Build Mental Toughness in Kettlebell Sport

Train your grit by continuously pushing beyond your comfort zone.

I love kettlebell sport because it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried – and it never gets easier. The weights just get heavier and the pace increases. Of course with time and practice, your body and mind strengthen to face the demands of training and competition. But have no delusions – it’s always hard.

The physical benefits of kettlebell sport are obvious to anyone who’s tried. This style of training builds strong but lean bodies capable of moving thousands of pounds of volume. But the mental toughness that this sport develops is the most valuable. Hours of suffering in the gym have prepared me for any obstacle life throws my way. The sport has taught me what it means to push past my self-imposed limitations to realize a stronger version of myself.

This kind of mental strength requires training just as much as the physical. To become truly relentless on the platform, you have to practice it every time you pick up the bells.

Will you live to swing another minute or crack under the pressure? [Photo courtesy of Chris Doenlen]

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Most of us feel at home in the gym, and the people we train with become a sort of extended family. We know where which kettlebells we prefer, and maybe even have a favorite platform or space to lift in.

But what happens when something’s off? What happens when you compete at a different venue and everything’s different? Are you distracted? Unable to focus on your training? Routine can be a very dangerous trap. However, by incorporating adversity into your gym sessions, you can train your mind to overcome almost any disturbance you might face in competition. Create environmental distractions like blasting annoying music or lifting where the sun is right in your eyes. Train when it’s too cold, too hot, too humid, or too dark. Plan for the worst – hope for the best.

Equipment can be a crutch. Try using a different weightlifting belt or shoes to simulate a worst-case-competition scenario where the airline loses your bag (never check your gear, folks). Try using a different style of chalk. If you’re used to wearing a headband because you sweat a lot, do a set without it and see if you can keep your focus with salt stinging your eyes.

And what about the kettlebells? Do you always lift the same style or brand? Are you prepared for a competition that uses a brand you’ve never touched before, or would you have a complete meltdown? Try lifting with different brands of bells, or if you only lift competition-style bells, try using cast iron ones. To really mix it up, lift with two different style bells at the same time.

The ability to remain relaxed and focused in adversity is paramount to a strong, competitive mindset. Avoid routine and get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Always Finish the Time

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Just as excellence can be a habit, so can quitting. When the clock starts, you must resolve to not put down the bells until the time is up. You have to train your will to fight no matter how bad it gets. If you allow yourself to quit today, it’s only going to make it easier to quit next time.

Losing pace? Doesn’t matter – do what you can. Focus on one rep at a time. Completely gassed? Fine, just hold the bells in rack position. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Do your time in training and you’ll be better prepared to fight for the full ten minutes in competition.

It Doesn’t Have to Feel Good, But You Have to Try

We all have days where we don’t feel like lifting. Stress or poor sleep can leave you dragging. Have you ever crafted excuses for why you won’t hit your numbers as you drive to the gym?

A lot of people will tell you that on these kinds of days, just making it to the gym is a victory in itself. Well, I’m not one of those people. I won’t pat you on the back for phoning it in. Showing up isn’t enough, especially if you’re a competitive athlete. You have to try. It probably won’t feel great. The weights may feel exponentially heavier. Your legs and lungs might burn out early. Every rep might feel like an all-out war. And despite your best effort, you still may come up short of your goal that day.

But maybe – just maybe – despite all of the distractions and stress, you pull through and have a great training day. Maybe you even exceed expectations. And maybe after conquering your sets, you leave the gym reinvigorated and life feels a little more manageable. You really won’t know unless you try.

Strength Is a Process

Building mental toughness is a practice. It’s a process that requires you to continuously push beyond your comfort zone. It takes discipline to take something that’s already difficult and make it even more challenging, but the reward of training your grit is worthwhile. Push the boundaries of what you think you’re capable of in the gym or on the platform and you’ll find be more prepared to overcome other obstacles in your life.

More ways to gain a mental edge:

The 6 Steps to Building Mental Toughness