The Mental Side
Today we are going to tackle the mental side of training and sport. Mark Twight has said that “the mind is primary.” Having the headspace to train, compete and win is just as important as the physical tools. I think most people gloss over the mental side and figure that if the training is “hard” then that is enough to prepare themselves for the real task/event that awaits them at the end. In this post I will lay out a few of the techniques that I use for myself and my athletes to train the mind to compete and win. One key thing to note is that this is done with a purpose. I don’t look at improving the mind and its resilience to adversity as a side note. Workouts, habits and training events are planned with the purpose of improving those traits.
Consistency. This is a habit and should be part of what the athlete looks for in themselves and the coach looks for in their athlete. Do you make excuses about missing training, eating poorly, or sleeping too little? Can you never find the time to do mobility and recovery? If you do make those excuses then you are lacking consistency. Being constant in your pursuit of top level performance will pay dividends when the chips are down. This seems obvious from a physical perspective, but it also is very important in the development of a proper mindset. Every day you train, eat right and hit your recovery is a mental win. You become accustomed to doing and finishing the task, regardless of life circumstances. This will translate into race day where you will remember the time you got the work in even when life wasn’t perfect.
Feedback. Feedback is a key to positively improving your view of yourself and your abilities. Its also useful to let you know if your methods, work ethic etc are not producing results. Certain sports lend themselves well to this. Run 5 miles today. Now run it again in 2 months. Did you get faster or slower? If faster then you can “feel good” about what you are doing. If slower then go back to the drawing board and see what you need to change. It can be more difficult in other sports. In CrossFit, the mantra has been “observable and repeatable”, but other than tracking lifts, CrossFit Athletes often go overboard in the “varied” model of workouts and forget to ensure they repeat workouts to ensure progress is being made. For mountain athletes it gets even tougher. Early in your training it is important to pick a hiking route, ski touring route, or climbing route that encompasses some of what will be part of your goal and make sure that you hit that route on a fairly regular basis to ensure you are seeing improvement. Tracking and seeing your improvement will give you greater confidence when it is time for the big day.
Training sessions that are just about of reach. Not every day of training should be a shit storm. In fact most shouldn’t. But it is important to set tasks that on the face seem impossible. Most people struggle to define a task that fits in this category. They either make it way to hard or way to easy. Find someone to help you with this. Every 2-3 weeks, you should have a training session that pushes some component of your fitness past what you think is possible. It can be in the form of duration, load, difficulty or even time of day. Challenge yourself and then grow more confident that obstacles are not roadblocks.
Attaching consequences to failure. Winning isn’t everything, its the only thing. Ever heard that before? Mainstream athletes know this intuitively. And mountain athletes, who likely don’t use the term “winning,” do in fact know this as consequences for failure can be quite high. If during your training there is never a consequence for not hitting your target pace, weight or route then where are you going to find that next gear on game day? Consequences can come in the form of additional work, telling everyone you sucked today, repeating the failed effort the next week or simply a big introspection on to why the failure occurred. We grow from failure but we need to acknowledge and pay for it.
Putting yourself in a position where finishing is the only option. I often run loops or hike loops during my day to day training. But during my long runs or hikes I will often go for an out and back where the out portion puts me in a place where even if I go to shit that day, the only option is to go back to where I came from. Put yourself in training situations where there is no way out except to finish. Having an out, can often lead you to taking that out. Ive been there. It might feel good at the time, but it will haunt you later. Train your mind to know and believe that you will finish no matter what the cost.
Train in less than perfect conditions and circumstances. This one is simple. Don’t let the temperature, weather, time of day or location be some limiting factor on why you got your ass kicked. Train as you fight. If it could be hot, train in the heat. If you might go all night, have some training session in sleep deprivation. It doesn’t and shouldn’t always be perfect. Don’t have your favorite shoes that day. Good. Train in your jeans and your work shoes. Learn to deal. It will pay dividends physically but the more important thing to know and believe that no matter what the conditions you will overcome.
If you are taking the time and effort to train your body, don’t forget that the mind will fail you if it doesn’t receive the same amount of attention.