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Get in the Game – The Mental Game

Posted on by Alycia

Mind over matter. There are times when our mind tells us ‘nah’ and our bodies listen. Other times, our inner monologue is a bit more optimistic, and we end up doing things that we didn’t think we could do. What do experienced lifters do when consistent training, real-food eating, and sleep/stress management aren’t enough to cause PR’s in the gym? We get them anyway. Here’s how:

1. Train with someone stronger.

When we head to the racks to lift, consider jumping in with a group of people who normally lift (a little) more than you. Yes, you’ll have to do a few more weight plate changes, but you’ll soon see the magic of observing how stronger people lift. You’ll notice how hard the last few reps look for them, and you might realize that your last few reps don’t ever look as difficult. Could you go up an extra five pounds and still make your lifts?  Lifting with stronger people usually means that you are lifting with people who have been coming to the gym for longer than you have. They have probably seen the same plateaus that you are seeing, they also started out lifting less than they are now, and they will most likely be more than willing to give you some pieces of advice for how to make progress over time.

2. Strategize.

When we are lifting, make sure you check Wodify BEFORE going over to the rack. Know your goal weight for the day, know how much time you have, how many minutes one set + rest takes, and do the math from there. Use that info to determine your starting weight, your ending weight, and fill in the appropriate amount of gaps in between with numbers that make sense. If you normally find yourself lifting a moderate, but not-too-heavy weight as we move onto the metcon, consider doing fewer sets, and making bigger jumps in weight each time. If you are someone who fails a lift at almost every class, consider doing the opposite. Get stronger by getting in a higher volume of work at a lower percentage of your max.

When doing a metcon, make sure that you listen to the coaching points that are given at the beginning of the class. If the coach says” this should be a sprint” then you know that you have no business resting between burpees. Start fast and hang on for dear life. On the other hand, if the workout is 20 minutes long, and you are using 70% of your max weight for a lift that you don’t love to do, you will want to pace yourself to get more rounds done overall.  It’s also important to know your personal style. Some people like to work in short bursts and take frequent, very short breaks. Others get through long stretches of work, followed by long stretches of time spent resting. Find your personal workout style and commit to getting 5-10% more work done in every metcon.

3. Don’t count.

This is the opposite of the last tip, and it’s for those who tend to use the numbers to their detriment. These people sometimes choose too few poker chips when counting rounds. They know their max numbers, and frequently won’t let themselves lift more than that because they aren’t sure that they can. For this group, it pays to listen to your body, and stop concentrating so much on the numbers. You may have noticed the 15lb rubber bumper plates that we now have in the gym. The first few times you use them, it’ll probably take an extra few seconds to do the math to figure out how much is on your bar. Why not skip those few seconds and continue to increase your weight in manageable increments until you can’t lift any more? If you keep saying that you ‘can only lift X amount of weight’, you’ll end up lifting only that amount of weight. If you lift those constraints and recognize the sky’s the limit, you might end up making faster progress.

In metcons, try to spend less time staring at the clock “We still have a whole ten minutes left?!” and start spending more time concentrating on your movements, your speed and minimizing rest taken between movements. You might just surprise yourself.

4. Pick someone to beat.

CrossFit is your own sport. It’s you versus the clock. You versus the weights. You versus yourself. BUT you have a room full of people who are also trying to do the same thing. Use that to your advantage!  First, get used to using the Wodify whiteboard to find a person who consistently lifts a little more than you, and another person who consistently goes a little faster than you (and uses the same weight) in metcons. These are you point people. For the next few weeks, use these people as gauges for your own progress. You might notice that your point people all of the sudden make some big improvements to their game. Once the bar is raised, your own goals and aspirations may also get bigger. After all, someone just proved that it can be done. If he can do it, so can I.

Similarly, when you are in class, choose to set your bar up next to someone who consistently goes a little faster than you, and try to keep up with them. You might not finish as fast as that person in the end, but you probably moved a bit faster than you normally would, thus making personal improvements to your own performance. SIDE NOTE: You never know who is using you as their point person. Most of us in this gym who are naturally strong, fast or who have been training here for more than 8 months are someone else’s point person. Someone out there is stalking your numbers on the Wodify whiteboard, or peering over at you during metcons. Use that knowledge to help raise the bar for yourself, and for everyone in the gym.

5. Practice at 80%.

This tip is not just for the mental game – it’s a physical tactic for making real gains. At CrossFit Aspire, we are more concerned with creating strength than testing it. We spend more time doing sets of 5 reps than sets of 1. Because you don’t get strong doing single reps. You get strong doing 5’s, and occasionally you test your strength to see what you can do for one.  Using that thinking, you can apply this to your lifting by picking a month to train at sub maximal weights, knowing that you will have perfect form on all reps, and will never drop the weights. Forcing yourself to concentrate on form and consistency over the number of pounds on the bar, will get you stronger and will give you the confidence you need to try more in the future. If you drop the bar in almost every class, then you are telling yourself that you are someone who fails every day. That’s not a good place to be. Drop your weight down a bit, hit your lifts (all of them) for a month or so, and then try to lift more. We guarantee that you will be stronger.

The same principle applies to conditioning workouts. If you take a few days each month to ignore the clock and concentrate on efficiency of movement (doing perfect, fast, short-dip push presses, rather than back-bending, pressing-out quasi push presses), getting all reps done in one big set (which would require slowing down) or not resting at all between movements (ie: picking up your jump rope less than 2 seconds after putting down your kettlebell), you’ll be improving your chances of going faster and getting more work done in the future.


To reiterate, these are useful tactics for getting yourself out of a strength or conditioning slump. They are not long-term solutions, but rather short-term bright spots in your training that will help you get to your next mini-goal along the road to fitness. Consistent training, clean eating, extra sleep and stress management will do a lot more to cause actual fitness level improvements. But when all else fails, or if you’re just having a bad day, turn it around in the gym using these simple, but effective mind games.



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