The Psychology of CrossFit Open Workout 14.5….and The Bigger Picture to Boot!

Lylerackposition_Fotor

By Dr. Allison Belger

Perhaps stating the obvious, 14.5 is a grinder of a workout.  It will test the mental toughness and fortitude of even the world’s fittest and most talented athletes.  My thoughts here are geared more towards the non-elite among you–my assumption is that the elite athletes will simply gut this one out, with unbroken thrusters and a solid pace on the burpees.

While it’s tempting to become consumed by how physically challenging this workout will be and how uncomfortable you will need to get in order to complete it, I’ll advocate for a different approach.  Given the task-priority format of 14.5 (which will allow far more people to finish the workout than would finish if it were a time-priority workout), many of you will wrap up the 2014 Open with a fully completed workout.   You will, therefore, experience a different sense of accomplishment from what you may have experienced in previous years and/or in previous workouts this year, when the clock determined when your workout ended.

Globally, then, as you prepare for this workout, be sure to take some time to appreciate the task you’re about to accomplish—not just by doing the workout, but also by finishing the Open altogether.  Take time to be thankful for the opportunity you have had (and will have in 14.5) to push your body to its limits and to test your fitness and your mental strength in the company of a worldwide community.  Regardless of your rankings, you will have finished what you started, and that is cause for celebration.

Is it premature to focus on the accomplishment prior to the final buzzer? I don’t think so.  The idea is to fuel your effort in 14. 5 with the positive fire that should come from knowing that you’ve made it this far and are fighting for the finish line with every thruster and burpee you complete.   In other words, access the mental positives of making it this far, so you can drive through the inevitable physical pain you will experience is you push yourself during 14.5.  Let go, now, of any what-if scenarios and any regrets about past performances.  Focus on what you’ve done, rather than on what you wish you could have done.  Your mantra this week could be something like, “I’ve made it this far. I can do a little more,” or “The end is near. I’m lucky to be here.”  Perhaps this sounds trite or conceived with an overly positive spin.  That’s your call. But when the going gets tough, and you’re sucking wind and staring at that barbell, I bet you’ll pick it up sooner if your thoughts are positive and driven by gratitude than if they are negative, self-defeating, and driven by regrets of perceived failures along the way.

I get it that some of you have reason to be legitimately disappointed. Maybe you suffered an injury during the course of the Open, or maybe you know that your goal of making it to Regionals is no longer possible.  Maybe you wanted to finally, after all of these years, successfully complete a single muscle-up in the Open, and that didn’t happen for you last week.  Maybe you are reckoning with some personal demons or life’s curve balls that have interfered with the optimization of your fitness.  These are all reasons to be glum and all warrant your focus at some time.  That time, in my opinion, is not while you complete 14.5.  Leave all of that for a later date, and tackle 14.5 as though it’s actually 14.1.

14.5 is also a time to make use of some of the mental strategies you’ve learned in the previous 4 workouts. As in 14.1, you’ll need to find a reason to care when the pain sets in; keep your mental eye on whatever the “prize” is for you.  As in 14.2, you’ll want to have the discipline to break up reps earlier than you think you might need to, in order to avoid burning out too quickly.  As in 14.3, you’ll want to be able to find a way to breathe and “rest” during one movement or the other (whichever one is the smoother and less daunting one for you). As in 14.4, you’ll want to be prepared for the barbell to feel heavier than it is, and you’ll want to focus on each set of reps as you tackle it–don’t allow yourself to be caught up in all that lies ahead.  You’ve accomplished a lot and learned some strategies. Now is as good a time as any to use them!  If you’re a Gamer, you will likely enter the workout with your rep scheme planned.  Be ready to count yourself back into the workout with every rest you take.  3, 2, 1, pick up the bar.  3, 2, 1, get down on the floor.  Don’t let yourself rest for too long–your competitors won’t be resting, but you can’t see them passing you.

