Every cool story begins with, “so there I was,” so I may as well start my first official blog, (not a bad streak for 47 years), with that line.
So there I was, at the end the second round of a four round met-con, (metabolic conditioning for you noobs). The workout consisted of 21/18/15/12 of hang power clean and jerks and pull ups, with a 100 meter run after each round. The weight was 115, which should not have been an issue for me. I’ve been practicing my butterfly-style pull ups every Sunday when I come in to work out, so those should feel ok. The run should have been easy and served as a slight rest period. Needless to say, I walked into that workout with the utmost confidence.
CrossFit has been a part of my life since 2012 and my claim to fame was earning a slot in the Miami Crush Games, which was a two day event that tested every aspect of your fitness. On THIS workout, I recall the coach telling us that there was a 15 minute time cap. No matter, I planned on finishing in 11 minutes or less.
The first round went as smooth as a pinball on a sheet of glass. As a matter of fact, I was keeping pace with some of the real fire breathers in class that day. Life was good. At the end of the second round however, I began to feel the effects of the weightlifting/ gymnastic couplet and hit a wall… hard. I felt like I was hyperventilating, I couldn’t see from all of the sweat in my eyes and my grip was gone.
In a matter of 11 minutes, I went from being on top of the world to wanting to quit. The feeling of quitting was so intense, that I not only wanted to quit the met-con for that day, but I wanted to quit CrossFit completely. I was truly a beaten man at that 11:00 mark.
As my brain feverishly tried to devise a plan to get out of this situation, (feign a back injury, pretend to lose consciousness, or just f*ck everything and run), I began to look around me to see if anyone else was feeling this way. To my amazement, I observed a large part of the class were also on the struggle bus. I saw really good athletes literally on their knees, trying to also work up the inner strength to go on…and it felt great!.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a sadist. I usually feel bad when someone is having a hard time, but in this specific situation, it gave me hope. At that moment, I discovered that there really is something to that whole mutual suffering thing. I saw that I was not alone in this agony. Instead of running out the 15 minute clock by pretending I was dead, I convinced myself that this was a mental toughness issue and that my body could handle this intense workout. I remember an old saying that still holds true: “your body can handle a lot more than your brain thinks it can” . I was capped on that workout at 15 minutes, but that 100 meter cooldown walk at the end of class felt really great that day, because I was able to appreciate that the entire class was feeling just like me at one point or another during that wod.
Let’s face it, CrossFit is not easy. If it was, there would be a CrossFit box on every corner, and everyone would be doing it. While all of the movements are easily adjustable to fit everyone’s current fitness level, and our Shark Bite coaches emphasize and drill proper movement standards into our athletes, there is still that pesky mental toughness problem.
How do we improve our mental toughness you ask? Show up to CrossFit on a consistent basis, that’s how! Treat mental toughness like you would treat your physical fitness, by working on it. By continually stepping out of our comfort zone, we gradually become comfortable being uncomfortable. I used to hate wall balls. After 8 years of doing wall balls, I still hate wall balls. The difference is, I no longer FEAR them. I can do them now, they’re still a pain in the ass, but wall balls no longer give me butterflies in the tummy feeling.
That’s how mental toughness works. Everytime you show up to class, you are also developing an insane amount of mental toughness. Why? Because after the first day of CrossFit, you know what you’re going to experience: the rapid pulse, shortness of breath, sweating like a sweet tea in southwest Florida in August, and wondering if you’re going to survive the wod.
The great thing about training your mental toughness in a CrossFit gym like Shark Bite, is that we are training in a controlled setting. Our coaches will push you way outside of your comfort zone, but we will also do that in the most safest manner possible. All of the coaches do the same workout as athletes do because we are all on the same team here. Our goal as coaches is to develop our athletes both physically and mentally in order to endure and conquer the unknown and unknowable.
We want to see our athletes crush their goals, no matter how big that goal is. The downside to mental toughness is that it is hard to acquire but easy to lose. This is why we need to be consistent in our training. Our beginners should aim for 3 or 4 days a week and eventually build to 4 or 5 with an active recovery day and perhaps some yoga to keep us mindful and present in the moment.
Time for the real benefit of mental toughness:
How does the mental toughness we acquire in the gym translate over to the outside world? The best example I can think of for me specifically is how I handled the quarantine. I gave up drinking alcohol 13 years ago. I was not a fall down, skid row kind of drinker, but it was slowly ruining my life.
Without the mental toughness I gained through CrossFit, I would have used this time as an opportunity to drink, which would have ruined all of the progress I have made up to this point. The best part of training our mental toughness in the gym, is that it carries over to the outside world and in 2020, I think we can all agree that it is one asset we can benefit from.