Mind over Muscle: How to be mentally tough in the gymyallafitadmin
The mind is an interesting thing. Most of us know that if we can control our thoughts, we can also, to a large degree, control our actions and by extension any success we may go on to experience. We may also understand that many of the physical limitations that hold us back from performing at our best are largely determined by whether our minds are programmed for success or failure – in other words, whether we choose to consistently visualize positive outcomes and believe in ourselves or, conversely, whether we tend to underestimate our capabilities and could do with a little more confidence to step up to the mark and deliver when it counts.
THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SUCCESSFULLY INTEGRATE THE FORMER WITH A RELENTLESS DESIRE AND CAPACITY TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO ACHIEVE AN OBJECTIVE ARE THOUGHT TO BE MENTALLY TOUGH.
History is replete with examples of extremely successful people whose fame and fortune can be traced to a degree of mental toughness that kept them in the game longer and stopped them from taking the easy route when times were hard. Yet despite knowing on some level how far the timely application of mental toughness might also take us, we so often choose the path of least resistance, doing what is expedient rather than what will, over the long term, give us the greatest return on investment.
So pervasive has this ‘easy way out’ mentality become that it’s often used among those who consistently fail to reach their potential to justify their poor results – such people believing that they are simply avoiding pain in the quest for pleasure (pain avoidance being a well-established human trait and pleasure being what many of us desire most). Some respected trainers even believe that a client should only do what they enjoy in the gym, the rationale being that the pleasure derived from enjoyable tasks will ensure maximum motivation to continue (a “pleasurable” training experience, in this case, being a major form of incentive to hit the iron).
As humans, we often do what is convenient rather than taking what might be considered the most justifiable course of action. Along with a focus on expediency we may also seek to avoid pain when pushing hard to achieve a difficult task. Unfortunately, this means that challenges which require the most dedicated efforts are often those that are put off until “later.” No more apparent is this all-too-common propensity to avoid what is most difficult than in the gym, where age-old demonstrations of true mental toughness have, in many cases, been superseded by a selfie culture where true physical exertion may only be achieved under the direction of trainers who guide their clientele every step of the way.
Nowadays we have a gym culture that relies to a significant extent on quick fixes and easy solutions to what has really always been a long-term process of extreme physical discomfort. It seems that today the standard bodybuilding cliché of “no pain, no gain” has been replaced by “too much pain and you may end up injuring yourself, so please dial back the intensity a little.”
BUT THE BOTTOM LINE REMAINS: REAL RESULTS REQUIRE A DEGREE OF INTENSITY THAT FEW ARE WILLING TO ENDURE.
Here, the pain associated with producing more muscle equates with extreme effort, not injury, and an educated trainee will know how to distinguish between the two – to increase the former and prevent the latter. Such intensity – where the fullest amount of effort is given to each set and where, upon completion of this set, no further clean reps are possible – can only be generated with a willing mind, remembering that the body will not go where the mind is not first willing to venture.
To reap maximum benefit in the gym, the weights must be approached with a strong and determined mindset, one which overpowers the body’s natural propensity to stop when a set becomes uncomfortable. So, while perfectly periodized training regimens and cutting edge nutritional advice will always have a place in every trainee’s success plan, the mental toughness that’s required to enter the “pain zone” and hang out there for however long is needed to force muscle growth adaptations could be the most important training factor of all.
The following are three ways to increase your mental toughness; to cultivate the necessary strength of mind that’ll not only help you to add thick layers of muscle to your physique but which may also make you more successful in other areas of life which require the consistent application of effort.
Train with Purpose
Achieving any training goal requires a detailed plan of attack. Without first knowing which steps must be taken to climb the loftiest of mountains (and how to avoid the crevices) even the most determined of alpinist’s will likely encounter failure (and possible death). While not as dire a situation, the same holds true for strength trainees.
A weights program cannot be undertaken without first knowing how to safely and efficiently handle the iron (unless, of course, injury is a major goal). Once the basics are learned, however, intensity then becomes a primary consideration. And for the serious trainee, the main purpose of training is to generate as much intensity as possible. This intensity mandate must be kept firmly in mind when entering the gym. As well as knowing what intensity is and why it is important, we must also know what intensity isn’t and why we must avoid the things that may sidetrack us from our mission.
Intensity is not: talking endlessly between sets, continuously taking selfies, resting too much, and simply going through the training motions. Intensity is: taking every set to failure (reducing training volume to achieve this goal if need be), staying focused on the mission, always pushing for more (weight, reps, quality execution), and taking every opportunity to make a session harder (via the incorporation of intensity methods and shortening of rest periods etc).