Visualize aggressively between now and when you do this workout.  Envision yourself finishing the workout, yelling “Time,” and finding strange pleasure in the discomfort in your quads, the shortness of your breath, and the pump in your forearms.   Imagine yourself lying on the ground or hunched over your knees in recovery.  See yourself racing for the door to get some fresh air and catch your breath.  Anticipate that feeling you crave—that feeling of having accomplished something you knew would be difficult.  Know that you will probably talk about it far too often with far too many people, but that you will have earned the right to revel in your glory.

One parting thought:  For a small percentage of you reading this article, you will now focus on your training for Regionals and the Games.  For most of you, though, 14.5 will mark the end of your annual competitive season, and you may be surprised by the void you feel.  After last year’s Open, I wrote an article called “Post-Open Blues? Time for Some Good Old Fashioned Introspection.”  I’ll be reposting that next week, and I encourage you to read it and spend some time taking seriously the impact of this ending and what it might mean for your next steps—not just in your training, but in your life outside the gym.  You do have one, right?

 

 

Advertisements

Tips on the Mental Game for CrossFit Open Workout 14.4

HOllismedball_Fotor

By Dr. Allison Belger

For CrossFit athletes facing Open Workout 14.4, here are my thoughts on the mental game and how you can control your inner monologue in ways that will help you get through this workout:

This one is all about being prepared—prepared to accept the fact that movements you normally move through easily will be challenging from jumpstreet.

Starting the workout with a relatively fast 60-calorie row will set you up for earlier-than-normal fatigue on subsequent movements.  While this makes sense intellectually and on paper, make sure you remember this seemingly obvious tidbit as you begin each of the movements in the chipper.  Being prepared means both having a plan of breaking up movements AND having a plan of dealing with, and controlling, your internal self-talk.  You are likely to be surprised by how hard your first few toes-to-bar feel after the row.  You are likely to get fewer wallballs in a row than you anticipate.  You will almost certainly find that the barbell feels heavier to you than a 135/95 pound bar normally feels (note: Josh Bridges and Scott Panchik were doing single reps).    And then, of course, come the muscle-ups.  These will be HARD, even for those of you who normally do well with muscle ups.  Other coaches will address the physical aspects; as usual, I’ll focus on the psychological.

In order to develop the mental fortitude to persevere through this chipper when the going gets tough (again, this will be sooner than later), if you have time and can tackle this workout some time on Saturday-Monday, it’s a good idea to do a mini-version of the workout a day or two before.  Ideally you’ll have a chance to practice just enough to get a feel for what it’s like to transition from one movement to the next.  Getting a solid feeling for how your body responds to the transitions will arm you with experience, thereby reducing the shock factor of the discomfort and fatigue you will feel when you give the full workout a go for real.   For example, experiencing the forearm pump on your first clean in practice will alleviate some of the anxiety you might feel when your arms threaten to fail you during the full effort.  It’s not that practicing will make you any better at the cleans, of course, but you will be mentally prepared for the level of difficulty that might otherwise surprise and unnerve you.

Perhaps it’s analogous to the difference between doing a bunch of math problems at home, with no distractions, and doing them in a testing situation in a room filled with people with all sorts of noises in the background.  If you practice in the noisy room, you’re less likely to become emotionally unraveled when you can’t focus as well as you’d like during the real testing scenario.  The basic idea is that you need to practice feeling less adept than normal, so that you can keep your wits about you when the going gets tough. 

Your mantra this week might be something like, “This is supposed to be hard.  This is supposed to be hard.”  Or, “I knew this would feel different. I’m right where I should be.  I knew this would feel different.  I’m right where I should be.”  The idea is to fight thoughts akin to, “I can’t believe this hurts already, and I still have 30 more reps. I’m screwed.”  You can only be conscious of one thought at a time; make it something soothing and optimistic. 

Focus on one movement at a time.  Don’t allow yourself to dread the cleans when you’re still working through the wallballs.  Stay in the moment. Break up your sets.  Chip away, keep up the positive self-talk, and think of this as a set of mini-workouts, rather than a monstrosity you need to tackle all at once.

