Ivana Španović has a golden rule when she’s training for the long jump: “No session ends until I’m satisfied.” If she gets her take-off wrong, for instance, she’ll tweak it until the action is just right, “even if that means me getting home three hours later”.
Such extreme discipline has made the long-jumper from Novi Sad the best-known sportswoman in Serbia – the female equivalent of Novak Djoković. At 26, Španović is the reigning European indoor long-jump champion, has a personal best of 7.07m, and is a medal contender for the Olympics in Rio. She is also the manager of a gym, so she knows how to motivate amateur sportsmen and women.
In this article:
- How tough targets can lead to realistic goals. Want to do 5 press-ups? Then set yourself a target of 60!
- How to motivate yourself anytime of the day
- Why those last, painful reps are the most important
- Want a six-pack? Then do burpees
THE RED BULLETIN: Most men dream of possessing a six-pack like yours. What’s your secret?
IVANA ŠPANOVIĆ: Thank you. I’ve been working out for 19 years. [Laughs.] My mother was a sprinter in the former Yugoslavia. I became a track-and-field athlete because of her. And track-and-field training is especially good for giving you muscle definition.
How often do you work on your abs?
I work on them twice a week – with crunches, for example. I do three to five sets, 15 reps each.
That’s surprisingly little…
I don’t just do sit-ups; you have to burn off the fat above your abs. My message to all the guys out there who want a six-pack is: you’ve got to do endurance training.
The training that top-level long-jumpers undertake is particularly varied: endurance runs, 200m sprints, stretching, weights. Which exercise is your least favourite?
I hate endurance runs. What counts in the long jump is the sprint. The longest run I enjoy is 200m. I can do 10 of them in a row at full speed. But my coach has to force me to do the endurance runs.
How do you motivate yourself for a workout that you’re absolutely not in the mood for?
I tell myself that there are no successful days without the hard days. My medals and records are a result of those hard days. And you’re not going to win a thing if you stay in bed all day.
But someone who only works out as a hobby isn’t fighting for medals – they just want to finish that marathon or get themselves a six-pack…
But it’s still the same motivation. A lot of work doesn’t automatically lead to success. But no work will lead to failure. The same applies to those who only go to the gym for fun.
OK, so say you have the motivation… In terms of training, is it better to set yourself a low target that you’re certain to reach, or a tough target that you might not achieve?
Tough targets are better. You have to work yourself up to a higher target, step by step. Each training session is a new test, and every time you pass that test, you experience a sense of success. And a sense of success is nicer when you get it more than once.
So if you want to perform five press-ups, should you tell yourself you’re going to do 60?
Yeah, I’d go for 60. The most important thing is that you have a goal in the first place – that’s the first step to success. It doesn’t matter whether you want to do five press-ups or 60.
At some point, a person will reach their pain threshold with every exercise they do. How do you make yourself carry on when it hurts?
The last reps are the most effective. That applies to all weight-training exercises. It’s easy for everyone at the beginning, but you can only win if you can go the distance. That’s why I always try to think of the success that will come as I do those final reps. Success, success, success. Believe me, it works.
If you had to recommend a single exercise for the hobby sportsperson to do on a daily basis, which would you choose?
When you go running, incorporate sections where you go at walking pace and you touch the ground with your knee every step you take. If you work out at home, do 15 burpees three times a day.
Both those exercises are principally for the legs…
Yes, because the thigh muscles are the biggest muscles we have. Men often forget that. And muscles help you burn fat. Think of your six-pack.
Can people reward themselves with a beer after working out?
You have to decide that for yourself. I don’t drink. And I only reward myself after a successful competition.
What’s your drink recommendation as an Olympic athlete?
Every morning, I drink a glass of warm water with honey and lemon.
Why does the water have to be warm?
So that the body doesn’t have to warm it up. That conserves energy.
OK, so what about the mental side of things? At the Olympics, a single night of competition will decide whether those four years of training have paid off or not. How do you deal with that pressure?
Well, 2012 was a decisive year for me – that’s when I moved from junior to senior competition. [Španović took gold at the World Junior Championships in 2008.] I felt like I was in a shark tank alongside my idols who I’d been watching on TV for years. A year later, I won bronze at the World Championships in Moscow and understood that my idols are people too, that they can have a bad day and they can be beaten. When you realise that no opponent is infallible, it’s liberating.
At the World Indoor Championships in March, you set a new personal best of 7.07m, but ended up finishing second. Which emotion prevailed: your joy at the record, or the disappointment of not taking first place?
I feel like I missed out on gold. I was physically and mentally in the right place to win the World Championships. But I had no way of foreseeing that Brittney [Reese, American world champion] would jump 7.22m.
What lessons can you take from defeat?
You should take something away from every competition or training session. At the World Championships, I was in the lead until the fifth round and then Brittney jumped further than me. But I struck back and took the lead once again before she made her winning jump. I wouldn’t have been able to do that four years ago, react well to her really good jump. Now I’ll take that knowledge with me to the Olympic Games.
What’s your goal for Rio?
To do everything I can to win.