How to Improve Your Mental
Strength to Push Through a Hard Workout From the Beachbody On Demand Blog - September 20, 2018 |
BY: Brittany Risher
In the middle of a
HIIT workout , when your shirt is soaked
through with sweat and youre about to start yet another round of
burpees, its not uncommon to think, I cant do this. I
cant even do one more rep. But whats sending that message
your body or your brain? Are your muscles truly getting tired, or is it
just your mental strength thats waning?
While its always important to
listen to your body and never push
yourself to the point of
injury , sometimes your brain can prevent
your body from doing all that it can. When it comes to performing
feats of athleticism whether
thats competing in an
IRONMAN or trying to hold a plank just a
little bit longer mental toughness plays a huge role in what you can
accomplish. Luckily anyone can develop mental strength. Just like training for
a race or learning to do pull-ups, its something that takes time to
master. The more you practice it, the more benefits youll see.
Why Being Mentally Tough Matters
Outside the weight room, mental strength
helps you get through the ups and downs of life, like criticism at work or
dealing with a breakup.
When it comes to fitness, being mentally
strong and having grit means you can crush your training, even when you want to
give up. Endurance athletes, like those who compete in
IRONMAN races, especially benefit from
being mentally strong.
In order to succeed, such athletes have to
become experts at not only enduring physical unpleasantness, but overcoming it,
too. Thats why we interviewed a handful of
the best triathletes in the world , in
addition to exercise psychologists, to learn their secrets on improving mental
strength and pass them on to you.
[Endurance athletes] need intrinsic
motivation to succeed, as these sports require lengthy periods of focusing and
managing physical discomfort, explains Jennifer Carter, Ph.D., a
counseling and sport psychologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. You
might not be
training for a triathlon anytime soon, but
mental strength can help you get through a hard workout and achieve your goals
faster. Ready to work your brain? Lets get gritty.
10 Ways to Improve Mental Strength During
a Hard Workout
1. Talk to yourself
Maybe not aloud and in public (you might
get some looks), but thinking I can do this! or keep
pushing! can make a workout seem less strenuous. In a small study
published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and
Performance, men who used
motivational self-talk completed a
10-kilometer time trial faster and with more power than those who did not. That
was despite reporting no change in perceived effort.
[Motivational self-talk] allows you
to do more work without it feeling more strenuous because it provides you a way
to keep persevering despite high levels of exertion, says Alister
McCormick, Ph.D., a registered sport and exercise psychologist.
2. Cue up your playlist
Lose yourself in your favorite songs when
you feel your mental strength wavering. Listening to music while exercising has
been shown to
reduce perceived exertion ,
increase work output , and
make you enjoy the workout more . Scientists believe music
stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine and
endorphins, which are associated with feelings of
reward and a natural high ,helping decrease perceived
pain. Researchers say
the best music is music you like , so cue up your favorite
Spotify playlist and get to it!
3. Take it one step at a time
Its a bit daunting to think,
Ill race this entire IRONMAN,' says triathlete Joe Gambles,
whos been competing at an elite level since the age of 16. So I try
and break down a race into smaller chunks first the swim, then the first
transition, then the first 10 miles on the bike, etc. that way I can
chip away at [the whole race]. McCormick says such chunking
helps you focus on one thing at a time, and breaks a daunting task into more
manageable pieces. It doesnt matter whether thats 10 miles of an
ultramarathon or a set of lunges this tactic can help you stay motivated
no matter what task youre trying to complete.
4. Follow a checklist
Focusing on the little things is key,
McCormick says. Its about pacing. Whether youre
running at 10K or
lifting weights , you dont want to
do too much work too soon. But you also dont want to underachieve,
he says. To find the perfect pace, he suggests checking in on things relevant
to your performance, which is exactly what IRONMAN athlete Michellie Jones
I try to focus on something simple
like keeping my pedaling smooth and round [on the bike] and remembering to
breathe and relax my shoulders [on the run], says Jones, who has more
than 175 career victories. And whos to argue with that kind of success?
5. Think about your goals
Reflecting on why youre exercising
can help you stay in the game. Remind yourself of your goals. Think about
how good it will feel to cross the finish line [or complete the workout], and
then focus on what you need to do to make that happen, Carter suggests.
6. Think about your loved ones
Training for an endurance event requires a
lot of time time that could have been spent hanging out with friends or
doing something fun with your kids. I always think of the family and
friends I have sacrificed time with to get my training done, and how
disappointed they might be if Im not giving it everything I have,
says IRONMAN athlete Leon Griffin, who entered his first triathlon as a
teenager. If I give anything less than that, I feel like Im
cheating them as well as myself. You may not be training for something as
grueling as an IRONMAN, but reflecting on what youre giving up by doing a
workout may help you give every minute all youve got.
7. Be grateful
During a workout, its hard to think
about anything but how
sore your muscles are and how much
sweat is dripping off your nose. But
consider thinking about how awesome it is that you get to do that workout.
In mentally tough moments, I always put myself in a state of
gratitude, shares Siri Lindley, who was inducted into the USA Triathlon
Hall of Fame in 2016. I think about how lucky I am to have two arms, two
legs, a strong beating heart, and the ability, opportunity, and desire to be
out pushing myself to the limits. The minute I go into thinking about what I am
grateful for, I automatically start feeling better, inspired, and wanting to
celebrate the opportunity to dig deep.
8. Soak up the support
The crowds are often the best part of any
athletic event, with their hilarious signs and energetic cheering. But you can
also find support in a fitness studio, sports team, or online community .
When other people give you encouragement, it makes massive effects,
Group workouts, like
Beachbody LIVE! classes, are led by an
enthusiastic instructor who can help you get over a mental block. Feeding off
the energy of others in a class can also motivate you to push yourself just a
little bit harder. Even having a virtual community keeping you accountable can
do wonders on the days when you feel like giving up. Check out the Beachbody On
Demand community to find your own online support system.Whether in the
gym or a race, [encouragement from others] can be beneficial to help you keep
persevering, McCormick says.
This might be the easiest tip yet. Putting
on a happy face is probably the last thing you want to do when grunting through
rep after rep, but Jones swears it works. A smile goes a long way
it gives you a boost mentally and physically. It helps even if its
forced, she says. This simple trick doesnt take a lot of effort,
but it could be just the thing you need to push yourself through to the end.
10. Embrace the pain cave
When all else fails, sometimes you simply
have to accept that enduring a bit of pain (in the form of deep, muscle-burning
agony, not acute injury) is part of becoming stronger, faster, and fitter. The
pain cave is the most grueling part of a workout or race, and is
well known among endurance racers.
Embracing the pain is part and parcel
of the sport, says Emma-Kate Lidbury, a podium regular on the IRONMAN and
IRONMAN 70.3 circuits. I view it as a privilege to be able to push my
body and mind to their limits. How will you cope with [the pain]? Can you keep
pushing? Push through your boundaries and see what happens. Thats the
really fun part!
Others say embracing the pain makes them
more competitive . I know that if
Im in the pain cave, my competitors are likely deep in that cave
too, explains IRONMAN pro Matt Lieto. It becomes a game of
whos most content to live there the longest.
As long as the pain isnt alarming and
wont lead you to an injury, finding comfort in the uncomfortable can help
build grit and stamina, and make you feel like a baller when its time for
your cooldown. Muscular fatigue is a sign that we are effective in our
training, and many athletes experience a high after particularly intense
workouts, Carter says.
So the next time you mentally hit a wall
during a workout, call upon some of these tips to boost your mental strength
and see just how strong you really are.