PUSHING YOURSELF During Exercise [Coaching Yourself]

Running coach watch

Coaching Yourself is the sixth article in the PUSHING YOURSELF series which is all about helping you reach your ultimate fitness level by pushing yourself beyond your normal best effort.


This is a series on pushing yourself while exercising. It can be applied to any exercise, but in this series I’ll talk about running and walking / running up steps. Those are the two exercises that I do daily – one or the other.

I played soccer from the time I was six until I graduated high school. When I entered 8th grade I met my soccer coach, Mr. Richard Spolar at Springdale High, Pennsylvania. He was a physical education teacher at another nearby school and he’d been coaching soccer at my high school for six years already. Coach Spolar had an excellent history of creating great soccer teams. Our school, though small was renown for playing Quad-A soccer though we were only a Double-A school. Coach Spolar never smiled. Coach Spolar was my worst nightmare for four years.

We had a path that was 9/10th of a mile around our high school field. About four complete soccer fields could fit into this area. Coach would make us run around this loop not just on good days, but even if we were sick or had some injury that prohibited us from practicing but that jogging wouldn’t hurt. If someone had a stomach ache or headache coach would make them run around the field. If someone had a broken arm coach would make them run around the field.

He never looked up to see how many times they circled, he never gave it a second thought. After he told you to start running you ran until the end of practice. Sometimes that was two hours later. Sometimes three. One player ran around the loop 18 times over a three-hour practice. One dared not stop or the assistant coach would tell him and coach would blow the whistle and make the entire team run around the loop for the entire practice. Or worse, he’d make us line up for 100-yard sprints or suicides. The worst exercise in his repertoire was “hills” which is the topic of a whole new post if I ever want to relive them. One of coach’s primary beliefs was that the entire team got punished for any infraction of an individual. Of course, that individual later got the hell beat out of him so it didn’t pay to be the one causing coach grief.

Coach loved “three-a-days” in the Summer. You know how most kids have off for the summer to do as they wish? Coach made us practice three times every day during the peak of summer heat. We’d have two hours in the morning working on springs, suicides, hills and individual ball control skills. In the afternoon it was team skill building for two hours. In the evening we’d play small practice games offense on defense for three hours. Seven hours of practice each day rain or shine. We much preferred the rain.

Coach Spolar told us on numerous occasions:

“What you see here. Do here. Hear here.
Stays here when you leave here.”

Coach knew some of his tactics would cause outrage among parents, probably get him fired as a coach and teacher in the school system. So, nobody was ever to find out. None of us dared to tell.

When coach got in your face to gripe you out it was as if the blood in his head was boiling and he was going to explode. He would be one inch from one of your eyeballs and screaming and spitting as he did so. Spittle would cover your cheek, lips and even get into your eye. If you flinched he got angrier. He could fire that temper up in an instant and be jacking somebody up in no time if he saw them either

1.) Being lazy.
2.) Not doing what he told us to do.

One of his favorite tortures, he had many, was making a player hold a half-pushup position until, arms spasming they gave out. We had a couple guys that could hold that position almost indefinitely. He’d rest his foot on their shoulders as he talked to the team. When someone’s arms gave out before he thought they should he’d get in the player’s face and scream at them until they got back up and held it again. The second time he told them if they dropped again they were dropped from the team. Coach was going way beyond the level of being a bastard, but we did win the state championship in my senior year.

It was coach’s anger and seriousness in the back of my subconscious that created this form of pushing myself to exert more when I feel like I’m at the end of my resources. It seems to have just occurred naturally during my hard exercise one time. I realized I was yelling at myself in my mind to keep going, to push it harder. It wasn’t my voice though. Coach was STILL IN MY HEAD!

How this usually happens is just that, it happens on it’s own. It’s my self-talk that just pops up when I need it to push me a lot harder. Maybe I’ve already done a hellacious workout and I’m tired and don’t feel like pushing anymore. I start telling myself in a low growl like coach used to do.

“Get your ass up that hill and do it faster than anybody else or you’ll be sitting on the bench for the next two games. You understand me?”

“YES SIR.” I yelled. (Oh, I forgot to tell you – we had to address everything as YES SIR or we’d suffer for it.

“What did you say?” He’d ask menacingly.

“YES SIR!” I’d scream at the top of my lungs so anyone up at the school 300 yards away could hear it.

