You’ve registered for the Open! Congratulations! Whether you joined CrossFit last week or you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s an exciting time to be a CrossFit athlete. When we gather around the screen to watch the Workout of the Day (WOD) announcements, we go through a variety of different thoughts and feelings: “Oh wow, that’s going to suck.” “I can do that this year!” “Yay!!! Those ______ are my favorite!” “Ugh! I hate doing _____!” The feelings that follow us into the 3…2…1… countdown can range from solid confidence in our ability to crush this, to debilitating anxiety that makes it hard to get a good deep breath.
The difference between the athletes who will recruit every last shred of muscle and grit to complete these WODs has a lot to do with who has trained the hardest. And not just physically. There is another side to training that most of us neglect even more than we neglect our mobility training (I’m looking at you, athlete that skips post-WOD mobility…).
I’m talking about mental skills training and your ability to visualize your performance before you ever walk up to the bar, to use narrow, task-driven focus, to transform anxiety into excitement, to calm your body so it can do what it has been trained to do, and to put set-backs behind you so they don’t get in the way of the present task.
Visualization is the term used to describe mentally practicing for an upcoming challenge. It involves imagining, in as vivid detail as possible, what the challenge will be like. Mentally practicing the emotions and skills you’ll need to recruit to be successful can be a huge help: if you need to relax, imagine calming yourself; if you need to get pumped, imagine intensity. Imagine how you will cope with failed lifts and how you’ll pace yourself. Having a plan for best and worst case scenarios will boost your confidence.
Speaking of confidence, knowing that you have the skills to perform a task is just as important as physically having the skills. Being able to climb a rope is not going to get you up there if you’re too afraid to leave the ground. Confidence in your own strength and skill set increases positive emotions, makes concentration easier, increases effort, increases psychological momentum, and turns obstacles into goals. Confidence is developed by stock-piling evidence that we can overcome and succeed. Even if your progress is measured in baby steps, success breeds success. Reminding yourself how hard you’ve worked, that you’ve faced challenges before, and that you are a badass who won’t back down, can go a long way.
Your level of confidence has a huge influence on your self-talk, or the running commentary we all have going in our heads every minute we are awake. Our self-talk can be encouraging: You can handle this, you’re ready; or it can be defeating: Wow, you are really dying out here! No way you can catch up with her now… Imagine if you had a crowd of people watching you do 16.1. Do you want them shouting encouragement or booing and hissing every time you get no-repped? Most of us would choose the encouraging crowd but many of us yell internal negativity and then wonder why we got lapped. Most of us know who we would prefer to be our judges in competition settings: the coach who knows just what we need to hear when we’re struggling, the member whose enthusiasm never flags, the workout buddy who pushes you to perform your best. Identify what you like to hear from others when you’re performing, and then provide it for yourself!
All of these skills are in service of the same goal: preparing yourself to use all the physical strength and skills that you’ve been developing. When your mental skills and your physical skills are complementary, there is nothing keeping you from performing your best. Anxiety becomes excitement and fear becomes determination. When you train your mental skills like you train your lifts, nothing can hold you back.