Mental Toughness by Ashley Holden-Klimik

Everyone’s got one.  It’s early morning, just a typical day, no different from any other. You turn on your smart phone or laptop. You open Beyond the White Board. You check the WOD. And there it is. The. One. WOD. You. DREAD. This one WOD has the power to send your heart beating into your ears, create a pit to form in your stomach, to cause a thousand excuses for why you can’t come to the box today and how it really isn’t cherry picking this time. Then throughout the day you play the same argument over and over in your mind, eventually deciding that yes you are going to WOD even though a part of you really, really, really dreads it.
My “ONE” happened last week. Her name was Karen, and many of you know her well. 150 Wallballs. A WOD as mental as it is physical. Last week I thought to myself, “Today will be different. Today I will finish Karen. Today I will stick to my rep scheme and time my rests and finish that WOD, even if I feel like I might die.”
It started out well enough. I had my rep scheme in my head. Four sets of 15, four sets of ten, then sets of five until the end. I heard 3…2…1 Go and hit my first set no problem.  Then the pain set in, and the self doubt, and the mental struggle that would go on for the next ten minutes. All I heard in my head was “I can’t do this,” “I need a break,” “That 10 foot target is too high,” “I’m only at 30?” “I can’t do 120 more.” 
You know how it goes. We have all been to that place where we start to break down. We start listening to the pain in our bodies and the voices in our heads pleading with us to stop, to slow down, to quit.  
For me, mental toughness is one of the hardest parts of CrossFit, something that I struggle with on a daily basis, and one of my most important goals. Heck, it’s even up on the blackboard waiting to be crossed off.
So how do we get tough? Physically we are strong. But what about between the ears? That’s where the real transformation happens. The ability to push yourself to your limits is what makes you competitive and takes you to the next level in CrossFit. Is it attainable? And if so, how?  
Well the good news is that you do not have to be born with it.  Mental toughness is something you can develop and continue to hone. Below are some tips for becoming mentally tough:
Make a plan.  Make a reasonable plan for the workout, including rep schemes and rest. Then focus on sticking to the plan, addressing each component as one tiny goal.  Instead of 150 Wallballs, think, “I only have to do 15 and then I can rest.”  Decide what you are going to do. Once you make the commitment to something, you are almost unstoppable.
Set small goals and then focus on the next step. Chris Spealler recently wrote that he even makes smaller goals for himself, such as, “Put your hands on the bar” or “Fall to the ground” during a burpee. 
Increase your positive self talk. Do you remember all of those negative thoughts and can’ts that crept into my head during Karen? They need to be squashed. Transform them into positive/more adaptive thoughts. Instead, try creating a phrase for yourself that you will repeat, a mantra if you will, when you start to turn to the negative.  “I can do this,” “The bar is light.” CrossFit Regionals Athlete Matt Baird and his training partner Zack Anderson say, “Head down, mouth shut, mentally tough and physically dominant” before every workout. Find a saying that fits for you and try it out. 
Eliminate certain words from your vocabulary. If you are saying, “I think I can,” “I hope I can” or “I’ll try” then you don’t believe you actually can.
Focus on yourself. Instead of looking around at what everyone else is doing or watching the clock, try to focus on you, like where you have to move to next during a transition, or how to position your shoulders over the bar during a snatch.
Know that your body is capable of way more than you think it is. Can you really be pushed too far? Instead of letting your mind decide that you can’t breathe or that you can’t do one more rep, let your body be in charge. Trust that your body will take care of you.
Trust your coach. Although you may be challenged by a workout, your coach programmed it for a reason. 
Remember: “There is little in your life you will find as rewarding and enduring as making it through a mentally and physically challenging experience that pushes you to new limits—akin to climbing one of the world’s tallest peaks or traversing a vast ocean or desert. When you come out the other side and take a glance at who you once were, you understand. You know in the deepest corner of your being that you have reached new heights, surpassed self-imposed limits and are now a much better athlete, family member, co-worker and overall person” (Rarity, J. March 27, 2014).   
I’ll leave you with this quote from a blog post by Sage Burgener: 
“Toughness means you fight through pain, or discomfort, and continue striving forward. But why would you do this in the first place? It seems against our nature to put ourselves through pain and discomfort, so why bother? The answer is this; because we are committed to making ourselves better, committed to being something greater than what we currently are. Think about the people who are tough, the one thing they have in common is that they’ve committed to something. Whether it’s becoming healthy, smarter, a better parent, or a CrossFit Games champion, they decided it was what they wanted, and they didn’t care how hard it became, or what obstacles showed up, nothing was going to stop them from following through with the decision they made” (
So I encourage you to commit to something. Decide what you are going to do, whether in CrossFit or in life, and do it!
Become better than you were yesterday.
Ashley Holden-Klimik
For more information about mental toughness, check out the following websites