Early in my career I discovered that, for a lot of people, training — something that’s supposed to make us stronger and healthier — is tearing us down, leaving us injured, burned out, and tired of putting in the effort only to continue to struggle to get the results we want.
A few weeks ago, I kicked-off a series on recovery based fitness with the article All Pain, No Gain: Why the high-intensity training obsession has failed us all that introduced a whole new way to look at fitness. I followed this up with articles on how you can adjust your training and nutrition to move away from the intensity-driven approach to health and fitness and optimize recovery so that you can start getting the most out of your training.
Since that first article, my email inbox has been overflowing with people wanting to learn more about how to optimize their training, nutrition, and lifestyle for recovery.
I get it.
You train hard, you want the best results, but sometimes “real life” gets in the way and makes doing the things you want to do — and get the results you want — really hard.
We’ve talked about the training and nutrition side of recovery, but there’s an area we still need to cover — an area that most coaches, athletes, and recreational lifters alike are either ignoring or simply don’t know how to address.
That’s why today, I’d like to welcome my friend and colleague, Brian Cain.
I met Brian in 2008, when we were both working with former UFC Middleweight Champion, Rich Franklin. By watching Brian, I saw firsthand how training the mental side of performance is crucial for success.
Over the past 15 years, Brian has helped coaches, athletes, and organizations in all sports, at all levels, master the mental side of performance. From Cy Young award winners to World Champion UFC fighters to coaches and athletes in the NBA, NFL, and NHL — Brian has worked with the best of the best.
And, here’s the part YOU really want to pay attention to: The same strategies Brian’s used to help winning pitchers deal with the stress of standing on the mound in front of millions of people or World-Champion UFC fighters stay calm under pressure in the cage can help you turn off stress, ramp up recovery, and get better results in fitness.
Take it away Brian…
Introducing Brian Cain, International bestselling author and world-renowned mental performance coach
Hey everyone, Brain Cain here. I’m so excited that Joel has asked me to “hijack” his site today and invite me to talk about a subject that I LOVE and have made my mission in life to learn and teach others: how to master the mental game so that you can manage stress and level up your performance.
When you stack the stress of “real life” onto your training (and for athletes, the pressure of performance), you have to start looking at how what’s going on inside your head is affecting your performance in the gym, and ultimately, your overall health and well-being.
Joel has done a fantastic job of identifying how you can adapt to stress by adjusting your nutrition and physical training, but my question is this: What do you do when you’ve done that and you’re STILL struggling?
Maybe… you’ve scaled back in the gym and dialed in your nutrition, but you’re still struggling to progress in your workouts, or the stress at work or at home is leaving you feeling like you’ve got nothing left.
Or maybe… you’ve done everything you can to help your clients or athletes on the physical side, but the pressure of building new habits or staying calm when the game is on the line is derailing their progress and squashing their potential.
That’s where I come in.
It’s all in your head: The missing link in the recovery-driven fitness lifestyle
As fitness coaches, athletes, and regular folks who just love the sound of clanking iron, you’re well versed on the importance of what happens inside the gym; but a huge part of recovery for optimal performance takes place outside of the gym, inside our heads.
The ability to manage stress and develop releases and strategies to “turn off” the stress response to get our bodies back into recovery mode may be the biggest missing link in today’s intensity-driven, grind-or-die culture.
Managing stress is key for personal fitness success, and for coaches, it’s key for your athletes to reach their full potential and achieve peak performance.
Mental stress takes up a lot of your limited energy reserves and sabotages recovery, and ultimately, the level of results you’re able to see from the work you put it at the gym. If you don’t address the mental side of recovery it won’t matter how intelligent your programming is or how hard you’re willing to work; your health, fitness, and performance will suffer.
It’s THAT important.
That’s why today, I want to you introduce you to a simple, 4-step process you can use to combat stress.
This is the same process I use to help world-champion UFC fighters stay calm in the cage, winning pitchers release stress and stay focused on the mound in front of millions of people — and you can use it to manage day-to-day stress so that you can keep it from burning up energy and sabotaging your health, fitness, and performance efforts.
The 4-step process you can use to turn off stress, ramp up recovery, and get better results in health, fitness, and competition
Think of this 4-step process as a type of “armor” that you can put to better protect from the destructive forces of stress.
The goal here is pretty straightforward: provide a go-to routine you can begin using immediately to “turn off” stress so you can use that energy where it really matters; optimizing your health and performance.