One final note this week: many of you will get to the rings and fail to get a muscle-up.  This will be true even for some of you who “have” muscle-ups.  For the sake of the overall picture–the grand scheme–do yourself a favor and resist judging yourself, your fitness, your success, your value in the world, based on whether or not you get a muscle up in 14.4.  Life is bigger.  Maintain perspective.  It’s ok if it matters to you, and it’s ok to be disappointed.  Just be sure your own personal big picture remains intact, even if you don’t get over the rings…this time!

The Mental Game and Open Workout 14.2

LyleandHforkidspage_Fotor2

By Dr. Allison Belger

For those of you tackling the CrossFit Open workout 14.2, here are some pointers on how to keep your mental focus throughout the fun (also published as part of the Tabata Times Coaching Roundtable) .  If you’re not a CrossFit athlete, you may still enjoy some of these tips for competition prep and your own mental game.

We say it all the time: “This one’s going to be a mental battle,” or “This one’s going to come down to who is more mentally tough.”  For some workouts, those statements are more true than for others.  This is one of them.

The thing about the time domain design of this workout is that, for strong competitors, there will be significant rest periods. Having rest periods can be nice, but it also means having plenty of time to be left alone in one’s head with one’s thoughts.  Typically, the pre-workout period marks the time for focused, deliberate mental concentration and internal chatter.  Once go-time happens, the mental chatter usually takes place in the background of the physical activity.  This time, during those rest periods, athletes should be ready to attack the mental game with a plan and with poise, because the mental game will now be in the
foreground.  Just as rep-scheme plans will be critical, mental strategy will likely play a significant role in the outcome of 14.2.

I often recommend that novice competitors create a warm-up for themselves to use on Game Day in typical competitions.  In the heat of the moment, athletes who are accustomed to having a coach guide their warm-up often become paralyzed, unsure of how to prepare their bodies for the workout.  There will surely be plenty of information swirling around the internet on this topic, with suggestions for mobility and pre-workout prep.  Less experienced athletes should be sure to put those into a clear guide or script.  It will be extremely reassuring to have a written plan of attack when your nerves creep in.

Experienced competitors will know how to warm up and also tend to have a transition routine that allows them to move from their warm-up mindset to their performance mindset.  This transition signal can be a simple ritualized routine (e.g., 5 arm swings, 5 foot stomps, 5 deep breaths and a quiet utterance of a cue phrase, such as “Go time” or “I’ve got this”).  For 14.2, it may be particularly useful to create an additional quick transition cue/routine for subsequent restarts–there are a whole lot of “3,2,1..GO’s” in this workout, and that can be a mind game if you’re not prepared.  Be ready with a go-to transition for the ten-second period before each three-minute set.  This might be one or two big, deep breaths, followed by a mental image of being done with the set successfully.

This is not a workout into which you want to go with the attitude of “If it doesn’t go well, I can always do it again.”  If there is even a glimmer of possibility of a repeat, it will likely be difficult to go to the very uncomfortable place you will need to visit if you are hoping to be a competitor.  Don’t give yourself an out; your hands may be too torn up or vulnerable after your first attempt, and you may struggle to harness the intensity you’ll need the second time around.  I say give yourself one shot on this one, and make it count.  Try to fight the urge to conjure when you might be able to fit in a second try.  Visualize yourself inputting the score you want.  Act like there’s no tomorrow, and give it everything you’ve got.  Thinking about going again can be a crutch and a flee from intensity.  Hang in there with the challenge, rise to the occasion, push through the fatigue, and don’t give yourself an out.

Another unique aspect of this workout is that the difference between finishing the given reps in a three-minute window and not finishing them can end up meaning huge differences on the leaderboard.  Even if you are behind someone by just one rep, if that person finishes a round and you don’t, you will end up many places behind him or her.  Those last few reps in what will be your last full round are gold; fight like crazy to get them, so you can buy yourself the opportunity to continue.  Center yourself as I discussed last week—use a cue word to remind yourself why the discomfort is worth it.  It could get ugly for some of you, and you’ll need a mantra to keep yourself focused!

