CrossFit is a tough sport. There’s no doubt about it. But as a collective, we all know that some workouts are easier than others. For example, we can all agree that Murph just sucks.
No matter what ability you are or how long you’ve been doing CrossFit, if a workout comes up, that’s not in your wheelhouse, you know it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs. So, when this happens, what can you do?
Heading into a challenging workout is one thing. It requires some mental strength for about 5 minutes, but what happens when you’re turning up to the gym and every workout has turned into a slog? What do you do when you have zero motivation to even turn up to the gym?
In today’s article, I dissect the difference between just “turning up to the gym, cherry-picking workouts” and being 100% all-in obsessed and having a blast at every session.
Achieving Mental Toughness
While researching for this article, I began to reflect on my sporting career and mental strength compared to my performance. For example, before I started CrossFit (7 years ago), I swam. In short, swimming is a sport where you spend 25 hours a week (minimum) swimming up and down with your head in the water – and if you were a sprinter like me, you would only spend under 30 seconds racing.
As much as I still enjoy being in the water, I wouldn’t put it up there in the “most fun” category of sports. But one particular race sprung to mind when it came to mental strength, and over the past 10 years, I haven’t experienced anything like it again.
It was the final of the British Championships for the 50m freestyle. It was my very last race of the whole competition, and rightly so; my coach’s one strategy was just – “Go hard, and don’t leave anything left in the tank”.
Makes sense – let’s go.
The buzzer goes, and the race begins. For the next 15 seconds, I don’t particularly remember too much. I just went into the “dark hole”. I saw the 5m flags, and that was it – “How fast can I get to the wall (time pads)?”.
Here’s the thing. I was so determined to swim as fast as I possibly could that I kind of forgot the race has an endpoint, and in swimming, it’s a pretty hard stop.
My right arm reached out for the wall and hit it hard. My arm locked, and I effectively went through my arm. I dislocated my elbow and tore the ligaments in my wrist in the process. It was safe to say that I smashed my coach’s strategy. I went hard.
The question is, was it worth it? Well, I got a PR, so I will leave that for you to decide.
The point of my story is to break through mental barriers. Pushing through limitations you put on yourself because you don’t believe it’s possible. If you had told me that I would dislocate my elbow at the start of the race, I might not have even started. I certainly wouldn’t have PR’d.
Occasionally, we can surprise ourselves by taking a leap of faith, facing our fears and going for the things that have been stopping us from progressing in the gym and life. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
But what happens if it isn’t obvious? What if you’re being blind-sighted from what you need to do next to become an RX CrossFit athlete?
I’d say everyone at some point in CrossFit has felt this, and you may not even know that this has ever happened to you.
Over the years, I’ve met numerous CrossFitters at every stage in their journey. The story I’ve heard repeatedly is when you’ve been doing CrossFit consistently for 18 months, you’ve smashed through what you thought was possible, and you’ve been racking up some incredible PR’s quite comfortably as your muscles have been adapting to your new lifestyle.
But that’s not happened for quite some time now.
You can proficiently move the barbell, knock out some kipping pull-ups and feel comfortable doing most class workouts as prescribed – you might even be able to smash out 100 double under unbroken, no problem!
But just like when you start dating a new person, CrossFit is no longer as fun and exciting as it used to be. You go to the gym because you “have to go”.
I’m not going to run because “x” body part hurts, or you may even have started taking more “rest days” as work commitments have started to “build up”. When it’s because you don’t like running, you’re no longer prioritizing CrossFit as much as you used to, and as a result, you feel less motivated overall. You’re feeling a little lost possibly – am I right?
You thought starting CrossFit was hard? Well, now the real work comes in.
Find Your Why – Stay Motivated in CrossFit
When you first started CrossFit, you might have sought out to “get fitter”, “try something new”, or you just wanted to look God damn sexy when naked. Whatever your reason was when you first started, that might have changed now you’ve achieved those first few goals.
Now, you have to establish where you want to go. Simple enough, right?
No – once again, even this is a tough decision. The problem is that there are multiple choices you can make here and that could paralyze you. The paradox of choice is a kicker. Think of it this way, in Starbucks (*other coffee brands available), there are hundreds of combinations of drinks you can possibly buy. However, most of the time, I will bet you will order the same drink. CrossFit is the same.
You might just want to get better at your engine, gymnastics, lifting, be able to compete at a higher level or look even sexier naked. That’s a quick list, never mind drilling down into the nuances of each of those categories – no wonder it’s hard to pick a direction!
That brings me full circle – finding your why.
There are numerous traps you can fall into when finding your why, and the first is trying to follow what everyone else is doing. Typically, the longer you do CrossFit, the more likely you will be complete, but that isn’t for everyone.
Yes, if you’ve never done one before, and If the thought of it scares the living bejesus out of you, then that’s precisely the reason why you should push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do it, go for it, and have fun with it.
So, here’s what you can do to find out what will give you the most fulfilment from CrossFit. Grab a paper and pen, and write down the one reason you go to CrossFit. Don’t think about it. Just the first thing that pops into your head. Great.
