When coaches train athletes, they do more than just introduce them to the best strength and conditioning exercises. They also use subtly integrated mental toughness training to help the athlete identify, focus on, and achieve their goals. This is one of the reasons why so many athletes seem to have that extra spark that allows them to train harder, run faster, or endure more than a “normal” human: their minds have been given the same strength and conditioning training as their bodies.
You can utilize some of these same techniques in your own workouts to give your mind the same edge as those professional body builders and athletes that seem a cut above.
Understand Value to Understand the Brain
When we talk about strengthening the mind, what we’re really talking about is strengthening a person’s ability to make good decisions quickly. When a person decides to work harder, run faster, or train better, then they will do just that. But simply saying “I’m going to work harder” isn’t the same as actually deciding on a subconscious level to do so, which is why you need to tap into understand the brain and why the value of your workouts matter so much.
The brain has two basic decision-making processes. One of these works by making snap decisions; it’s your “gut,” or instinct. The other works to double-check the decisions made by the first process. Both are based on the value that your brain chemicals have learned to place on an option. For example: if you were given one million dollars to run a marathon with just a few weeks training, chances are that you’d work a lot harder to run that marathon than if you were given just five dollars.
The greater the benefit of doing the work versus not doing the work, the harder your brain will work with you. If you can identify and focus on the value of your strength and conditioning training, your brain’s subconscious decision making process is much more likely to give you that extra bit of motivation.
To Better Predict Value, Track Progress
So now that you know that mental toughness in the gym is all about understanding the value of the work, you’re ready to understand the next most important aspect: the brain cannot accurately predict the benefits of the work without data. All those “Before and After” photos that you see around the web are more than just “fitspiration” to look at when you need a boost. They are actually providing the brain with necessary data to help predict the value of the strength and conditioning work you’re putting in.
This is why it’s essential that you track your own progress as your body changes. Keep track of how much you can lift; keep track of how many reps you can do to failure; keep track of your measurements and weight if those are important to your goals. Whatever progress it is that you are making, track it religiously to give your brain as much data as possible. With more understanding of the value of the workout, the brain will produce more chemicals and give you even more “oomph” when you need it most.
Think Like a Coach
Coaches have the unique ability to see the value of an athlete’s goals and workouts from the outside. When you’re trying to fine tune your mental toughness to give you an edge in your workouts, you need to step back and think like a coach. Consider your goals, and how each exercise that you’re doing affects those goals. Then you’ll be able to define the value, and work from there to improve your mental toughness and stamina.