The CrossFit Open & Beyond: Mental Conditioning & Goal Setting

The sport of fitness is evolving and the growth of the mental aspect of the sport is also changing. A time where mental toughness alone was enough to push you to the highest level has passed. We are becoming increasingly aware of the use of mental conditioning techniques, life and performances coaches in the sport.

“You can Train three things: Your mind, your body, your craft” Ben Bergeron

Ben Smith and Katrin Davidsdottir are excellent examples of athletes that have displayed signs of having an unstoppable mindset during competition. There are many examples we could use, but think back to the 2015 Games, and listen to the dialogue between Ben Smith and Matt Fraser.

Matt Fraser focused a great deal on Ben smith, whilst Ben focused on what he could control.

A great example of this in effect was during the pig workout. Throughout the weekend, his focus on ben had built momentum and so had his performance anxiety (Matt Fraser was being sick just before each workout). Ben confidently and strategically completed the Event and tackled the Pig with a cool head.

Matt struggled with the Pig, attempting to BICEP CURL it! This then resulted in him having no grip or energy left in the tank for the rope climbs! His mental toughness kicked in and he kept attempting, but that wasn’t enough and he did not complete the wod.

Matt Fraser repeatedly said he had never ‘failed like that before’, later asking Ben how he flipped the pig so effectively? Ben replied “I just told myself I was flipping a tractor tyre!”

Mat fraser crossfit games winner 2016 snatch lift
Mat Fraser Snatching

Matt frasers 2016 prep was different to his 2016 it also Involving a great deal of mental conditioning training with Ben Bergeron, which he discusses in multiple interviews, and we all saw how phenomenal he was!

The mind is a muscle and it MUST BE TRAINED. Knowledge is power if applied, if not it’s just information.


MYTH 1 – Mental Strength Conditioning training takes too much time

We appreciate your time is already spread thinly between training and the rest of your life. The tools and techniques below can be incorporated into your physical training and done on a daily basis for 5-10 mins a day.

MYTH 2 – You’re born with a strong mindset

It’s easy to believe that a strong mindset is a characteristic that we either gifted with or do not have, and we cannot change this. That is a myth.

We are all born with certain physical and psychological predispositions, but mental skills are shaped through our experiences of everyday life. Being motivated, staying calm under pressure, or maintaining confidence in the face of adversity are skills that take time to develop.

mental conditioning crossfit athlete
Earn an iron mindset

There are mental conditioning skills and practices that great athletes have learned through experience or through MSC training.

MYTH 3 – Mental Strength Conditioning training provides a quick fix

We all recognise that physical skills take countless hours of practice to develop, but some people expect mental strength to happen much quicker.

A day before a competition is not the right time to work on your mental game. would you change your clean and jerk tekkers just before attempting a one rep max lift in a comp? NO, of course not. That’s because you realise that after countless hours of practice in training, you can automatically set up for your lift without a conscious thought.

Introducing a new way of performing an exercise a day before a comp like the Open can cause you to start thinking about how to perform the skill and this will disrupt your performance. The same is true for mental skills training. It takes time and effort and is NOT a magical quick fix.


If you are going to hit the open workouts of 2017, or just want to improve your performances, read the list of states below the diagram. If any of these apply to you, then check out a few of these resources for how to improve your mental toughness:

10 Reasons why visualisation techniques will make you a better Crossfitter

10 AMRAP workouts to increase mental toughness

Chris Hinshaw: How to teach mental toughness

Also look out for the rest of the articles in this series, which will provide you with the tools and techniques you need to tackle the Open and perform well!


mental conditioning crossfit training
Strengthen your mind

If any of the below resonate with you then you are not alone! Mental conditioning exercises can help to improve any of the following states.

  1. you do not have well – defined goals or goals specificity (may lack direction)
  2. you perform better in practice than you do competition.
  3. you are Self Conscious; you worry about what others think about your game.
  4. you maintain many self-doubts about your ability before or during the wod.
  5. you worry about letting others down by not performing up to others expectations.
  6. you suffer from Anxiety, worry or excess tension before, during and after a competitive wod.
  7. pre-game jitters do not go away after the first few minutes of competing.
  8. you attach yourself worth to how well you perform.
  9. you go through the motions physically without mental focus or intensity.
  10. you have trouble of letting go of a ‘bad performance’ which may enable you to take the lesson from it and move on.

One of the main foundations of mental conditioning is GOAL SETTING.


Now the first step in setting the goals you want to achieve seems easy. But in truth, setting true goals can be much more difficult.

Speaking recently to an athlete about their goals, they wanted to contribute to a team score in the 2017 CrossFit Open. When asked about their nutritional focus, the athlete replied “leanness…” which is actually counterproductive to his performance! So is the open his true goal… or is it a 6 pack?

Goal setting is a mental technique tool and one of the most important when it comes to applying strategy. Sounds easy right? Set a goal then execute it! Well it isn’t, so a good way to avoid failure at this first step is simply to write the goal down.

Your goal should terrify and excite you at the same time.

Ultimately your ‘athletic’ goal should take you out of your comfort zone. As a athlete you are not afraid of hard work, but our beliefs and emotions can often get in the way and distract us from our goal.

This is why we have set a whole work shop and series of articles specifically on mental conditioning and goal setting.


With the Open only 8 weeks away, many Crossfitters (of all levels) are preparing and defining their own goals, reasons and expectations. Whatever your standard, however much time you are able to put into programming, nutrition, recovery and training, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by any goal that you set. Here are a few principles that we teach to our athletes.

  • We get athletes to set their Goal then REVERSE ENGINEER it.
  • We teach taking the Goal and breaking it right down to daily ones which turns the focus to progress not perfection.
  • Setting realistic and challenging short term goals provides a sense of direction thereby increases motivation.
  • Challenging realistic goals helps athletes get into their optimal Energy Zone and direct that energy to the task in hand
  • Effective goals direct athletes attention to what they need to focus onto succeed
  • Although striving to win is important focusing on winning can create excessive stress
  • When athletes perceive the challenge not as winning, but as achieving their own realistic set of performance goals, the challenge will always be near the athletes present skill level and will create an optimal skill challenge balance
  • Consistent goal attainment, raises self-confidence.

Ultimately GOAL SETTING enables you to Get Real, to stay in your own lane, be accountable for your own actions and move forward confidently, acknowledging and celebrating your small victories and trusting yourself along the way.

‘Be stubborn about your Goals and flexible about your methods’

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