Cross it out, and write “Why?” underneath it. Ask yourself the question again, and repeat it. Then repeat it again. Keep rinsing and repeating it until you’ve written out “Why” at least 5 times.
You will find the answer at the end will be the most accurate answer. If you have a close friend, partner or family whom you trust, rather than writing it down, allow them to ask you the questions, and you reply back to them.
Reframe Your Self Talk
You’re mid-WOD. Let’s say it’s 10 rounds of barbell cycling and bar-facing burpees, and at this point, you feel like you’ve done the 5000th burpee when in actual fact, you’re only halfway there….. It absolutely sucks.
Your quads are burning. Your lungs are on fire. And your body is overheating so much, you might as well cook an egg on it.
At this moment, every ounce of you just wants to stop. Your thoughts are racing “I can’t do this.”, “I need to stop”, “I’ll just skip a few reps”. If it gives you any comfort – everyone is thinking it.
But, what makes the difference between the people who appear to smash it and the DNFs? It’s all in the mind.
Here are some actions you can take to reframe your mind and negative self-talk so workouts can actually start feeling easier! Yep, it’s a bold statement, but that’s my promise to you.
What you can start saying to yourself is:
- “One more rep”
- Focus on your technique – hit every rep with quality
- “Pick it up”
- “Just keeping moving”
- “Breathe, breatheeee, breathhheeeeeeee”
Ok, I slightly joke for effect on the last one, but concentrating on your breathing does help you to take your mind off your whole body, hurting like hell.
When set with a mammoth task in front of you, whether it’s dying halfway through a workout or just trying to master a new skill (like ring muscle-up), you only need to concentrate on what’s in front of you and not the whole thing.
Take one rep at a time. Take one attempt at a time. If you keep repeating this, all those attempts, they soon add up.
Be Strict With Your Routine
As previously mentioned, it’s very easy to let other life commitments take precedence over CrossFit, and you soon find yourself taking more rest days than you would like.
I certainly know the feeling of coming home from a long day at work, feeling exhausted, knowing full well I don’t want to go to CrossFit – “just not in the mood”.
But here’s the catch. You’re never going to be “in the mood”. It’s never going to be the right time to start that thing you wanted to do. Life is, unfortunately, not optimal.
Before allowing yourself to default back to the mean, and slide into the very comfortable life of binge-watching the next Netflix TV series – give yourself 5 seconds and think, what’s the minimum amount of effort I could put in?
For example, when I feel like today is not my day, I will tell myself, “If I go to the gym and just sit on the bike for 30 minutes, I will feel better”. I can come home and relax then. So that’s what I will do.
9 out of 10 times, I will spend 10 minutes on the bike, 10 minutes chatting (*gossiping) with everyone, and by that time, I’ll start my actual training I was meant to do that day – “well, I’m already there, right? Might as well do it?”
So, when I say “be strict with your routine”, I don’t mean being harsh on yourself, or beating yourself up. Instead, I am recommending that you make your routine as easy as possible to complete.
Do you want to eat healthier? Always make sure healthy food is in the fridge, and you have to physically go out to the shops to buy the more calorie-dense foods.
If you want to go to the gym more? Join a gym that’s as close to your home or work as possible.
Train at a time when it is the path of least resistance. If you are constantly getting interrupted or traffic is at peak rush hour, you’re more likely to go less.
The action to take away is to write down when the best possible time is for you to train and create healthy boundaries around that time. That time is your you time to improve yourself so that you can be better for everyone else around you.
You can discover more ways to stay motivated with CrossFit in WODprep’s new course Strong Mind, which was created in collaboration with Dawn.
Workouts – Test Your New Found Mental Performance
Head coach, CJ of WODprep (Online Training) has broken down some workouts that will really test you. These workouts are designed to be hard, and this is the time to be redlining by the end.
In training, we never recommend you should be “competing” every session, but in this instance, we’re testing your mind and not your body.
So grab a buddy, and get a little competitive with them. Be really sneaky, and only show them this article after the WOD.
Crash and Burn
10 Rounds For Time
- 8 Hang Power Snatch @75/55
- 10 Bar Facing Burpees
Core of Steel
12 Minute AMRAP
- 3 Wall walks
- 6 Deadlifts 185/125
- 9 Box Jump Overs
16 Minute Time Cap
- 200m Run
- 8 Deadlifts @245/165
- 12 Kipping HSPU
- x6 rounds
Raise The Bar
12 Minute Time Cap
- 50 Wall Balls
- 40 Cal Bike
- 30 Deadlifts @185/125 lbs
- 20 Muscle Up
WODprep will help you to push through your mental barriers (safely) and level up your performance with new free workouts posted weekly. You can discover more here.
Putting It All Together
Mental toughness won’t be achieved overnight, but once you’re on the path of taking one step at a time, you’re one step closer to achieving it.
As a result, you will feel happier, more fulfilled and focused on your purpose. CrossFit is a platform to help you be the best you can be, and these are some of the tools that will help you along the way.
You can learn more on WODprep’s Strong Mind Course, powered by WODprep Academy.
* Article was written in collaboration with Ben Dziwulski from WODprep.
- 2022 BOXROX CF Open Photo Comp Effort and Energy Winner: Elizabeth Flood