It has often been said that mental toughness is a key ingredient to true fitness. Some of what weighs us down in the weight room or the track is not ours to carry. Here are seven steps to achieving mental toughness in your fitness routines.
1. Small Goals Lead to Big Results
By using a small set strategy, you’ll see yourself doing bigger sets of movements that you would normally break up.
For example, if you have a set of 50 wall balls to do, set small, attainable goals through your set of 50 wall balls. You may start with a set of 16 to mentally give yourself a head start. Then, you might tell yourself to do nine more without dropping the ball and you’ll be at 25— halfway home. Then you might trick yourself by thinking that you can do 10 more reps and get to 35 reps. Then at that point, you’ll think back to your ability to always be able to do at least 15 wall balls unbroken, just like the start of the workout. And boom, you just did an unbroken set of 50 wall balls.
2. Break Down the Wall
We all have a mental breaking point. Often, this leads to us ending up on one side of the fence or the other when a workout is finished. Regardless of your time in a workout, fitness enthusiasts measure effort more than anything to decide if they had a “good workout” that day. To get better, you must break through that wall when you normally feel like letting up. When you hit that wall, start purposely pushing yourself through an extra 1, 3, 5, or 10 reps to prove to yourself you can go to that place. We all have that little black box of pain—open yours daily. Remember that effort is a choice, and you can choose to push when your body is tired.
3. Race the Clock
One of the biggest secrets in mental toughness is forcing yourself to push through physical feelings when you would normally let up.
For example, complete the following every 3 minutes for 10 rounds:
- 15 calorie row
- 12 power cleans
- 10 bar facing burpees
This type of workout forces you to push through pain to complete your interval and have enough time for a small rest. There is nothing like an interval workout like this to build mental fortitude.
4. Visualize Success
One of the biggest secrets to success is having goals bigger than just one workout. Having a big picture mindset takes you out of the small thinking mindset and into mindfulness. Visualize yourself doing more than you think capable of prior to your workout and your brain will go to work proving yourself right as you push through the workout. Your visualization may include sights of doing a workout in a certain time or in a certain amount of reps in an AMRAP workout. It may include running a certain time on your 5k.
“Mental toughness is not something you have on a game day. It is a habit of mind that becomes a part of your pride and your self-image. It is something you carry with you everywhere—patience in a line of traffic, attentiveness in a classroom, nobility on the practice floor. It is a quality of mind.” – John Wooden
5. All Eyes Are Not on You
An inexperienced athlete is also an insecure one. They usually think everyone is watching them, which just isn’t true. So, if you can free yourself from that way of thinking, you will allow yourself to do your best and not what others think your best should be. Take your own breaths, have your own set plan, and do the absolute best you can do. We all take our own journey to health and only you can travel your road.
6. Watch the Best
We all learn in different ways, but if you can YouTube old CrossFit games videos and watch how the pros move when they are tired, you will really see how the best of CrossFit push themselves through mental barriers. Watching someone at the top of their game will force you to exceed your mental toughness barriers because you’ve now seen what is possible.
7. Stop Game Planning
Quit a few Crossfitters or endurance runners may disagree with this, but hear me out. If you constantly game plan but never go off feel, then you’ll never actually know what you’re capable of. Going off of feel is the true estimate of proving to yourself that you are mentally tough enough to fight through any challenge put in front of you.
Now, Take Yourself to Your Best Level
To take yourself to the next level in fitness you must start to focus on your mental game. Even the fittest athletes will lose a competition to someone with more mental toughness. There are plenty of people out there who may look heathy, but how strong are they mentally? When push comes to shove, can you handle it when the pain is unbearable? Can you open your little black box and go to a new place unknown? Take these steps one at a time and try them to increase your level of toughness.