25+ Ways Professional Athletes Optimize Their Minds and Bodies for Peak Performance
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
When we watch sporting events, it may feel like the athletes are superhuman. What can us mere mortals learn from these people blessed with such extraordinary talent?
But the truth is that professional athletes prepare their minds and bodies to achieve optimal performance. Entrepreneurs and business leaders can certainly benefit from the ability to prepare like that. If we emulate their mind and body optimization techniques, we can also see improvements in our own performance.
Please enjoy these 25-plus ways that high-level athletes optimize their minds and bodies.
Tiffany Bias, WNBA
I am a visual person so I visualize myself achieving a task or thinking back to a time when I successfully accomplished a goal in a high-stress environment.
I also speak a lot of positive affirmations to myself. I am a big believer if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?
I think I have an optimistic gene, especially in high-stress situations. I am more worried about how we can fix it and overcome it than allowing the situation to overtake me and my mind.
I’ve definitely learned over the years that getting enough sleep is huge.
Also, taking care of your body, whether that is stretching more or seeing a chiropractor to make sure everything aligned.
Even just eating better makes a world difference when it comes to performance.
Josh Bilicki, NASCAR Driver
A lot of the split-second, high-pressure decisions that we make just come naturally for us because we have been doing this for our entire lives. Because things happen so fast in our sport while we’re racing at 180-plus MPH, we don’t really have time to think, we just react. We all make the wrong decisions at some point in the racecar, and we use those to learn what not to do going forward.
One specific tool that helps me is using my racing simulator at home. It’s incredibly accurate and I use it to practice for upcoming races. I can compete online against other real world NASCAR drivers, and although my racing simulator doesn’t have motion, it really helps me train my mind.
I train by riding my bike and doing a lot of cardio. Most people assume that race car drivers just sit in a car and turn a steering wheel, but that’s not the case at all. When you add the heat (135-plus degrees in the car), the G-forces and mental strain that we endure for nearly three to four hours per race, it’s physically and mentally draining.
Rachael Rapinoe, Pro Soccer Player
Pressure is just an emotion. You can make your reality whatever you want it to be. A few strategies to combat the feeling of pressure are to always be prepared, surround yourself with the right team and adjust your reality.
Movement, sleep and nutrition are the three most important elements to optimize performance. I get up to move every one to two hours throughout my workday. I’m famously known for dropping into a random hamstring stretch in the middle of a conversation. Other than basic movements, I try to mix up my workouts. Endurance runs, interval runs and strength training are some of my favorite types of workouts. But for me, it’s important to mix it up.
Sleep is the best anti-stressor and anti-aging gift for your body. Make sure you’re getting the right amount and quality of sleep.
Nutrition can sometimes be a tough one for me due to my busy work schedule, but as much as I can I try to fuel my body as opposed to shoving random foods in my body. Of course, you want to eat healthy, whole foods, but equally important is making sure you’re actually fueling your body with the appropriate nutrients.
Ian Happ, Major League Baseball
Right before high-stress, high-pressure situations, breathing is number one. Making sure that you’re in control of your breath — that’s something that I focus on a lot. So I also have a focal point on (I guess we could say this is number two) — I have a focal point that I focus on. So if I’m hitting, I look at one specific point on my bat every single time. And that combined with breathing — it gives me that routine, it gives me that similarity, no matter what the situation is. And I think the third is visualization. Before the situation happens, visualizing what you’re going to do, what success looks like, and ingraining that in your head over and over, and just giving yourself all of those positive uplifting thoughts — pushing out the negative that tends to want to seep in.
I think diet is probably the most important thing. As an athlete, I feel really good about my workouts and how specific they are for my body. I do some body postural therapies that I’ve put in the last couple of years to make sure everything we do with baseball — which is a one-sided sport — is fixed to get me back to center. But with my diet, I’ve recently become a pescatarian to see how my body would feel, and my energy is way up and I feel great, so that’s one of the more recent things that I’ve tried to find peak performance.
