The Mental Game & Improving Performance

Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, has famously said “the greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears” and as a coach and an athlete I couldn’t agree more.

Sure we see people have great gains in strength and conditioning. We see people lose weight, get rid of chronic disease and make complete 180’s in lifestyle habits, but I would argue that a more important change would be to the mind. The mental fortitude developed physical training applies to every part of life. Long after your body has turned into a series of sags and creases the mental toughness CrossFit can deliver will live on.

We don’t talk about this much, because it makes most people (including me) feel weird, but this week I want to touch on it because this week we are doing a couple of workouts (Marston & Fran) that requires much more in the mental department than they physical and I am hoping that you will implement these ideas in the workout.

How often do you look at the workout and go “screw that, that’s dumb” or “eww, I don’t like that”…what about “sleeping in for sure tomorrow” or the one that drives me crazy “i’ll just do something else, that workout isn’t for me”

Most of us do. Unfortunately those statements and actions are a sign of a weak mental game, which is something that will severely limit your fitness and progress in life.

The good news is that it is possible to improve your mental toughness the same way you would your strength, stamina, flexibility..etc. Below you will find some strategies that I hope you will employ next time your mind starts messing with you.

1.Positive Self Talk – How often do you say I can’t or that sucks or I hate this workout. All of these things are variations of negative self and actually cause your autonomic nervous system to trigger your body into performing worse on workouts. All of us have negative feelings towards uncomfortable things, but it’s how you deal with them that determines if you will be successful or not. Here are a few quick examples of how or adjust your self talk next time you don’t like the workout or it starts to suck.

“I suck at pull-ups and I hate them” –> “Pull-ups are my weakness and I am going to get them. I am glad they are in the workout so I can get better” (substitute any movement you want for pull-ups.)

“This workout is dumb” –> “How can I use this silly workout to get more fit”

“There is no way I will finish this in the time cap” –> “I won’t stop until they make me”

2.Breathe – This is also not a new idea. Yogi’s, Monks & Navy SEALs have been using breath work to help control their mental state for a long time. Next time you are stressed in a workout or in life try doing 30 breaths where you breathe in through your nose and let the air go out of your mouth (imagine your were trying to fill a balloon with air). I’ll bet you’ll find it really hard to be stressed, mad..etc.

3.Have a Goal, Make a Plan & Execute – Many times people are intimidated by a workout and give up mentally before it starts. A good way around this is to have a goal for each workout. It doesn’t have to be a PR, it’s just a personal goal for that day. Once you have that sort out a game plan that will net that goal and then execute it. Task that seem impossible are, until you start in on them. Rather than stressing on how hard it is to complete Murph, focus on one thing and get started.

Also , make sure you set the goal in the positive tense. “I want to safely perform a backwards roll to support on the rings.” vs. “I don’t want to fall off the rings while upside down.”

Commit to your workout. Plan your workout, prepare and then do it. Quitting is not an option unless there’s a risk of injury. Every time you succeed to follow your plans, you’ll get tougher. Every time you quit or change your plans, you’ll get mentally weaker and more prone to quitting and changing plans.

4.Observe Your Negative Thoughts, Don’t Give Into Them – Train yourself at observing thoughts and feelings. Learn to recognize your normal thought patterns during strenuous exercise. If you normally get thoughts trying to negotiate a change in your workouts—“Maybe three laps is enough today, I have to save some energy for tomorrow”—try to recognize those thoughts, but don’t buy into them. Thoughts are just thoughts—no more, no less.

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