Forging Mental Toughness

Our mental attitude towards the workout starts the moment we see it. Whether you look at it right at 8pm, the next morning at work (we...
Ryan Clark
February 27, 2023
Forging Mental Toughness

Our mental attitude towards the workout starts the moment we see it. Whether you look at it right at 8pm, the next morning at work (we won't tell if you do), or your middle name is "Danger" and you see it for the first time on the whiteboard. Intimidation is part of the sport because, truly, if it doesn't scare you it won't change you. You can, however, take steps to improve your mental toughness and subsequently your performance.

See the Goal, Not the Obstacle

Like a lot of things in CrossFit, this one has parallels to life, work, and relationships. Focusing your mind on your immediate goal instead of what's in your path has a profound effect on your performance. Here's a scenario from last week: the clock shows 40 seconds left and you are fighting for as many power cleans as you can get. Your goal is to get 15 power cleans, but you are on number 8. If you are paying attention to the burn in your lungs, or thinking about how you wont even be able to get 10, then you are focusing on the obstacles. Those are thoughts that can negatively affect your performance. Obstacles can be the perception of pain, feeling of doubt, or awareness of the music, just to name a few. Instead of acknowledging these emotions, focus only on your goal; your target of 15 cleans, 1 extra push up before the clock runs out, or adding those extra ten pounds. What is the next action needed to accomplish this goal?

Achieving this mindset takes practice and initially, you WILL go back and forth. You might think, "I can do this. I can't do this. Just five more thrusters. The next 5 thrusters will hurt." Instead of yielding to these feelings, focus on your next step: Grab that bar, set your back, get it to your shoulder, start that first rep... Envision your goal to be faster, better and stronger!

Breathe "1-2"

This comes from my personal experience after learning meditation from a Buddhist Monk (and the most badass 70 year old CrossFitter you never thought existed). Listening to your breath is the easiest and fastest way to calm your heart rate and breath cycle. The best athletes do this subconsciously. There is no wrong way to do it, but here's a start: prior to class, I invite you to listen to your breath as you count to six. "1-2-3" brings you to a modest inhalation and "4-5-6" brings you to a slow and steady exhalation. During the workout, find your breath with a 1-2 count; inhale "1," exhale "2." Slower is better. No matter how tired you are, you can always count 1 and 2 in your head. Sync that count with the movement you are currently doing, or just practice this breathing technique to make the most out of your rest times.


Smile not only because you are able-bodied, strong, and you made a healthy decision by coming to class, but also because it will change your perception of the workout. Changing your posture, and even faking a smile has been proven to improve performance. Next time you come in from a run, crack a smile or adjust your posture to prove to your brain that you are not just surviving through this workout, but thriving!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Over the next week be aware of when your final "push" starts. During most workouts, we all have a point at which we push ourselves to give it our all, to empty the tank. When do you hit that point? Is it that last minute, 30 seconds, when the coach yells "10 seconds", or simply on the final exercise? Here is an easy way to increase performance- try starting that final push earlier. Recognize that your brain is used to a final minute push and start it 10 seconds prior. Find out if you have more in the tank; and you will be pleasantly surprised at your ability to finish that workout feeling like a superhero.

Practice to improve your willpower because it works like a muscle. If you use these techniques, your willpower WILL get stronger. Without practice, workouts will hurt more and won't leave you feeling spent. Our community of ever-improving athletes is a big part of what makes us great. Let's tackle this aspect of our training and I can guarantee it enhancing other aspects of your life.

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