All in your head

This former Olympian’s game-changing strategy to elevate your fitness has nothing to do with how strong or fast you are.

All in your head

Years ago, if you’d asked Olympic track and field runner Malachi Davis to describe his training regimen, you’d hear something like “train, eat, rest, repeat.” Sound familiar? Perhaps you’re doing the same as you prepare for your first marathon or attempt a triathlon.

While this approach isn’t all bad, Davis now believes there’s more to consider for optimum performance. As CEO and creative director of Formula Gold, a sports performance organization he co-founded with fellow Olympian Joanna Hayes after the 2004 Summer Games, Davis has enjoyed a career post-Olympics applying his 20 years of experience as an athlete and coach. The tailor-made programs he develops for his clients often fuse Olympic-style conditioning with mental and spiritual fitness.

Mental fitness, say what? That’s right. Davis says athletes of today (regular people included) require a more holistic approach to training—one that addresses both the body and mind.

With a rolodex that includes high-profile MLB, NFL and NBA players and companies like Nike, UFC GYM and P90X, he’s clearly on the mark. Even baseball legend Alex Rodriguez can speak to Davis’s magic: When A-Rod needed help launching his famous comeback with the Yankees, Davis played a pivotal role in his success. Davis was even recruited as sports director for A-Rod Corp (a company that fields investments across a range of industries).

Mental training: the final fitness frontier

“The mind is the new frontier [of] better performance,” says Davis. Whether you’re in your thirties, forties or older, it’s never too late to improve your mental game. Doing so could mean the difference between mediocre performances and personal bests.

While he was in college, Davis discovered meditation as a way to help him cope with anxiety. This didn’t happen overnight, but he carved out time every day to enjoy minutes of stillness. Eventually, meditation became a habit, and his anxiety was no longer a stressor.

What’s more, he used meditation to visualize his runs, preparing his mind and body for an upcoming event—so when the race actually happened, his mental or physical state wasn’t thrown into chaos. The adrenaline rush was expected, and the push to perform was already in place. This helped him run that much better.

Based on his own success, he uses mindfulness (or as he says, “meditation, getting still, being at peace”) as an integral part of his coaching.

“We must look at our thoughts more closely,” says Davis. “For example, if we have 70,000 to 90,000 thoughts per day, that’s a lot of time and brainpower that’s being used, and for what? We want to direct our thoughts toward more productive outcomes that are positive and reaffirming—not just for our happiness, but also to reach our goals.”

So how can this guru help you perform better? We asked Davis to reveal some of his golden tips.

Minimize distractions

In today’s always-connected world, we must be willing to unplug in order to let stillness into our lives. By doing so, we can focus on our breathing, releasing stress, anxiety and worry. Davis suggests picking a space that feels organic to you, like your living room floor on a sunny morning. Even for just a few minutes, roll out a mat to sit and be present, and maybe download a meditation app (like Headspace or Calm) to help you find stillness.

Identify your drivers

What would you do if you could do it for free, with no worries or strings attached? For example, “I like being outside” and “I like exercising with others” are markers of what drives you (versus workouts you do merely out of obligation). Your goal is to proactively incorporate these drivers into your regimen, Davis suggests, and to recognize that we’re all different! What fires you up may not work for another person.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Nothing is more powerful than repetition to create a habit, says Davis. If practicing meditation is your goal and the morning is your best window in the day, make this your time every day to practice (again and again). In a matter of days or a few weeks, you’ll be in a routine that feels like second nature.

Breathe like you mean it

“So many of us breathe to survive versus breathing to thrive,” says Davis. A deep belly breath directly impacts your nervous system, creating a sense of calm and peace. Davis likens it to “conscious sleep.” By focusing on your breathing, you free your mind from outside distractions and noise, which is precisely the point. Breathe in and out, long and deep, and see what a difference it can make to your overall mood, digestion and focus.

Really own your mantra

You may have heard that repeating a mantra over and over can help you charge through difficult times, like going the extra mile during a run. Davis encourages the use of mantras; however, he coaches his clients to formulate their own. A more personalized phrase will carry stronger meaning, which in turn will help you perform better. For example, during a road race, your mantra might be something like “I deserve to be here” or “I’ve done the work to run strong.”

Visualize hitting a homerun

Davis stresses the value of pre-performance visualization to strengthen your mind and body. Just like figure skaters who close their eyes before a competition, seeing themselves land every jump flawlessly, you can envision success. For example, before going to the gym for a workout, can you take a few minutes to close your eyes, to see and feel it? Can you picture the rowing machine where you are making powerful strokes and your muscles feel strong? Davis says this pre-trains your body and mind. And preparation is absolutely key for performance.

Power plants

How you think about your body will impact how you fuel it. For example, if you believe your body is a machine and needs the best fuel possible, you’ll be more mindful as you shop for groceries or prepare your next meal. For Malachi Davis, this mindset has meant switching to a plant-based diet free of processed foods. As a result, he’s noticed these dramatic improvements in his overall health.

  • Reduced inflammation. Davis says his body recovers faster now after strenuous workouts.
  • Greater mental clarity. No longer succumbing to the highs and lows of foods that contain hidden sugars or high-glycemic ingredients, he says his brainpower is stronger, clearer and more consistent.
  • Improved digestion. By feeding his body whole foods like dark leafy greens, pea-based proteins, quinoa and avocados, his digestion has improved, and gone are stomach upsets or bloating.
  • Better oxygen uptake. Davis remarks that his muscles aren’t as tight now as they seem to be getting oxygen more efficiently.

You might also like

Run the Right Way

Gymtimidated?