With a sub-two-hour marathon now a possibility shortly, another long-held limiting human belief is toppling. What will it take for you to stop limiting yourself?

The world lost an extraordinary human this year, Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes( actual time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds). He achieved this feat on May 6, 1954, doing something that most people thought could never be done. The crowd let out a roar when the announcer said, Three..” the achievement instilled a hopefulness and sense of possibility in the world, much like the impact fifteen years later of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. But it is what his rival John Landy did just 46 days after that I find so inspiring and gives all of us cause to re-think our limitations as Personal Trainers.

John Landy was an Australian Olympian and later a politician. In the dizzy days following Roger’s record-breaking run, instead of giving into disappointment that he would never be the first to hold the record, he behaved like champions did and used it to spur him on. Oh, he was astonished – Roger had knocked two seconds off the previous best time. This was unheard of in a race where tenths of a second were the usual changes. But he told Peter FitzSimons in a long-ago interview “that he thought he was just as good a runner as he (Bannister) was”, so it gave him “a bit of a hurry-up” to run a time like that himself. He went on to say, “it made me think I had better pull something out of the hat”. And that he did, lowering the time a further 1.5 seconds to 3 minutes 57.9 seconds just weeks later.

How was this possible?

Landy was certainly no fitter just a few weeks later than he had been on his previous runs. The earlier record of 4 minutes 1.4 seconds had stood for ten years, yet within a month or so, Landy had beaten the older record by 3.5 seconds and Rogers’ by 1.5 seconds. He had pulled something out of a hat, but what?

The answer is that instead of his mind limiting him to a “realistic” view of what progression looked like, possibilities had been opened up, and his body, which has much more capacity than we think, was freed to do extraordinary things. These things are not always athletic, of course – you’ve probably heard stories of the slightly built mother who lifts a car off her child or the ones about Navy SEALS who are trained to believe that at the absolute limit of their capacity, after days and days of exertion, that they are only at 40% of their ability. All these stories have a belief that the body is not the limiting factor; the mind is.

You’ve probably seen this with your clients too. I can’t count the times someone gets a PB with an exercise early in the session and then blitzes every exercise and sets the whole day. Or the bump that can happen when a client comes in angry from work or home and takes it out on the weights – they often lift 5% more. What is happening? The self-imposed limits are done away with for that session, day or time, and whether it is through joy, anger or determination, new heights are achieved.

Think again

Question your limits

So why not try this – ask yourself in your career, your personal life, not just your gym life –  what is my barrier, my self-imposed limit?

What is my version of the two-hour marathon, the four-minute mile? What limiting belief do I have? It might have been something put on you from your upbringing that you now accept, or it might be repeated failures that you have come to believe predict the future. Find it/them.

Found them? Ok, now dispute them! Say, “I may not have done this yet, but I am as good or better than X, and I will do this”. Dispute the thought you can’t do the thing you want or the thing you’ve tried. Try, try again. And make sure you are working on your mind as hard as you are on your body because it is capable of much more than you have already asked for.


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