“That’s what I thought, now bust your ass up this hill and don’t let one person beat you. YOU GOT THAT?”

“YES SIR!” I yelped out, louder than before.

Reliving those episodes in my mind I’m able to push myself beyond what I ever thought once I start coaching myself just like coach Spolar used to do. I’m amazed that the old feeling comes back – the feeling that there is no chance to get out of what he just said. It must be done because the consequences are much worse than the effort to be expended.

This technique works magic on me. If there’s nobody around, I growl out orders to myself out loud and it works even better. This is the only technique that has the power to literally transform me and make me do something. It never failed. Not once.

I’m sure it can work for you too – even if you didn’t have an insane coach during your younger years. You could make it your dad’s voice. Or create a coach in your mind that is relentless and that will not accept failure to do exactly what he/she tells you. Start talking to yourself in a very forceful and unrelenting way.

“Pick up the pace now, you better be doing seven-minute miles over the next two miles!”

“If you walk now, you’re not coming back here to exercise for three days. You want to waste three days?”

“Reel that guy in that’s 150 yards away by the time you make another lap. DO IT NOW.”

“Don’t EVER say you can’t do something as simple as this. GET your A&& moving and don’t stop until I say you’re finished!”

Try those or be creative with your own. I get much more creative cursively but better not to have those here in the blog!

Try it!

Best of Life!



1. Getting Out the Door to Exercise!
2. Visual Imagery!
3. Shaming Yourself!
4. Positive Self Talk!
5. Delay of Gratification!
6. Coaching Yourself!
7. Competition!

Hyperventilation to Improve Running Performance?

Hiker in Mountains

I’ve been doing some controlled hyperventilating to see what effect it has on my performance on the long stair climbs and on the mountain peak trail I climb often. Here’s how I go about it…

I don’t use this ventilation technique frequently, but just when I am putting out an extra hard effort and I think it may help. I am usually 20-30 minutes into a climb when I’ll be approaching a steep section of trail or steps. As I approach the section I start forcibly hyperventilating – breathing fast and shallow for about 30 seconds.

My experience is that I feel like I have more energy for 30 seconds to 1 minute after the steep section starts. I feel like I have more energy than what I would have had without having done the forced breaths.

I used it today on the mountain during an extra steep section, and once the effect wore off I did it again in the middle of the hard section and I felt like I was able to finish with more energy and speed up that difficult section of mountain.

Again, I don’t do this often enough to really get a feel for whether or not it is definitely helping. But, I would guess it is helping me by giving me somewhere around 15% more power for a short time.

Does that make sense to any of you that routinely push your bodies past the limit?

Can some of you try this and see what you think?

I am not sure whether the body is able to inhale enough oxygen during peak efforts (90%+ of max heart rate) to give the muscles all the oxygen they need. If so, then this technique is probably worthless. However, if there is some bottleneck at the lungs where the lungs just can’t get enough oxygen in to fuel the muscle contractions – then maybe this does work.

I am guessing that it works – it sure feels like it does. But, it could be due to my expectation of it working – and might not really be a true benefit at all.

You know how the mind works! It’s powerful beyond measure. It could definitely trick you into thinking whatever you’re doing – has some effect.

Curious if anyone out there is doing this. Let me know in the comments if you would.



[Photo credit – Rick McCharles at flickr.com]


I just found something by a guy that may know what he’s talking about. It directly contradicts my idea of hyperventilation providing some benefit before exercising very hard.

Here’s his answer:

Chris Larson, Post-doc/Fellow Laboratory of Genetics
Area of science: Biochemistry

First, there is no benefit to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, which consists of taking short, quick breaths in rapid succession, seems like a way to get more air in your lungs. However, researchers have shown that (i) you take in a smaller volume of air than when you breath normally, and this leads to (ii) an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and decrease in the concentration of oxygen in both your lungs and blood. Certainly hyperventilation before any exercise is counterproductive, and after exercise athletes are encouraged to take as deep of breaths as possible since this will speed the exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen.

I’ll keep looking to see if I find anything to contradict this. If true, it makes me marvel even more about the power of the human brain as we exercise. Here I am, definite that I feel a benefit to breathing hard and fast for a while before a major effort. As it turns out, it may actually be counterproductive!