Tips on the Mental Game for CrossFit Open Workout 14.4


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


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.


Enhance Yourself. Perform.


*This post about gutsy performances is dedicated to my friend, business partner, and former teammate, Marcus Filly, for his incredible performance at the CrossFit NorCal Regionals competition this past weekend.  Marcus earned a coveted qualification spot for the Reebok CrossFit Games in July.  His victory is the result of intense focus, hard work, discipline, determination, and a huge dose of absolute talent.  Congratulations, Marcus, for having the guts to throw yourself so fully into this venture and for coming out on top!  

On Friday, our ten-year-old daughter kicked off the CrossFit NorCal Regional competition by singing the National Anthem at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.  This marked the sixth time she has sung the Anthem solo at a large sports event.  Earlier this week, she sang with her school chorus at PacBell Park to kick off the Giants’ game.  Next time, she hopes to solo there.

Performing takes guts.  Getting up in front of a group of people and singing or dancing or acting or playing tennis or doing CrossFit or showing your art takes guts.  It takes guts to pull together and wear an outfit to high school when it may not be exactly what the cool kids wear.  Writing a book or a poem or a song or an article that others will read or hear means you’re putting something of yourself out there for people to process and judge: gutsy.  I’ve always been especially impressed by performers, and I have come to recognize that “performing” takes many forms.  As I talk about performing here, I mean putting yourself out into the world for others to take in some way, via some form of personal expression.  It’s not easy to do, it involves vulnerability, and it invites other people to provide feedback, whether or not that feedback is desired.

Often when we take risks, as we do when we perform, we are brought far outside of our zones of comfort.  It is here where our heartbeat increases, our palms sweat, our thoughts race, our doubts creep in.  It is also here where our character is formed and meaningful memories are made.  It is when we put our talents, our training, our hard work, and our determined striving to the test that we give life to the parts of ourselves that would otherwise go unknown, to us and to others.  When we perform—when our personal expression meets an audience and we risk all that this entails—we shake up our hormones, challenge our internal status-quo, and endeavor to put forth the best of who we are.

Of course, performances don’t always go well, personal setbacks occur, and, in the worst of cases, public humiliation can happen.  In sport, we can train with abandon and have the best coaching in town, and we may still lack what it takes to do well at a certain level of competition.  Or, despite having what it takes, we may not be able to access it on a given day when it matters most.  We may sing like an angel and work with a premier voice coach, but our rendition of a song may fall flat with a given audience.  We can spend days, months, even years generating and writing ideas and proofreading till we’re cross-eyed, and still there will be people who find our work uninspiring.

Outcomes aside, we need to have the guts to try.  We need to find a way to continue to put in the effort and take the risks to develop our craft or our bodies or our minds in ways that might, in time, affect someone else in a positive way.  I was recently talking with a friend and fellow blogger about some nasty comments she had received in response to a recent post.  My perspective was then, and remains today, that it is far easier to criticize someone else’s written work—someone else’s performance—than it is to create anything of one’s own.  Courage and success is found in the producing.  There will always be critics; we must perform on.

The truth is that we are often our own harshest critics.  What we might think was a lackluster performance just might have thrilled plenty of others.  Often it’s the tenth-place athlete who inspires us the most, or the singer who sings with abandon and joy, if not pure perfection.  Risk-taking and gutsiness are generally acknowledged and appreciated.  When they’re not, perhaps it’s the audience’s miscue, rather than that of the performer.

The thing about singing the National Anthem at a sporting event is that it’s so rich with emotion—from the meaning of the song, itself, to the athletes preparing for their own moments–taking the chance to visualize, breathe deeply, reflect, and find faith.  That my kid has the confidence to sing in such a forum means to me that something has gone well for her.  Will she be a famous singer one day?  Never say never, but probability and percentages say the chances are slim.  Will she have nurtured within her from her years of performing a sense of confidence, agency, and esteem that she might not otherwise?  Absolutely.  How awesome is that?  Maybe just awesome enough that it inspires you to have the courage to step outside of your own comfort zone and put yourself—your training, your studies, your creativity, something about YOU—to the test.  Sign up for a competition or a 10k race.  Join a soccer team.  Write an article for a favorite website or newspaper.  Audition for a community play, bake something for a baking competition, sign up for your high-school debate team.  Do these things take guts?  Yes.  Find yours and have at it.  You’ll be a better, fuller version of yourself for having done so.