In the last few years that I’ve been coaching Crossfit, I’ve heard, and used, hundreds of different cues in order to help teach athletes to perform different movements. Recently though it occurred to me that of all those cues, little to none have had anything to do with the mental aspect of our conditioning. I realized that I’m teaching people how to move and be aware of their bodies and expecting them to translate that into a better Fran time, while completely ignoring a huge part of what makes us achieve that accomplishment. I realized it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how large your anaerobic capacity is. If your mind shuts down at the first sign of discomfort during a workout then that huge deadlift PR you got last week doesn’t really matter. Some people refer to this as mental fortitude, or as I like to think of it, the ability to decrease the number of “This Sucks!”, or “I’m tired, I want to stop” per workout. I used to think that mental fortitude in athletics was something some people are just born with, but I’ve come to realize that it is something that must be learned.
So with that in mind I wanted to give you a few Mental “cues” to help you get through some of those grueling workouts a little faster, and hopefully make them “suck” a little less.
1. Have some Play Pretend Time.
Once you hit that point in your workout where the “This Sucks!” thoughts start to creep into your head, just pretend you are not in the middle of a workout. I took this idea from the book “Born to Run” which had a story about a ultra marathoner who used a similar trick during a really grueling 100 mile race through Death Valley in the middle of summer. He was in last place, laying in the fetal position in a pool of his own vomit (something we as crossfitters can all relate to.. more or less), when he decided to get up, pretend he just woke up and was about to go for his morning run, and ended up winning the race and setting a new course record. Well if it worked in those conditions I’m pretty sure it might help you during your 20 min AMRAP. Here’s what you do: When you are in that home stretch and you feel at your worst, pretend you just finished warming up for the class that day and you are just starting your workout. This might seem silly, but it works, and you just might realize that all that discomfort you are feeling is really just in your head (mostly).
2. Talk to Yourself.
You may have seen professional athletes doing this during games, and as silly as you might feel giving yourself a pep talk in the middle of a workout, this also works. Telling yourself things like “You got this”, “Come one, we’ve done much harder workouts than this before”, or even “You are a Crossfit GOD! ” will help you fight off the negative thoughts that can creep in. The funny thing about this though, is it doesn’t really matter what you say to yourself. You could start reciting the lyrics to your favorite Justin Beiber song if you like. Because speaking gives your brain a task to perform, it will stop it from focusing on the discomfort you are feeling. So give it a try if you don’t mind the other people working out around you thinking you are a little off.
3. Focus on the movements.
Once again we are in distraction mode here. The more you can give your brain a specific task the less ability it will have to focus on how much it wants you to stop doing what you are doing. So if you are doing Wall Balls, really focus on making each repetition smooth and efficient. Deadlifts? Focus on making each rep perfect. Before you know it you will be on the last rep and it will have came faster than your realized.
4. Set small goals.
Sometimes focusing on the whole workout and the total number of reps to complete can get overwhelming, especially halfway through a long workout when you feel like you will never be able to finish. When this happens try to stop thinking of the total and just focus on the getting through a small chunk, then focus on the next small chunk. Before you know it you may just be on the last few reps. I personally use this a lot on the last few rounds of a hard workout when I can say “OK, this is the last time I’ll be doing burpees, so I may as well just finish them off as fast as I can”. Then I move to the next exercise and repeat. Give it a shot next time you don’t think you can get through that last round.
5. Get competitive.
When all else fails, if you are really struggling, you can always call up your competitive nature to help get you through a workout. In the middle of a workout when the negative thoughts start sneaking in, look around at the other people working out, find someone who appears to be in less trouble than you, and try to keep up with them, or even beat them. Once again we are trying to distract our brain, and focusing on another athlete can be a good way to do this. If you try this and it works, make sure to thank the other athlete after the workout for helping you get through it.
You may have noticed a theme running through these tips. Its all about distraction, so whether you use any of these “cues” or not, you do need to find a way to focus your mind on the task at hand, and discard the negative thoughts during your workouts. If you can do this, you may find your performance can increase without lifting a single weight or doing a single rep. Good Luck and have fun!