Christine Shevchenko, The American Ballet Theatre
Before a high-stress situation, which is a live performance for me, I try to prep as best as I can. Before a big performance I try to make sure my body and muscles are well taken care of. I’ll get massages, see the chiropractor, do cryotherapy, sauna, steam and Epsom salt baths. I’ll make sure to get plenty of magnesium to prevent muscle cramps and fuel my body with good food and vitamins. The second thing is I make sure I’m well-rehearsed and solid with the piece or ballet I have to execute. Feeling under prepared is the worst feeling in the world for me. I need to feel 100 percent ready when I get out onstage. The third is I like to get to the theatre really early before the show. I listen to good music, get my hair and makeover done and head to the stage where I can test out my pointe shoes and get used to the space. Of course, there are times where you’re thrown on stage last minute because someone isn’t well. In those situations, I just remember how blessed I am to do what I do, that I’m living my dream and bringing joy to all of the members of the audience. How many people get to do what I do?
I’m very body conscious. I take care of it extremely well. Before performances I get massages done, go to cryotherapy, sauna, steam and take Epsom salt baths. I make sure to eat really good quality foods as well as vitamins. I also will amp up my magnesium to prevent muscle cramps.
Kris London, Sports Influencer
Some strategies for me would be the following. I started to get into meditation. I think meditating has really helped me with my stress and being comfortable in high stress situations because being a top influencer and going into certain scenarios like interviews or public speaking can be stressful. A lot of times I need to make sure my mind is at ease before I put myself into that situation because I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked, I don’t know how fans are going to react and also if it is a live show which I’ve been doing a lot lately, I’ll do some breathing exercises right before or meditate the night before and just make sure I plan. Planning is everything. If you go into something and you’re not properly prepared, you’re just preparing to fail. Pre-planning, meditating and just breathing exercises are my top three strategies to prepare and optimize your mind for peak performance.
Stretching! Earlier in my career I never believed in stretching until I started seeing a chiropractor and that has changed me forever. I feel loose, I feel good. I’m not tight and that really allows my body to perform at its best.
Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings, Professional Beach Volleyball Player
Recognize the way you frame things. If you say, “I’m under so much pressure with all of these enormous tasks,” then you’re not setting yourself up for success. Stand up tall, put your shoulders back, and look at challenges as an opportunity to grow. Reminder, “it’s not the weight you carry, it’s the way you carry it.”
Set yourself up for success and know that can take shape in many ways. Surround yourself with things, people and resources to allow you to deal with what’s happening in the best way. I think one of the biggest tools in life that we ALL have, is the ability to be resourceful. For me, setting myself up for success looks like maintaining my hydration, keeping nutritious snacks on hand when hunger strikes (I pack a container of natural almonds in my beach bag to stay energized throughout my workout), wearing lots of gold (symbolic of what I am working toward) and surrounding myself with truly amazing and inspired humans who challenge me to be my best and love me through the process. We become what we’re surrounded by and so I am diligent and mindful of my environment and of the culture of my team, business, partnership, and family.
Live in greatness before attaining it! There is so much power in preparedness. When you’re prepared, you’re ready to conquer the task at hand. You’re able to show up with confidence that you’ll be able to give your best and handle whatever is thrown at you. The best training for game time success is found in our day to day rituals and habits. Don’t just show up on game day and expect greatness. Live it daily. It’s a lifestyle, not a trend. Be focused on your body, mind and spirit always. Fuel yourself with healthy and powerful real nutrition, inspiring surroundings, focused training, authentic pursuits and meaningful, real relationships. I am a product of my habits — so are you. I am a product of the people I am surrounded by... choose mindfully and engage sincerely. I am unconditionally inspired by my life and by my pursuits because I work hard to ensure excellence and I only pursue those things that truly mean something to me; these things allow for greatness.
I like to optimize life and feel good in my every day and my healthy habits reinforce that. A good night’s sleep is vital, and I need eight hours to feel rested and ready to take on each day. Nutrition plays a significant role in my life: I am a product of what I’m surrounded by and I like to keep healthy, natural foods nearby for easy snacking. Whole almonds and my winning trail mix are my go-to snacks because they give me sustained energy to own my every day and reach for my goals with their unique combination of plant-based protein, fiber and healthy fats. As a mom of three, I prioritize setting a good example for my kids and setting an example through these healthy habits sets a great foundation for them to build on.
