Get Stronger by Pushing Through the Wall
If you’ve tuned into any of the Olympic Trials recently, you have surely seen some of the incredible performances that athletes have left on the competitive stage. While these athletes have undergone thousands of hours of physical training, these phenomenal performances go deeper than just physical training. Athletes, like Sydney McLaughlin, the most recent 400m hurdles world record holder, are not impressing the world by staying within their comfort zones. When practicing to push their bodies to their limits, athletes must also practice pushing their minds to those same limits.
The Importance of Mentality
Mental toughness is a measure of resilience and confidence that translates into sport, work, and personal life. During any conditioning, it is expected that you will reach a point of fatigue that feels like the ultimate stopping point. When you reach this point, it will feel impossible to keep pushing at the same intensity. The majority of people listen to their thoughts and they either stop or “take it down a notch”, instead of pushing harder.
These sensations such as burning muscles, heavy breathing, and intense sweating are often considered uncomfortable and foreign feelings. When we approach uncharted territory, our natural human instinct is to slow down or stop entirely. However, reaching peak performance requires pushing through these sensations to reach maximum intensity.
Conditioning is not only essential for athletic development and performance, it is also a great mental training tool for athletes and non-athletes alike. While the physical benefits of conditioning are extensive and include increased power and aerobic capacity, the psychological benefits, including improved confidence and perseverance can be even more rewarding.
How You Can Break Through the Wall
Elite athletes use many strategies to push through the wall. Upon studying these athletes, it has been found that they use strategies such as mental preparation, social support, and goal setting (Baltzell).
Mental preparation comes through practice. Conditioning is a great opportunity to practice self-talk to fight the battle between the body and the mind that is experienced during times of maximal exertion.
Social support involves the understanding that teammates or other group fitness class members are also pushing themselves through their walls. After completing a bout of conditioning, a great feeling of social support comes from giving a shout out to other people who completed the work, giving a high-five, or even just an acknowledging nod to show each other that you are proud of their effort.
Lastly, goal setting is crucial because it allows you to know where you’re going and why you’re pushing yourself. The establishment of a specific goal can be a reminder of why you need to push harder when things get challenging. For athletes, these goals may sound like making varsity, winning a championship, or setting a record. For others, these goals may sound like improving confidence, being able to run around with the grandchildren, or achieving a sense of accomplishment.
How to Practice Mental Training in Conditioning
Before the Workout
- Develop self-talk phrases (i.e. things you would say to someone else if you were helping motivate them)
- Visualize what the workout is going to look and feel like and how you’re going to conquer it
- Plan the mental space you will travel to when your mind struggles to distract focus from the physical sensations
- Set specific goals for yourself and think about how your ability to push through and finish the conditioning session will get you closer to your goals
During the Workout
- Workout with other people and feed off of each other’s energy
- Apply the strategies you prepared before the workout
After the Workout
- Congratulate yourself and those who completed it beside you
- Assess what went well and what could be improved next time
Katie Usher is a new addition to the strength and conditioning team at Olympia Fitness and Performance. She recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island with degrees in Kinesiology and Psychology. While interning at Olympia, she found a love for helping athletes and general fitness clients push themselves to new levels in the gym, on the field, and in life.