Whether you’re an individual trying to level up your personal performance and fitness, or a coach looking to help your clients and athletes reach their peak potential, this 4-step process is the place to start addressing one of your most relentless foes.
Step #1: Recognize
That which you’re aware of, you can change. That which you’re NOT aware of, you can’t do anything about. The first step toward combating stress in your life is to recognize when and where it’s happening so you can begin to DO something to offset it.
To provide a concrete, visual of how you can heighten your awareness and become more attuned to stressful situations, I use a process called “recognizing your signal lights.”
This idea of “signal lights of stress” is just like driving a car. If you’re driving your car and you come to a green light, you GO. There isn’t any thought process, you just go. But if you’re driving your car and you come to a yellow or red light, you slow down and STOP.
You can use this same concept to evaluate your stress levels, and if necessary, put a process into place to stop it in its tracks, turn it off, and get your body back into balance. Simply becoming more aware of when stress levels are rising to a “yellow” or “red” level is a great place to start, but I want to give you a method I use to help identify your signal lights, called “BFS.”
“BFS” is an acronym that stands for body language, focus, and self-talk.
By evaluating these three components, you can get a clear idea of whether your stress levels are a green, yellow, or red light. Let me roll through an example for you…
Body Language: In a green light situation (where stress is low), my body language is big, strong, my shoulders are back, head is up; I feel good, strong. In a yellow or red light situation (where stress is building or at a point where it’s negatively affecting health and performance), my body language is small, my shoulders are slumped, back is tight, I just feel “stiff.”
Focus: In a green light situation, I’m in a state of “present awareness” where I’m dialed in on what I’m doing right now and why it’s important. In a yellow or red light situation, my focus is on the past or on the future, it’s on outcomes, not the process.
Self-Talk: In a green light situation, self-talk is often third person and confident: “Cain, you got this.” In a yellow or red light situation, self-talk is usually third person and it’s negative: “Cain, I can’t believe you did that, you always make these kinds of mistakes.”
Your body language, focus, and self-talk are like a temp gauge for your stress levels. If more than one of these is trending toward a yellow or red light situation, you have to be able to recognize it and put a plan into place to turn things around — don’t worry, we’ll get to exactly how you can do that in a minute.
For now, I want you to focus on the idea of “practicing” to becoming more aware of your “BFS” so that you can identify where your stress levels are at. This can take time, but it’s well worth it. With time, being able to instantly evaluate your “BFS” will become like second nature to you.
Learning to recognize your signal lights is a crucial aspect of stress management. Most people are running through yellow and red lights, not recognizing how deep they are into stress until it’s too late.
If you can become better at recognizing when stress is building, when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, and stop it, you can begin to control the stress in your life and keep up it from taking such a big toll on your health, fitness, and performance.
Let’s review step #1:
You can only run through red lights so long before you crash and burn. Your body is constantly giving you feedback through your body language, focus, and self-talk that you can use to decide whether you should keep pushing, or if you should scale back. Listen to them.
Use the “BFS” process to evaluate where your signal lights of stress are at:
- If you’re hitting green lights: Keep cruising.
- If you start hitting yellow and red lights: STOP — and apply the “release and refocus” process we’re going to cover next…
Step #2: Release
When you recognize a yellow or red light through the “BFS” process for evaluating stress, you need to immediately go into a “release” routine to turn off the stress response and get back into recovery mode.
Your 3-step release routine is to:
- Do something physical.
- Take a deep breath on a focal point.
- Have a verbal “trigger.”
Let’s take a closer look at these real quick so that you can develop your own release routine.
Step #1: Do something physical. The idea here is to make a physical action and an association that initiates your release routine. For example, a baseball player may hit the bat against their spikes.
Some other examples are clapping your hands together forcefully, taking a piece of paper and throwing into the garbage can — any of those are examples of a “physical release.” What you decide to do is up to you, but you have to choose some kind of physical action for your release routine.
Step #2: Take a deep breath on a focal point. What is a focal point? A focal point is a spot somewhere that you look at while taking a deep breath that reminds you to come back to the present moment. I’ve had athletes use spots on a scoreboard, pieces of clothing on them — a green dot on a lacrosse stick, for example.
You could use a sticky note on your desk or computer or even on your mirror at home with the word “focus” on it. Maybe you focus on the watch on your wrist to remind you to focus on the present moment. The options are limitless, but the idea is the same: find something that you can use as an association to come back to the present moment and “go green.”
Step #3: Have a verbal trigger. The verbal trigger is the final signal that releases us from the stressful situation, knocking us back into recovery mode and bringing us back to the present moment.
