Mental Toughness Training: Finding a Way
Mental toughness and the methodology behind it, is hard to define. For the CF athlete we find training vehicles that on the surface appear to be soul crushing via a form of pushing, pulling and lifting. In his book The Invictus Mindset, CJ Martin says, "Mediocre performers quit long before they ever reach their goals and dreams. They allow fear and self-doubt to prevent them from achieving their highest potential. The common denominator amongst the failures is a lack of mental fortitude and a stagnant mindset. The most successful people in any industry consistently have on thing in common: mental toughness."
Scholars define mental toughness as an unshakable perseverance and the conviction towards some goal despite pressure or adversity.
Mental toughness is multi-dimensional and consists of several components, including: self-efficacy, mental self-concept, task familiarity, value, personal bests, goal commitment, perseverance, task focus, positivity, stress minimization, and positive comparisons.
I am fortunate enough to be able to work with a wide variety of athletes such as doctors, stay at home mothers, school counselors and special operations soldiers. It is my belief that every person can benefit from Mental Toughness training from time to time.
Every day we are put into varying degree of stressful situations. Some more than others. With proper training and the right mindset I believe that you can lower how much that stress impacts your life by willingly putting yourself through tough times and reflecting on how you felt before, during and after.
The physical work that is performed in mental toughness training provides a platform from which we can develop our better self. So, how do you conduct a Mental Toughness training session.
There are many different ways to conduct this type of training but one of my favorites and one of the most effective ways is the "EMOM" or Every Minute on the Minute method. The time domain will vary but for your first couple of sessions start off with 20 minutes. After your first couple of sessions you can add another 10 minutes and continue to build after that.
Exercise selection will be different for each person depending on your experience and skill level. But you want to select a couple of movements that you can't fail due to technique break down or muscular endurance limitations. A few examples can be burpees, burpee box jump overs, kettlebell swings, airdyne and wall-balls. More advanced athletes can use gymnastics movements such as double unders, hand stand push-ups and muscle-ups.
Reps will be low enough that you can complete the exercises in the allotted time, have a little bit of rest and still be manageable.
Here's an example of a few training sessions that we have successfully used:
Every 90 Seconds for 30 Minutes(E90S30M): 7 burpee box jump overs (BBJO) and 30 double unders.
E90S30M: 5 BBJO and 20 double unders (bigger athlete)
E90S30M: 5 BBJOand 5 calories on the airdyne (athlete with less skill)
E90S30M: 7 BBJO and 10 calories on airdyne (athlete with less skill and bigger engine)
E90S21M: 7 BBJO and 9 kettlebell swings @ 53/35#
E90S21M: 5 BBJO and 7 kettlebell swings
How to conduct E90S30M. Complete the prescribed number of reps and then rest until the next 90 second mark comes up and then go again. In the first 5 or so sets you should finish with about 30 seconds left and then your rest times will slowly dwindle away until you are left with 10-15 seconds between sets, that's when real self motivation takes effect.
A few rules for the coach when conducting this type of training. Watch the athletes and make sure they can meet the time hack each time. Don't prescribe numbers that only your elite athletes can meet each time. Come up with a baseline and adjust reps by 1 or 2. For some people doing 6 burpee box jump overs instead of 7 can make or break the session. Watch your athletes closely. If they are running into 10-15 sec breaks in the first set then take a 1 or 2 reps away. If it's set 10 and they still have 30 seconds break each time then add 1 or 2 reps. Take mental notes of your athletes and talk to them about what they were feeling and thinking. Around minute 12-15 funny things will start to happen and you will start so see your athletes body language change.
Rules for the Athlete. You must start the next round. When you time mark hits you must immediately do 1 rep. If doing burpees, as soon as both your feet touch the ground get down. Remember you can always step over a box. When you rest, stand tall, chest up and eyes open. Do not bend over and assume a positions of defeat. Stand next to whatever equipment you are using. You can't run away from adversity, look it in the eye. Most importantly, POSITIVE SELF TALK. Your attitude and outlook are 100% controllable.
I personally did the E90S30M: 7 Burpee box jump overs and 30 double unders. Around minute 21 I had a hard time trying to do the math of when my next 90 sec mark was coming up. After that a buddy would tell me when to go. Intrinsic motivation kept me going but math skills were out the window. So make sure you write all of your time hacks on the board!
Others have said it's comparable to the 7 stages of grief. You will hit highs and lows. keep breathing, keep moving and reflect on everything you went through when you are finished.
With all of that said and simply put, life will attempt to beat you down and keep you there. It doesn't matter if you are a soldier, first responder, an elite athlete or a stay at home mom. Life will be you down if you let. Keep your chin up and move towards the sound of gun fire.
By training to work through pain and doubt, by turning off the "quitting" part of your brain, you prepare to meet life head on. When you find yourself facing despair and doubt you will have already trained yourself to know that you can beat it because you have defeated it in the past.
Add this in every once in a while and let me know what you think! If you have any questions comment below or feel free to email me at any time.