Last week’s mental slip warning was a tangled rope. This week it might be getting no-reps on the overhead squats.  Force yourself to exaggerate your depth at the bottom and hip opening at the top.  If you do get a no-rep, register it as a signal to do better, and keep moving.  Getting caught up in the potential unfairness of it all is foolish.

One final note for this week is on checking in with yourself and monitoring your system throughout the workout.  Ripping your hands badly could mean as much as a week off from training hard with grip-demanding movements.  Unless you are in a position where you might be fighting for your athletic life to qualify for Regionals or for the next step as a Masters athlete, I’m not sure those setbacks are worthwhile.  Certainly if you’re taking on the Open with more of a “weekend warrior” mentality, do yourself a favor and make part of your goal coming out of the workout with your skin intact.  I know this can be a controversial topic, but I generally advise athletes to err on the side of not ripping their hands and protecting their bodies.  There is a time and place to put it ALL out there and literally leave skin in the game; be honest with yourself in assessing whether or not this workout qualifies as one of those times for YOU.

 

How are You Using the Power of YOUR Mind?

chizzie_Fotor

By Dr. Allison Belger

Short-and-to-the-point message this week, as I’m busy being a “Dance Mom” for the first time in my parenting career—fodder for a future post, no doubt.

One of my clever and witty Facebook and real-life friends, Teresa Basich, posted the following status earlier in the week:

The 30 minutes it takes for a Cold-EEZE lozenge to dissolve + the 15 minutes I’m supposed to wait after it’s dissolved before drinking anything = TORTURE ON LEVELS I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW EXISTED.

This was funny to me, because of how ridiculous and accurate it is at the same time.

My father is an MD with a specialty in infectious disease.  He is straightforward and data-driven in his approach, and he rarely buys into remedies that claim to shorten or diminish the effects of the cold virus. Recently, though, he followed some research suggesting that a certain product (not Cold-EEZE), when taken at the onset of a sore throat, significantly reduced the duration and intensity of the common cold. That was enough to get me to purchase the product the last time I had a sore throat and felt a cold coming on.

The wind came out of my sails a bit when I read the packaging:  no eating or drinking 30 minutes prior to, and after, taking this remedy.  Seriously? I had to guarantee that I would not eat or drink for a whole hour?  Like most people, I go without consumption for an hour at a time quite often.  But, there’s something deeply troubling about being told I MUST refrain for a period of time.  Ever have a colonoscopy?  Worst part by far?  The 24-hour period of no eating or drinking leading up to the procedure.  The procedure itself is a walk in the park compared to the starvation that one must endure prior.

Of course I’m trying to be funny here, and I realize that 24 hours without food is, in the grand scheme of life, in a world where people go hungry all the time, neither starvation nor a tragedy by any stretch.  My point is to highlight the mental battle that accompanies hard, fast rules about what we can and can’t eat or drink.  Don’t worry.  I’m not writing about nutrition or diet or how to get your eating in order.  I’m writing about the power of the mind, using food restriction as an example of how significant our mental processes are in the way we live our lives.

The mind is incredibly powerful.  It can fixate on restrictions and make us immediately and aggressively crave things we have been told we cannot have.  It can also buy into hard and fast rules, so that we structure our entire lives around our belief systems.  The mind can gather information that will affect how we eat, exercise, and socialize.  It can serve us well, and it can betray us if left unchecked.

Remember this the next time you’re up against a physical or mental challenge.  Remember that if you tell yourself you’re not up to the task, or if you allow yourself to believe in deeply rooted self doubts, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Remember this the next time you’re anxious about an upcoming presentation and you’re bombarding yourself with all the ways you have ever stumbled in front of a crowd.  Remember this the next time you read the workout posted for week one of the CrossFit Open.  All it will take is a mantra akin to “I suck at those movements” to start the process of resignation in that powerful brain of yours.  Remember this, too, the next time you’re struggling in a relationship and you tell yourself you’re “damaged” because of your childhood.  If you repeat the same story long enough, you will be hard pressed to ever create a new one.

