Building mental fortitude to reach new heights

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Better safe than sorry

Before I go into the topic of mental toughness I want to emphasise what many couches mentioned before and is part of our introduction to CrossFit. Safety, technique, consistency and then intensity are important to us. This is especially true in the beginning of your CrossFit journey. Notice the word journey – it is not a sprint. Make sure to stay within your physical capacity to not get injured. As soon as technique breaks, in any movement, scale it!

In your first 3 months to one year you will most likely make leaps and bounds of improvements. This however is not only due to increased metabolic capacity and strength but more likely due to technique which makes it possible to ‘catch’ the new PRs. So always remember, if you were not exposed to this kind of weight training before (especially with repetitive movements), your muscles might be able to lift the weight however, your joints, ligaments and bones take longer to adapt to the new challenge.

Mental toughness

mental toughness

This does not mean that you cannot work on your mental toughness from the very get go of your journey. Mental toughness is individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sport or other fields of life. The good thing is that it is absolutely trainable and can translate into both your professional and private life. Imagine how easy it is to stay calm while listening to an annoying boss or customer at work when you know you just ran a 5k or conquered any of the benchmark workouts to hit a new PR

It is the ability to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations and have the mental edge to cope better than others with these situations. Countless studies have shown that if you put your body under physical stress it is able to deal with mental stress better too. (Besides the physical benefits of higher bone density, optimised blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels etc. over time)

Navy seals, professional athletes and other high performance professionals incorporate mental training into their regimen. The good thing is that it is absolutely applicable to the ‘everyday man/woman’. The more you do it the easier it is to find and then push your boundaries. 

A few hints on how to apply this:

It sounds a little corny but mental preparation even before the work out is key. Before you get into the gym tell yourself to give it all you’ve got to make the time most worthwhile. Your mind will tell your body to quit much earlier than needed so it can preserve energy.

Before you start the WOD go through it ‘mentally’.

  • One way to conquer this is to have small goals (descried by Josh Bridges). If there are any number of our beloved thrusters or burpees etc. i.e. 30 reps. you goal could be 15, 10, 5. Don’t just break when your mind tells you to break (unless the technique breaks) but have realistic small goals so your mind is prepared to just press out a few more reps. If you only have to break once, do the majority of the reps first so after your short break there won’t be as many reps left.
  • If there are multiple movements, get into the next movement immediately. Your mind will take a much longer break ‘out of respect’ for the new movement than needed. If you need to break, break after you have done at least one rep. of the next movement. Over time you will find your boundaries and know how to allocate energy with different workouts.
  • Mental toughness is also the ability to reflect positively on your achievements to move forward. You might not come out on top of your group, may it be fitness or competition, but look first at your individual improvement.
  • The CF games are upon us and most of these athletes train equally hard. However, the differentiator for these athletes is mental toughness and who is willing to endure uncomfortable situations most. Matt Fraser isn’t necessarily built for running however won several running events in the last years CF games. This was entirely due to mental toughness in his daily training regimen. Motivation comes and goes (at least for me ) but drive and consistency is key here.

So what is the reward for all this madness? 

Consistent exercise at a higher intensity (hence will power/mental toughness) will prompt your body to release more dopamine which is in simple terms is the key factor to feel more energised, motivated and focused. This combined with good sleep and nutrition will prompt your body in turn to release ‘natural Human growth hormone’, which is simply the golden key for increased brain capacity and physical performance i.e. longevity, recovery etc.. This can act as a quiet handy natural drug. The more you do it the better you feel = vicious circle 

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