Do Small Steps Lead to Big Wins?

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Last Modified 21 December 2022   First Added 14 April 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Olympic success isn’t just about training hard – elite athletes must also eat, sleep and recover well if they’re going to end up on that podium. We sat down with Greg Retter to learn more about the factors that affect performance, and how to set yourself up for greatness.

Small steps to improve performance

“The key pillars of performance are good nutrition, quality sleep, consistent training, psychological resilience and adequate recovery time,” explains Greg.

“So, all these factors need to be considered when working towards peak performance.” For those with a target goal in mind, Greg suggests breaking it down into manageable stepping stones which include each of these areas, as they all play a role in improving performance.

For example, whether you’re an amateur or an elite athlete, Greg says the right nutrition is vital to fuel your performance, so you should check that your diet gives you everything you need to maintain your training regime. Quality sleep is also key, so you may need to work on establishing a better sleep pattern – we picked up plenty of tips on sleeping well in our interview with Laura Needham, Co‐head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport.

And as training becomes increasingly challenging, the need for mental and physical recovery time is critical, as is a positive and resilient mindset. “It’s important not to be too hard on yourself,” says Greg. So, if something goes wrong, try to learn from it and move on rather than dwelling on your mistakes.

Dealing with mental and physical fatigue

Whatever goal you’re working towards, the effort you put in is going to tire you out mentally as well as physically. Both types of fatigue are a fact of life and Greg recommends developing resilience by building in time both to rest the body and switch off the brain. He reveals,

One of the key things that very successful athletes possess is a highly tuned ability to switch off and enjoy some powerful downtime.

Waking up in the morning and feeling tired is a sign of mental fatigue, indicating that you’ve not been switching off properly. If this is the case, try experimenting in your downtime to see which activities help you to disengage and find a place of mental calm. Greg says athletes might unplug from the pressures of competing by doing some online gaming, meditating or simply hanging out with friends or family.

On the other hand, with physical fatigue you may go to bed feeling exhausted but wake up feeling recovered as your muscles, ligaments and tendons have had a chance to adapt and repair. When you’re training you need this physical recovery time to avoid injury, so rest days are just as important as training days.

Achieving a goal

Targets are critical in reaching milestones, whatever your final goal,

Greg tells us.

So, break your goal down into all the different components and work on achieving these key performance areas before bringing it all together. One of the key things for successful athletes is that success is based on a whole series of small marginal gains. Recognising this is the difference between someone who is going to be successful and someone who won’t win a gold medal.

Having small stepping stones is particularly important if your goal is a long term one. While Greg highlights the importance of finely tuned nutrition, sleep and recovery programmes, he recommends leaving no stone unturned when thinking about what might affect your performance. Those relatively minor tweaks and improvements across all areas of your life can add up to success, whether you’re running a marathon or aiming for an Olympic medal.

So, whatever it is that you’re working towards, take a cue from the pros and start by breaking it down into small, achievable chunks. The SMART technique is a good way to set yourself measurable goals while tools such as sleep trackers and smart watches help you keep an eye on how you’re doing.

If you need a bit more motivation, apps like GymPact will reward you for going to the gym – and penalise you when you don’t show up! However, you choose to keep track of your targets, remember that each one you achieve is another step towards your ultimate goal.


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