Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Growing up in Australia, I have been very fortunate to partake in the country’s vast sporting culture. You name a sport and I’ve probably tried. But as I grew up and left home I realised I took extra curricular sport for granted. It’s the usual adulting spiel: after balancing work commitments with chores, friends and family and more, exercise can take a backseat when time or energy is waning. Furthermore, when 2020 left us confined to the home indefinitely, my afternoon walk or run was not only welcome, it was necessary.

My relationship with exercise has drastically changed. When anxiety looms, I immediately head off on a run or sit down to practice yoga and I play plenty of team sport during the week to break up my work-from-home lifestyle. There is of course a fine line between a healthy relationship with training and overdoing it.

GRAZIA speaks to Nike Head Running Coach Lydia O’Donnell on following and sticking to a program with your mental health in mind. And exactly what she’s wearing for peak-performance.

Credit: Courtesy of Nike
GRAZIA: Why do you think the topic mental health is neglected when it comes to sport?

Lydia O’Donnell: “Many of us focus on what sport and movement can do for our physical health – and may be unaware of the mental health benefits it can also offer. The approach to sport, in many ways, is all about what our bodies are capable of doing – running fast, jumping high, throwing long – but what can sometimes be missed is the way that our minds not only benefit from these acts of movement, but also impact our physical abilities too. Mental health and mindset go hand-in-hand.

If we are able to nurture our mental health to thrive then when we are faced with a challenge or an opportunity, we can foster a mindset that will help us to cope better under pressure.

Sport and exercise both challenge us physically and build us mentally, and the act of mindful movement can allow us to create a mental space that provides purpose and clarity. Throughout 2020 we were faced with many challenges which can have negative effects on our overall mental health. However by turning to physical activity, many of us were able to find a level of purpose in each day to help contribute to maintaining a positive mindset. Training, whether it be running, yoga, or a strength session is an incredible way to check in with ourselves and focus on what is most important to us. Our physical and mental health.

How can we simultaneously train the mind while we’re training our body?

LO: “Training our mind should, and will, come naturally as we are training our bodies. The act of getting up each day, motivating yourself to move, whether it be hitting the pavement or getting on the yoga mat, takes dedication and resilience that subconsciously builds us up to be mentally stronger over time. The commitment you make to yourself by following a training program or joining a challenge is a viable way to stay on track and keep the motivation high.

The free Nike health and fitness journey I designed – available through the Nike Run Club (NRC) and Nike Training Club (NTC) apps – provides this opportunity to be inspired and motivated to grow (editors note: The 8-week program begun on January but there is still time to join in.) By following a plan that is built to train holistically with a variety of workouts from both the NTC and NRC apps, participants are able to push through the more intensive sessions to build mental resilience and then centre the mind throughout the easy runs with Headspace on NRC. I also incorporated yoga sessions into the program, as it’s such an accessible form of training and gives participants that time out to stretch the limits of their body and mind.

To get the most out of your workouts, try to eliminate distractions, including the space you are in, the roads you are on, or the equipment or gear you are using or wearing.

The new Nike Yoga collection is designed with minimal trims to prevent distractions when in a flow. The collection also features Nike’s latest apparel innovation, Nike Infinalon. The infinitely comfortable and incredibly stretchy material is thinner, lighter and stronger than traditional materials and feels smooth and soft while providing a consistent and comfortable fit through a gentle compression system.

(GRAZIA’s picks: the Layered 7/8 Jumpsuit, the 7/8 layered Leggings and Indy Luxe-Bra. Trust us, the fabric is buttery soft).

When running, the latest Nike React Infinity Run 2 is a great option. One of Nike’s most tested shoes in history, it features updates informed by extensive scientific testing to create a more intuitive ride, with daily training runs in mind. It features an updated collar that feels plush whilst Flywire cables offer for more precise support and security to keep you on the run.”

Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2, DHS749. SHOP NOW

What is your own experience with mental health and sport?

LO: “Sport has been that one consistent part of my life. It is has been the backbone to not only building me into who I am today, but helping me find motivation and stay positive when I have been faced with challenging times. Sport created a drive to always be pushing the boundaries of my own capabilities and became the medicine to look after my mind and my mental health. I learnt from an early age that without sport I felt lost. Without moving each day, no matter how far I ran or how long I trained for, I would struggle with feeling content in myself. And through injuries or time away from running, it really accentuated the need for sport and movement in my life.

Since becoming a Coach and working closely with athletes and runners all over the world, it has become even more clear to me that, although every person has different abilities and is chasing different goals with their running, there is one underlying message that comes through. That numbers and times and physical progress are a factor but how the running journey has built the athlete up mentally is the most important aspect of why we do what we do. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all run to feel good about ourselves. To be proud of who we are and to live a balanced and healthy life.

If there are days when we’re struggling, how should we approach training and exercise?

LO: “Some days are harder than others. The challenging days will come and these are the days where we have the greatest opportunity for growth – mentally and physically. Of course there is a time for a rest and reset. And if your body needs rest, then listen to it and take a day to focus on slowing things down to restore the mind.

But if it is a question of whether you should get after it or not when the motivation is down, remember that end goal and the progress you have already made, whether that’s reaching a new PB, perfecting a new yoga move or building up your endurance. Be inspired by your own accomplishments and focus on the power that you have to go after your goals. Setting a goal, joining a community challenge on NRC or signing up for a program on NTC is a great way to keep yourself motivated and continue to move every day!”

Tile credit: Courtesy of Nike