Mental Tricks to Get Thru Tough Workouts
Written by: Coach Slater
Everyone knows the feeling of suffering and self-doubt during a really tough WOD. Those negative thoughts crawl in, sometimes before the WOD even starts:
“You’ll never finish under the time cap.”
“If you skip one or two reps, no one will notice.”
“Let’s do the sub-Life version. You won’t feel so much pain.”
“Just give up and it’s over. Right here and now, and the pain will end.”
We CrossFitters are especially prone to this kind of negative self-talk because our workouts can demand so much from us, both physically and mentally. But we can’t let them win.
Luckily, there are some pretty easy psychological tricks you can use to help yourself:
1. Control What You Can Control: Breath
You can’t control how heavy the weight is, but you can control how you’re breathing. Focusing on your breath can be calming when you feel anxious during (or especially before) a WOD. Concentrate on making your breathing regular, and adapt it to each movement. For example, on Wallballs, I like to inhale just before I catch the ball on the descent, holding it in as I hit the squat, then exhale as I’m driving up and releasing the ball. When rowing, I exhale as I drive back, quickly inhale & exhale as I return, then sneak in one more inhale at the catch, before exhaling again on the drive.
Focusing on controlling what you can control, namely your breathe, can have a dramatic effect on diminishing those negative thoughts during workouts.
2. Trick Your Brain by Refocusing Your Thinking
This trick is especially useful during longer workouts. When you feel exhausted and pain ridden, your brain concentrates on those aspects in your body, the acid in your legs, the heaviness of your arms, etc… What you have to do now is to distract your brain from these impulses by totally occupying it with something else. The easiest way to do that is by giving yourself a mental task to complete.
Personally, I recite every person’s first and last name in class. I’ve also heard that listing every capital city in the US works. Or, think of as many words as you can that contain two certain letters, like S and C for example. By doing so, you’re deliberately distracting your thinking from the source of pain. It sounds trivial, but this technique can help pass the time when things get tough and that clock seems to move at half-speed.
3. Be Inspired by Your Fellow CrossFitters
In CrossFit, we earn each others respect by going all out during a WOD. Personally, I’m typically more impressed by someone who pushed themselves and still got time-capped, rather than someone who went too light and breezed thru the WOD to finish first. Or, what about those people who do things that look impossible? Both sets of individuals are inspirational in their own way because they’re pushing it to their very own limits. If you find yourself feeling terrible during a WOD, thinking you can’t go on anymore, take a look around you. See anybody else quitting? No? Then you shouldn’t either. Be inspired by the other athletes here.
4. Adopt a Hero-Version of Yourself
Stole this idea from a book called SuperBetter, about gaming yourself for better performance. Basically, think of a hero you want to be, like Hulk, Wonder Woman, or Iron Man and use them to create your own secret identity. When you feel like you can’t go on anymore during a WOD, think of your secret identity as a mantra. Say to yourself something like “I am the mighty XXX and I will do everything to get stronger and slay the WOD-monster.”
Yes, this sounds silly, but by saying this to yourself, you’re programming your brain thru positive affirmation.
5. Accept Failure as a Part of the Process
Don’t be afraid to fail. First, remind yourself of the reason why you are doing CrossFit. Maybe it’s because you like the people here (they’re pretty cool), want to get fitter, or maybe you need it to counter depression and the stress you have in your life. Whatever your individual reason, we’re all united by the fact that we want to become better versions of ourselves.
To accomplish this, you have to push yourself to your limits and then exceed those limits during a WOD. That also means that you have to FIND your limits as well. These are the points, places, and times at which you fail. Failure to hit a certain weight, perform a specific number of reps, or finish a WOD within a time cap does not mean that you’ll never be able to do these things. It just means that you can’t do them right now. If you want to get better, hit those targets and improve, then you need to put in the work.
If you succeed at every WOD, you always PR with every lift, and you’re always first, then you simply aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. Failure is part of the process, and it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally hit that lift or WOD time you’ve been chasing!