Appreciate the power of the mental game. The playing field has no boundaries, and there’s no clock.  It’s always happening, so you’d better make up your mind to be flexible and positive.  Otherwise, you’re choosing to limit yourself.

 

What’s YOUR Story?

babybook

One of my favorite parts of completing my Doctorate in Psychology was having the opportunity to do intakes of incoming clients in various settings.  Hearing people’s stories offered a fascinating glimpse into the human experience and afforded me a series of small windows into the events and relationships that form personalities and psychological functioning.  What has always fascinated me about people and initially lead me to pursue doctoral training is the same thing that I appreciate most about people now: We all have a story to tell.

It’s funny sometimes how little we know about each other.  We can spend hours with people at the gym, in our jobs, as parents at school functions and still know next-to-nothing substantive about each other’s backgrounds and histories.

What’s YOUR story?  If you were going to an intake meeting where someone asked you to talk about yourself and the events and relationships that have formed who you are today, what you would you say?  What have been the turning points in your life?  Which relationships have mattered most in the formation of how you relate to those closest to you now?  What successes and failures have created your current outlook about the possibilities for your future?

Intentionally thinking about our own stories from time to time can help us get a grip on why we think, react, and behave in the habitual ways we do.  Moments of focused self-reflection about where we came from and how we got here can help us question our relationship patterns and challenge our notions of our future.  Ultimately, the goal is to allow for growth and development, both of which imply change.

Ever had a moment with someone you’ve known for a long time where you find out a significant bit of information about that person (maybe that her mother died suddenly when your friend was just five), and you suddenly have an entirely new appreciation for your friend’s personality quirks?  Ever wonder why your boss is so darn cynical sometimes, only to find out that he spent his teen years in foster care with an alcoholic parent?  Perhaps your responses to these people change when you know more about their story.

So what’s YOUR story, and how has it formed who you are?  We often have Baby Books, with moments in time documented by others.  Somewhere along the way, the stories told about us tend to become us.  What are the pivotal moments and formative relationship patterns that make you tick now?  Do you let your history dictate your actions now?  Have you ever thought about how you can control the effects of early experiences and make changes so you can be unencumbered by them?

Consider this the next time you’re training and struggling to complete a workout or gain mastery of a skill.  What thoughts go through your head, and how do those relate to “your story?”  How can you make a deliberate shift in the thought patterns that arise now that you have become more aware of how your past affects you?  Let me give you an example:

You are shooting for a one-rep-max lift or you are practicing your tennis serve.  After a number of failures, you begin to get frustrated.  Because you are trying to be more focused on your thought processes, you realize that you’re thinking about how your older sister could probably do this better than you can.  After all, she was always so much better at learning new sports–your dad loved to joke about that at family gatherings.  Instead of allowing this line of thinking to unravel in your mind, how about stopping it dead in its tracks?  As soon as your sister pops into your mind, remind yourself immediately of a major success in your life, preferably one you’ve had to work hard to achieve.  Eventually, with enough practice, you can just say the word “success” out loud and that will be enough to derail your thought process.  Or you might remind yourself how your childhood experiences with your sister actually have nothing to do with your success on the court or in the gym today (ultimately having a catch phrase/mantra like “be your own person” should suffice to counter the old thoughts).

Of course, the effects of such awareness and thought restructuring won’t be immediate.  People often seek ongoing therapy for these purposes; change takes time.  But we’re in this for the long haul, so we might as well start today.  There’s plenty you can do on your own.  Acknowledge your past, consider its effects on your present, and learn to take control of the moments when your story takes over, but you realize you’re not the author.  Your revised draft just might take, and it could include a more awesome version of the you somebody else wrote about.