do for yourself
This learning rings true on so many levels. You will do more for your children than yourself. You will do more for your partner than for yourself. If you know that someone else is relying on you – you will turn up, you will push yourself you will achieve more. Consider a fitness buddy who you can train with.
10. The opportunity to attend the AIS is an opportunity for greatness
I found my opportunity to spend time at the AIS a privilege. The professionals who work there are elite, the facilities we trained in are elite and athletes with the talent and determination are given the tools to be elite by this amazing institution.