Your verbal trigger could be as simple as saying the word “release”, to indicate your letting go of the stress you’re experiencing. Or, maybe you’ll say “recover” to as the trigger to tell your body and mind, “Hey, we’re letting this stress go and getting back into a state of recovery.” The most important thing is that you choose a verbal trigger that you can remember and that will effectively get you back to the present moment.
Putting this all together:
Any time your “BFS” indicates that your stress levels are in a yellow or red light situation, immediately go into your release routine: do something physical, take a deep breath on a focal point, and say your verbal trigger.
Identifying your signal lights of stress and going into a release routine when necessary are crucial, but there’s one more step in the process that brings everything together.
Step #3: Refocus
When you recognize a yellow or red light, you immediately go into your release routine. The final step in the process is to refocus. Let’s now talk about two steps in training your refocus:
- Take a deep breath on a focal point.
- Have a final thought, image, or feeling, or what I often call a “TIF”.
First, take a deep breath. When you finish the release routine we outlined in step 2, you simply take a deep breath to focus on what you’re going to do next. Simple, right? True — but it’s extremely powerful.
By taking a deep breath, you’re essentially resetting — or refocusing — your body and your mind to be in a state of focus and relaxation.
Finally, you want to complete the process by having a final thought, image, or feeling that refocuses on the image and feeling you want to portray to get back into a peaceful “green light” situation.
This could be thinking about the sense of accomplishment you’ll have finishing the report so you can turn in your best possible work to your boss; or picturing how confident you’ll be if you can make the difficult, but healthy nutrition choice; or feeling what it will be like to sink the game-winning free throw.
The idea is to choose a final “TIF” that will help you refocus on whatever will help you release the stress of that situation and refocus what’s going to get you back to a place of peace and recovery.
Step #4: Repeat
This one’s simple, but not necessarily easy — repeat the process any time you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or when your body language, focus, and self-talk (BFS) indicates your stress levels are in a yellow or red light situation.
With practice, you’ll discover applying this process is something you can do within just a few seconds — and something you can literally use over and over again throughout the day as you’re facing stressful situations…
As a coach, teach your athletes to use this process as they prepare for competition and even in the midst of the action. As they step up to the mound to throw the next pitch… recognize, release, refocus.
As a fitness professional, teach your clients to use this process when faced with the stress of sticking to new healthy habits or trying to break old, unhealthy habits. When it’s the middle of the afternoon and that donut in the breakroom is looking very appealing, even though you know it isn’t in line with your goals… recognize, release, and refocus.
Or, if you’re someone who’s looking to level up your personal health, fitness, and performance…
As you’re picking up the phone to make an important sales call, or stepping into the boardroom for a presentation… recognize, release, refocus.
When you’re kids are driving you crazy after a long day… recognize, release, and refocus.
Over time, the “compound effect” will kick in, often leading to life-changing results.
By applying the stress-release process you’ve learned today, not only will you be able to improve the ability to turn off stress and get back into recovery mode, you’ll also notice that you’re able to stay calm under pressure and make better choices.
How to learn more
Hey all, Joel here again. I hope you enjoyed today’s article on a topic that deserves far more attention than it gets in the health and fitness industry.
I asked Brian to contribute today because a) he’s the top expert in the mental performance field, and b) I wanted to introduce this concept of “mental performance” and give you a starting point for developing it in your own life so that you can improve your personal health, fitness, and performance — or that of the clients and athletes you work with.
But it’s important to note that today’s article on stress is just that: a starting point.
Over the past few years, through interaction with Brian and personal experience in my life and the lives of those I’ve coached, it’s become very clear that knowing how to coach and master the mental side of performance is a huge gap in the industry.
Mental performance is what ultimately drives our behaviors, habits, and routines — one of the biggest influences on our ability to reach our goals or coach others to reach theirs.
This is something that literally everyone should be putting time into learning.
Bottom line: being able to coach both the physical and mental side of performance is what separates a great coach from a good coach. That’s why I asked him to contribute an entire section on mental performance in my conditioning certification.
I’m working closely with Brian to add a whole new course module designed to teach you how to be a more effective coach by helping people develop the mental performance side of their game. He’s going to show you how to make sure people have the right mindset, how to build a culture around you that drives success, the best strategies to improve consistency, compliance and self-control, and much more!
Regardless of who you work with, these are absolutely essential skills to have and they’ll make you a better coach.
To learn more about this complete self-study system — and to save over $200 — join the special Insider’s List below. The course only opens twice a year and spots are first come, first served.