Chase Tucker, Fitness Instructor
Some strategies I would share with people, that I personally follow, are:
Prepare : If there’s an event or initiative coming up that’s high pressure for you, it’s important to feel ready for that moment. For me, as I prep for any live Peloton classes, I make sure I have the groundwork set — this includes mapping out a music playlist, structuring the workouts to fit within the allotted time, and keeping up the enthusiasm throughout the class.
Get in the right mindset : It’s important to feel energized and motivated in order to optimize peak performance. I teach live classes on a weekly basis to often hundreds and thousands of Members, so I always make sure I am in the right mindset before entering the studio. Some days can be hard, and it will be difficult to find that energy — that’s why I make sure to find little ways to better myself so I may be able to better others. Things like listening to your favorite song, doing a little dance to get you moving, or meditating are some helpful ways to get in a better mindset.
Be present : So many experience performance anxiety, largely due to the fact that they’re not really present. It’s easy to get lost in the worries of ‘am I doing this right? Is there more I could be doing? How quickly will I see results?’ Being hyper focused on what you can do now will help drive toward that desired outcome and better optimize performance.
The routine I have is what I like to call my ‘ideal day.’ I don’t always have the same start or end to my day, so the habits I tend to follow are identity based goals — what I know I want to do for the day, what my purpose for the day is, etc. When I find something that excites me, my routine is then built around that.
As for clearing my head, I’m a big believer in meditation. I’ve been meditating for years and it’s something that I am really proud I brought into my everyday life. Meditating came in very handy when I moved to New York, and when I started at Peloton, as it allowed me to clear my mind of distractions and stay focused on my goals. I’ve also become a big proponent of the mediation classes available on the Peloton App. It’s fun to take other instructors’ classes, especially the ones outside of my own discipline.
When it comes to optimizing my body for peak performance, I do best when I set a goal in my head and I have that sense of what skill I want to achieve. With that, my fitness routine does vary based on how I am looking ahead of what I want to accomplish for the day or week.
Overall, fitness and health is truly a mind, body and spirit trifecta. When I teach, I hope to encourage people to be mindful of their mind and spirit, and to nourish it well as that makes the physical part of training easier.
Tameka Jameson, Professional Hurdler
1. I keep my sight on the overall objective, which is to do what I train every day to do, and that is compete.
2. I listen to uplifting and encouraging podcasts.
3. I laugh (I call someone that I know will make light of a situation, or watch funny skits).
Contrary to what anyone may believe, I have to work twice as hard to achieve the body I want and keep it up to par because I had a baby. It has been seven years since giving birth to my beautiful daughter, and I still struggle with loose skin. As an athlete, my body went through drastic changes that included, pelvic rotation, weaker back muscles, abdominal muscle separation and the obvious, excess weight gain. I didn’t see my college race weight and surpass that until five years later. I focus on strengthening exercises through Pilates that promote stabilization that facilitates the use of both local and global muscles.
Ryan Yarbrough, Major League Baseball
The first thing that comes to mind is preparation. Preparation helps you prepare for all scenarios so that when a big moment comes along, you are ready and able to perform in a relaxed and controlled manner.
Breathing is another big component. Staying calm under pressure and keeping a level head can help you compete at a high level. Just being able to step back and take a deep breath can make a world of difference.
Lastly, would be positive imaging. As an athlete, you can only work your body so much in a day. Using that other time to sit and imagine yourself succeeding, can help you when the time comes for that scenario since you’ve been imagining it multiple times before. Now I want to emphasize that it's important to imagine yourself succeeding in things that you can control. Things especially for a pitcher like executing a pitch and not things like a specific stat line like a no hitter.
Throwing every five days gives me plenty of time to get the necessary work that I need to do to be at my best on gameday. It mainly consists of all the necessary strength training I need to do as well as conditioning. The other big component is recovery. This is by far the biggest component and even dictates what you need to do in the other two areas to be at your very best.