If you saw any of the 2014 CrossFit Games in July or any CrossFit games for that matter, I’m sure you noticed some of the incredible physiques cheering in the audience and competing in the arena.
Three years ago, when I first began my CrossFit journey, the emphasis was on cardio. Many, if not most of the athletes and WOD warriors had more a lean and toned look to them. Today, CrossFit has exploded into a more well-rounded and intense training protocol, ala P90X at a level much, much higher. In order to succeed in today’s world, CrossFitters have to be strong, powerful, and able to work for long periods of time. As the sport has evolved, so have the bodies of CrossFitters. They are now bigger and leaner than ever.
In order to survive through the rigorous WODs and other such mayhem that occurs, one needs to have a strong mind, to go along with their strong body. Many of the CrossFit workouts are modeled after elite military Special Forces training, such as the workouts NavySEAL trainees endure during BUD/S class. I have come up with several concepts over the last few years that may help develop a strong mind, and keep focus during your workouts.
Although I’ve applied these mental strategies to my improvement in CrossFit, they aren’t exclusive to CrossFitters. These mental strategies are applicable to everyone—from the competitive bodybuilder to the marathon runner. Use them to make yourself better, no matter your sport or your goal. When you learn how to push your body to the limit, you expect your physique to look better than ever. Having strong mental health and toughness will allow you to succeed where others fail.
Ideal #1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
If you have ever lifted weights before, you know that in order to grow your muscles, you have to gradually move up in the weight stack to continue pushing and growing your muscles. During this time, I’m sure you’ve worked your muscles to failure at least once, or not been able to make that jump from the 70lb to 75lb dumbbell.
These big weights can be scary. They can push you beyond your comfort zone and make you feel like a total wuss. That’s a good thing. The worst thing you can do is be overly hesitant to try again. Don’t live in your comfort zone! Instead of lifting weights you know you can handle all the time, plan for PR attempts, try that bigger dumbbell, and constantly strive to get better every time you walk into the gym.
To CrossFitters, professional weightlifters, big powerlifters, and even college and high-school athletes, fail lifts are part of a positive progression. It is a sign that they are overcoming fear and doubt. Once the fear of the heavier weight is eliminated, you can be persistent in your pursuit of smashing old personal records with giant weights. These big weights are why CrossFitters can pack on big muscle.
Failure should not be looked on as a negative, you simply have found your personal maximum, and need to adapt and adjust your workouts to overcome that max. Change and adjust your routine, then try that max again in a few weeks, and you just may succeed.
Ideal #2 – The Mind Will Always Lead the Body, Not the Reverse
Many folks, whether it’s the typical gymrat, or someone in everyday life, struggle with the concept of pushing themselves beyond the limits of their own expectations or perceived limitations. If you are tired at the gym, you might stop and say, “nah, I don’t feel like that last rep.” Therein lies the problem of why your body is not changing into the physique you desire. Once you stop pushing yourself, your body stops reacting, and the results stop coming. The average CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day) is deliberately designed to fatigue your body to the point where you don’t think you can go on. The lesson in the WODs is that when your body is totally exhausted, you must look for a different energy source. And guess what? Your body will do it.
You must learn to rely on your mind to push you through the suffering. It is in your mentality, not your 20-inch biceps that your true power lies. When you learn to depend on your mind, you’ll be amazed at the unlimited amount of strength and endurance that your body has. Once you discover that your mind can will your tired body to lift heavier weights, do more reps, and perform longer, you can develop a better physique, perform better in sports, or be mentally tougher for any aspect of life.
Ideal #3 – Change Your Weaknesses Into Your Strengths
Spend some time at your local Bally’s, Fitworks or other readily accessible gym, and you’ll typically see the same things. Guys going chest and biceps (the beach muscles) and the women on the treadmill, or doing some bun/butt exercises on the circuit machines. Most people spend the majority of the time at the gym doing their favorite muscle group and exercises.
Sure, you biceps-curlers might have big arms, and you booty-blasters might have tight buns, but eventually your positive body composition changes will come to a disappointing halt. Moreover, exclusively or semi-exclusively training just one or two body parts can make your physique unbalanced, your body more prone to injury, and your overall fitness a joke. Haven’t you ever witnessed guys wearing baggy sweatpants at the gym? That’s because most guys neglect to work their legs, and are embarrassed to show their legs at the gym. In speaking with any manager or trainer at the gym, all of them will tell you that the leg machines and presses are the least used equipment in the place.
To be a good bodybuilder, a good CrossFitter, a good athlete, or even just a fit, healthy person, you must be well-rounded. That means sometimes you have to do movements that you suck at.
Every CrossFittter has a weakness. For me, it was the muscle ups. Due to some injuries I sustained when I was younger, the muscle ups put a tremendous amount of physical strain on my shoulders. I had to train for a long, long time in order to strengthen my shoulders enough to perform even one. For some other people the Olympic lifts or handstand pushups might be their Achilles Heel. To be successful in the gym, you must have the mentality to overcome your weakness. When you work on movements you don’t usually do, you exert your muscles in new ways and recruit different fibers you normally don’t use. This stimulates growth and builds overall muscle in your entire body.