When training starts getting tough, many people mentally falter and lose sight of why they are in the gym in the first place. At this point, training may become a race to complete the next set and to get the hell out of the gym as soon as possible. Procrastination may set in (perhaps another friendly chat with a fellow gym member to extend the rest period) and we may come up with all kinds of justifications as to why we should terminate a set before the real pain comes knocking (the “extra rest” will result in “more growth” or the joints should be “saved” for the next session, or other such feeble excuses).
HAVING A STRONG SENSE OF PURPOSE ENABLES US TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT RATHER THAN ACCEPT WHAT IS EASY WHILE DEMONSTRATING COURAGE AND PATIENCE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY.
Applied to training, this means we must honor our commitment to self and address all obstacles to self-improvement (which may include physical pain, erroneous thinking and limiting beliefs).
Rather than defaulting to mediocre thinking, keep reminding yourself of why you have chosen to train. In understanding your purpose and the steps needed to successfully execute it you will know that you must keep going until you have done all that is necessary to get the job done. Go through this process often enough and you will develop a degree of mental toughness that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Of greater importance, your gym sessions will become much more productive and your training results will be consistently impressive.
A defining characteristic of all high achievers is a willingness to continue regardless of the circumstances. The results-focused trainee must realize that their circumstances will probably never be perfect and that they will seldom be able to apply what may for all practical purposes be considered 100 percent effort. Though your “poor” energy levels may be undermining your ability to continue, you’ve had a “stressful” day at work and you consumed fewer calories than instructed to by your nutritionist, neither of these should be used to justify a lackluster workout. Such excuses will never be adequate justification to give less than your best (100 percent effort being, in this context, your very best effort under any given set of circumstances).
Barring injury and any legitimate symptoms of overtraining, a workout can always be intensified. Whether it’s completing a series of prescribed workouts or achieving a desired rep count, persistence remains a foundational element in forcing the body to grow at an exponential rate. By getting to the gym and giving your best when you are feeling your worst and by cranking out an extra five reps when your body is telling you to stop (due to fatigue, not injury), you become more resilient and accustomed to facing, and overcoming, difficult situations – a common hallmark of the mentally tough.
THE PROBLEM MANY OF US FACE WHEN WANTING TO TAKE OUR TRAINING INTENSITY TO THE NEXT LEVEL IS THAT WE TEND TO SETTLE FOR WHAT OUR BODY HAS CONVINCED US IS “HARD ENOUGH.”
Take squats, for example – one of the truest tests of physical and mental fortitude known to man. We load up the bar and aim for 15 solid reps. Experience, coupled with feelings of nausea during the latter stages of a set, informs us that achieving this 15 is no easy task and so we mentally condition ourselves to accept this as an acceptable range.
But what if we were to rest and reset for a second or two, take a deep breath, block out all thoughts of quitting and force ourselves to do an extra five reps. Do this the next time you “think” your set has come to an end. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you discover about yourself.
Chances are that you will come to learn the true meaning of what it is to extend your physical capabilities and, ultimately, that it’s the reps that most people put off, and these extra reps alone, that force the body to grow. Achieving these true growth-inducing reps, via the routine application of persistence, will also give you a degree of mental toughness that cannot be achieved in any other way and which may serve you well in all other aspects of your training.
Fuel the Machine
It remains a physiological fact that by optimizing our neurochemistry prior to training we may, in turn, take greater advantage of the many psychological attributes which underpin mental toughness. Mental arousal, aggression, positive expectations, feelings of power and control and general cognitive improvements each may enhance training success. When combined, such attributes may lend an edge over the iron that is so often lacking in the general training populous.
Training when mentally aroused, highly motivated, aggressive and turned-on by the process is not only a far and away more pleasurable experience but also one that’s less likely to be plagued by self-doubt and an unwillingness to fully commit.
Best of all, such a mindset will allow you to push past the point of muscular failure, to achieve those final reps we discussed earlier. All of which leads to a problem experienced by many otherwise dedicated trainees: a mental state that’s less than conducive to pushing the body further with each session. However much we feel we are energized and ready to dominate the iron, none of us is immune from experiencing such a state.
Whether it’s due to the ravages of time, stressful life circumstances, imperfect nutrition, environmental pollution, mental illness or general tiredness and lethargy, each of us is compromised in some way prior to exerting ourselves in the gym.
To become less compromised and to build the mental toughness needed to produce consistently impressive results in the gym, the mind must be fully engaged in the training process – not an easy task for most people. But there are steps that can be taken to enhance the training mindset, to overcome mental barriers which may serve to hold us back from generating full training intensity. These steps require an understanding of what we put into our body before, during and after training.
Based on a scientific understanding of what each ingredient does and the real world experiences of those who have benefitted from taking them, it’s recommended that the following training stack be used by those who wish to become mentally tougher in the gym and, ultimately, more dedicated and determined when seeking impressive results.