We’ve all been there before… the middle of a tough set or the last leg of a long run, and our mind says, “STOP!” but we keep going… We must stay focused, we must stay on track, and we must perform…
As athletes, this affects us all. It’s a mind-body connection that can be the greatest asset we use or the biggest blockade to our performance. Staying disciplined, performing under stress, accepting discomfort, and never quitting; these are all attributes of a mentally fit mind. Although a gym setting is technically an artificial environment, the physical stress we put our bodies through not only strengthens our mental fitness during training, but also when performing outside the gym. Mentally, two key things happen when you torture yourself during a grueling training session:
- You build confidence
- Mental toughness is enhanced
Your confidence and toughness go along way in determining how productive your training will be. And simply put, when both of these attributes are properly developed, hard situations outside the gym become less hard.
Mental fitness is not something that comes naturally; it must be trained, just like any other part of the body. It is also mode specific, athletes will physically adapt and the only way to train mental fitness is by adding more stress (weight, reps, time, and distance) and changing up the routine. Time and experience will also help with gaining mental fitness, but your mind can get out of shape just like your body. No matter how mentally fit you were in the past, if you are mentally weak for whatever you are trying to accomplish, then you need to train your mental fitness. Let’s look at a few examples:
- An accomplished long-distance runner or endurance athlete will be able to manage running a 26-mile marathon, but may struggle mentally with a strength routine.
- A powerlifter or strongman, while confident in their strength ability, may suffer though a metabolic conditioning circuit.
- A lifelong rugby player may doubt their ability after coming back from an injury.
Whether it’s taking a day to perform something you’re not good at, or by simply grinding away at your training by adding more reps, more weight, more distance, or less time… Do what makes you uncomfortable, your mind and your body will thank you.
A Few Mental Fitness Training Tips
- Set Goals and Visualize Achievement
Regularly set goals and visualize yourself achieving them. Whether it’s getting through a training session, a set, a ¼ mile, or just getting up early to do all of these, set yourself a goal and accomplish it.
You are good enough and you can do it. Block out your negativity and self-doubt, and persevere. You are a lot stronger physically and mentally than you think you are.
- Push Yourself and Others
While we all strive to become stronger and more physically fit, we must not forget the importance of mental fitness. It’s our duty to push ourselves and those around us to perform not just better, but beyond what has been done before.
One more thing, remember that there is a difference between pain and injury, so push through the pain, but know your limits. Don’t set yourself up for injury.