You eat your organic and local produce and meats.  You get your 8+ hours of sleep every night.  You show up to the gym well before class starts in order to mobilize like a champ.  You are doing all of the right things…and yet as you wait for those conditioning workouts to start, your stomach is in knots, your legs magically become weak, and all that strength you showed during the weightlifting portion suddenly disappears.  Sound familiar?  You, good sir or madam, need to get your mental game straight!

In , with its demanding tasks requiring daily herculean effort, if the mind is not strong, performance suffers.  Today’s posts will equip you with a couple of mental strategies/tasks that you should perform to help you move that much faster when the going gets tough.

1.  Morning Mind Dumps

Is your mind as messy as this picture?  Get on your Morning Mind Dumps, ASAP!!!
Is your mind as messy as this picture? Get on your Morning Mind Dumps, ASAP!!!

Not only will this help you in the gym, but this is designed to get your head right in your everyday life as well.  Showing up to the gym and more importantly life with a cluttered mind is a surefire to boost your stress levels.  In our fast paced life, most of us are so fixated on the thousands of tasks we must perform or the petty rivalries that pepper our work place that we forget to notice that what is happening in the here and now is really all that matters.  (For more on that, I recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s excellent The Power of Now.)

To help unclutter your mind, set your alarm a mere 30 minutes earlier than usual.  When you wake up, sit down, turn on the computer or get out a sheet of paper and pen and just start typing/writing whatever comes to mind.  It can be as simple as “I don’t know what to write” over and over again or as bat-sh*t crazy as “the lemon elephant with golden slippers.  SHAZAM!”  Go wherever your mind takes you.  Do NOT stop writing for that thirty minutes.  When you are finished, delete it or throw it away.  That is mental clutter, so why keep it?  Do this for at least a week and notice how much clearer your mind becomes during the day.

2.  Visualizing Success

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While our minds are the greatest tools we possess as human beings, they are also one of the biggest hindrances to success.  The social entrepreneur Seth Godin terms this part of our brain, the lizard brain (more scientifically known as the amygdala).  This part of our brain is a responsible for keeping us out of danger.   It is, however, this part of the brain that is largely responsible for stopping us from going for it in life i.e. booking that dream trip to Europe, starting a new, more rewarding career, hitting that clean and jerk PR.  You know that little voice that whispers in your brain, “Oh, wait a second!  That looks pretty risky.  You might fail or get hurt!”?  That is your lizard brain.  As Godin says, the lizard brain isn’t going anywhere.  So how can we turn it off and charge ahead towards success?  Visualization is a great place to start.

Before those seemingly unconquerable workouts, take a second and close your eyes.  See yourself performing the movements, gracefully and flawlessly; see yourself being successful.  In your mind, feel the air moving in and out of your lungs in a steady and controlled manner, with no panic or shallowness.  Imagine the sounds you’ll hear, the feeling of the barbell.  As you see yourself moving in your mind, weave positive self-talk with the images.  Words or phrases, “Strong man/lady”, “Keep moving”, “Control”, “Relax and go”, “You’re ok.  Breathe!”  Let no negative thoughts or associations enter into your thoughts during these brief visualization sessions.  Picture success in your mind and then execute the image you’ve just painted with some sweat!

3.  Breath Control

Not really a mental technique, but a physical cue that will help calm your mind down, mid-WOD.  Focusing on the breath will help turn your attention from the burning in the legs or the aching in your shoulders.  Between efforts of work, take 3-5 deep, nourishing belly breaths.  This will not magically return energy to your system per se, but it will channel the energy you have to the task at hand instead of it just being burnt away through panic.  Focus on each breath as it passes in and out of your throat.  Let each breath ground you to a place of control and strength.

4.  Managing Work Transitions

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During a conditioning piece a lot of time can be lost as we transition from one movement to the other.  If the type of workout is more glycolytic and power and speed are the necessary outputs, the seconds we waste resting between movements can hinder the hoped for results of our workout.  Usually this isn’t a problem while you are fresh, but the moment you are about to begin your second round in, say, a 5 rounds for time workout, you aren’t as snappy back to the first movement.  It is imperative that at this moment you quickly transition back to the bar, box, rower, or whatever implement you must utilize and perform 2-3 reps.  I have found that when I do this, I spend less time prepping and preparing myself for the next set of work and just do the work.  After that first initial “shock” set, I am more likely to take a shorter break and then continue the movement to completion in a more expeditious manner.

5. Understanding the Physiological and Psychological Effect of Certain Movements.

The beauty of style workouts is that you’ll never get bored.  The horror of is that there are so many different ways for you to experience pain!  If you’ve been ting for a while, you probably noticed that certain movements elicit different reactions.  A “deadlift “will feel much different from say  “double unders.”  Both can be quite challenging movements.  However, both make you feel different.  With such a heavy load needing to be moved, the central nervous system will be much more taxed, but the rate or respiration will be much lower.  The necessity of bracing the core during the lift prevents a rapid rate of breathing.  Double Unders, with a much lower load needing to be moved, allow the athlete to move at a much more rapid rate.  A consequence of this will be an increased rate of respiration.  Why does this need to be considered?  For many new athletes, a higher than normal respiration rate elicits a sense of panic.  If you are faced with a movement like double unders or any other movement that will shoot your rate of breathing up, understand that it is all a part of the journey.  Stay calm.  When you are breaking up your sets of work, focus on those slow deep nourishing breaths and stick to the visualization path you charted before the workout.

workouts are tricky beasts and can prove daunting to the neophyte athlete.  With these few little tips and tricks, however, you’ll be able to manage the “suck” a bit better.

Happy WODing!