Mental Toughness in Crossfit
Written by Jared Astle
In my experience as a competitive athlete in both gymnastics & Crossfit, I have found a common thread that proves to be critical for success in both, that is mental toughness.
I have always felt that there are 6 proven keys to mental toughness. These keys can be broken down into smaller categories and therefore some sources may refer to 7 or 8, however for me, focusing on 6 has been the most effective.
1) Create SMART Goals - If I tell you to get from point A to point B but fail to properly define what and where point B is exactly, chances are you will never get there, after all, where is “there”?
This concept of defining goals needs to be applied to your mental game. If you don’t have a defined destination you are never going to feel successful or accomplished and at that point any progress towards your mental fortitude goes out the window. When making goals, ensure they are SMART;
Specific - What exactly do I want to achieve, “I want to place in the top 5 at Regionals”. Very Specific.
Measurable – Stating that you want to get “better” at HSPU is great, but how is that measured, what does “better” mean? A measurable goal would be, I want to be able to do 30 strict HSPU in 3 minutes.
Attainable - Being able to deadlift 800 pounds is probably not going to happen anytime soon. Now if I said, I “I would like to increase my deadlift by 10% in the next month”, now that is attainable. I want to be able to see myself as worthy of these goals, and develop the traits and personality that allow me to possess them.
Realistic - To be realistic, I strive to make my goals represent an objective toward which I am both willing and able to work towards. Being the strongest woman in the world is a tough one. Now you are the only one who can decide just how high to set your goal, I say as long as it represent progress, it’s a good goal.
Timely – A goal should be grounded within a time frame. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency, and then can easily be lost.
2) Be Consistent - To be mentally tough you have to be consistently mentally tough. This may not seem like a measure of mental toughness, but look at it this way:You are in the gym and your workout calls for 10 reps. You are exhausted from the long day, you are 20 minutes in and you get done with 9 reps and say to yourself, “Oh that is good enough for today”, we all do it. It’s just one rep right? So the next day you walk into the gym and you see Joe finish the WOD in 4:35, there is no way Joe got that time, or that you are going to let him beat you. So you cut off a few reps here and you shorten your ROM there. You get a 4:33. Way to go. You beat Joe. You are the winner of the day at Crossfit Schmuckatelli. So if this behavior continues, what do you think the result is 1 year down the road? Well, assuming you only skip one rep a day on each movement you would have skipped a total of:
4 (avg. movements a day) * 260 (5 days/week) = 1,040 Reps
1,040 reps! If those reps were a 250lb back squat, you missed out on 260,000 lbs of work.
Now let’s talk about the mental damage you just caused yourself. This can occur one of two ways.
You consistently cut your ROM and shorted reps, when competition time comes you do the same thing but you are "no rep’d" and you end up stuck in the workout wondering why you suck so much. That thought is not mental toughness, but rather self destructive.
You MENTALLY realize you don’t have the capacity to finish the workout. Every time you quit on the last rep bears down on you. Yeah it was only the last rep, but guess what, you still quit, just without ever recognizing your action as quitting. So now you enter a judged competition and act like something must be wrong with you, because you never quit, lol.
Bottom line, shortening your reps or cutting reps has the SAME MENTAL EFFECT AND FATIGUE AS QUITTING.
3) Acknowledge the Small Victories - Some would refer to these as ‘mini-goals’, I however prefer to call them “small victories”, for the simple reason, these are not your goals, but rather progress towards your goals. An example of this would be recognizing that being consistently mentally tough, and not quitting, is worth treating as a small victory and then should be celebrated! The human brain is a funny thing and it is hard to control. It doesn’t like adversity. It will find the fastest and easiest way out. That is human nature, we are lazy. So every time you force yourself to conquer over 100,000 years of heritage that is your victory, so celebrate it and reward yourself, eventually it will become second nature.
4) Concentrate on You - Someone who is mentally tough does not worry about the people around them or how good they are. When someone who is training around you is in the zone and killing it, celebrate in their success, they deserve it. I often hear, “but you always PR, I want to PR”, my response, “So go do it”. Don’t get fooled into thinking that PRs are flying around the gym like the golden snitch in a quiditch match and that you’re just too unlucky to snag it up that day. Be accountable and responsible in obtaining your goals.
5) Be Positive - Negativity is a cancer and it will spread through your mind within seconds. Bad reps and bad days occur; recognize them as such and move on. When those bad days happen, you have to find the few positives to learn from and then refocus. Even on bad training days, small victories do exist so think, if you can accomplish positives on a bad training day, think of what you can do on a good training day?
6) Focus on What You Can Control - You can’t change the plates being used, you can’t change the stupid standards, you can’t change the bearings on the bar. Focus on what you can control and the rest will take care of itself. Things outside of your control do happen; beating yourself up over it will not strengthen your mental game. Don’t let them deter you, learn from it, and learn what you can do in the future to overcome.
Success is 85% mental, 10% Physical, and 5% uncontrollable or outside influence.