Mental Preparedness for Tough Workouts

It’s that tough workout again.  The one that you dread.  Like the last time you broke your personal record on the workout Fran – collapsing on the floor with a metal taste in your mouth.  Later you coughed for hours not knowing that you had actually burst tiny blood vessels at the outer edges of your lungs.
Maybe its that upcoming 20k trail run, the Spartan Race or Tough Mudder or going through Hell Week in BUD/S.  No matter the hard task we all seem to cringe up at some point when we think of a tough task ahead.
How do you get jacked up when you know the beat down is coming?  It’s a matter of choice.  Are you going to be getting crushed – or are you the one doing the skull crushing?  Only you can decide in that tiny little brain of yours.
The brain controls all – so while your muscles are screaming from anaerobic hell, your mind still has the ability to push your tissue forward or allow you to wilt like a day old orchid in the sun.
A few ways to kick your brain into overdrive and avoid the melt down are simple methods.  Pro athletes use these techniques all the time.   Check these tips out and pull your mental game up as you step into the gym for your next personal record.
“I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.” Abraham Lincoln
Avoid distractions before your workout (no cell phone, heavy traffic or babies crying)
Sit in the sun before a workout or look at cool images (a flowering shrub outside the gym as you walk in)
Visualize succeeding on your workout while you stretch, breathe, and do light yoga.

Watch a video of the workout beforehand.  Maybe you are looking to improve your power clean or sprinting technique.  Pull up a video on YouTube and analyze and soak it up in your brain.  Pro athletes do this all the time as they watch game video and soak up and rehearse mentally the moves they will make against their opponent.

Set a goal for time or repetitions.  Write it on a post it note and place on the wall in front of your workout.

Visualize to love the thing that you secretly “think” you hate.  Tell yourself that you love burpees, running or squat cleans or double unders or whatever is in exercise.  Chant inside your mind – “I love to run, I am a running machine”.

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Be positive before and during workout.  Do not let negative thoughts enter your mind.  Do not let others speak negative thoughts in your air space. If a negative thought begins to creep in – practice sweeping it back into it’s corner or shove into a compartment in the back of your mind.

Get your workout buddy to keep time for you and encourage you.

If your so inclined you may want to pray or bow or have a moment of silence before workout.

Put on some thumping rocking music or something that you know will motivate you.  Music has been shown scientifically to enhance performance on the athletic field and in the gym.

Use your affirmations and begin to bring them in to your mind as you begin the workout.

As the workout gets harder, count all of your reps in blocks (5’s or 10’s) –  not looking at the total amount (100).

Mentally check off reps or rounds done as one quarter completed, one half completed – Reward yourself mentally at each stage (mentally pat yourself on back).

Find beauty in the workout. This may sound odd but it is a form of embrace.  Your are realizing how good this workout is for your body and mind.  You realize that the struggle is a gift to you. In the last quarter of workout crank it up a notch talking to your mind to push your body.

Breathe full and into the belly during the workout.  Resist the bodies urge to breath shallow and quick.  When you breathe deep and full you relax your mind.  Your brain is like a puppy dog and will always follow the cadence of your breathing.

Finish strong – don’t fade – anyone can coast – finish the drill. If you beat your goal – reward yourself. If not figure out what went wrong and take notes and be ready for next time.

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Dont lie down after a workout.  Mikko Salo explained that animals lie down before they die.  You are a strong warrior and are not about to die.  Use the next minute after the workout to stand up and continue to condition your mind and body not to lie down like an animal that is about to croak.

You may want to bow, pray or have another moment of silence at the end of workout.

Later that evening – Read books on mental toughness like “Lone Survivor” to continue to be motivated and hone your edge.

Continue to practice these tips and begin to build your mind and prepare yourself for tough workouts.  Your next personal record is just around the corner.

Brad McLeod is one of the top mental conditioning coaches as he has helped many CrossFit athletes, golfers and Special Forces candidates prepare for arduous task.

If you have any questions on preparing for tough workouts please email [email protected]. SEALgrinderPT can provide you with custom workouts and programs to increase your strength, flexibility, lower your running times and increase speed.  For more info check out and contact SEALgrinderPT at [email protected] to get started today.

I look forward to hearing from you and starting you on your path to your goals today.

Brad McLeod
[email protected]
CrossFit level 1 certified trainer


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QUESTION: Coach, what do you like to add to your workout shakes?

ANSWER: I use Athletic Greens in our shakes. It’s got tons of great nutrition—vitamins and minerals. Plus it mixes up easy in milk or water.