Positive Thinking, Task Oriented, Small Victories:
At around the 3-month mark of doing CrossFit, you start to slowly gain your CrossFit identity. You have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the workouts, your strengths and weaknesses have fleshed themselves out, and you can now describe CrossFit to someone else with less difficulty. In other words, you’ve caught on. This can be good and bad; before, your ignorance allowed you to complete the workouts in the dark, not knowing how bad it would suck at minute fourteen of a 20-minute AMRAP. Now, you see the workout the night before and have a good idea of what is to come.
The blog shows a 6 rounder with running and 25 burpees, or “Kelly”, or some type of 30 minute plus hero workout. What do you think when you see this? If it’s “Dear God why me”, you should keep reading. The purpose of this post is to attempt to arm you mentally with some weapons to slay these LAW’s (long-ass workouts). Long CrossFit workouts are tough, no doubt about it. However, with some mental conditioning I hope that you will actually come to enjoy (maybe the wrong word) these LAW’s.
At one point last year, I did one hero workout a week for 27 straight weeks. These workouts last anywhere from 20 to 70 minutes and have taught me some valuable lessons regarding the mental side of CrossFit. There are 3 strategies I would like to discuss that I learned from doing these workouts. They are positive thinking, staying task-oriented, and celebrating small victories.
Positive thinking could be argued to improve any area of one’s life. It is associated with healing faster from disease, making other people heal faster, and increasing quality of life. On a smaller scale, it is perhaps the most potent performance enhancer in CrossFit and with sport in general. To understand positive thinking, it is important to understand what negative thinking can do to the body. I have no science to back this next statement up and it’s truly anecdotal, but I discovered this when doing long workouts. Negative thoughts are like poison to the lungs, kryptonite to the muscles, and toxic to the blood, veins, arteries and all exercise accessory organs. The minute you think, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I’ll never finish” it’s as if the little man shoveling coal into your body’s furnace just died. I am arguing that there is a physiological change in the body when negative thoughts occur. Negative thoughts undoubtedly slow you down.
Here’s an example: you are going for a PR on “Cindy”. Your old PR is 20 rounds and you want to get 21. At around minute 16, both the clock and your body seem to stop cooperating, which leads to the conclusion that you will not get 21 rounds. Negative thoughts have now replaced “I can do this” and you begin to slow down. You end up getting 19 rounds, 1 round less than your old best. This scenario above is quite common. If those thoughts never entered your brain, maybe you could’ve PR’ed, maybe not, but surely you would’ve gotten more than 19 rounds. The fact is, the negative thoughts slowed you down even more and essentially governed the rest of the workout.
Positive thoughts, on the other hand, are like natures version of caffeinated-steroids. When your mindset switches from “man this workout is impossible”, to “I’m going to finish this”, your body will surely follow. I remember hearing a speaker back when I was in school explain that our bodies are smarter than our brains, performing thousands of tasks unknown to us everyday, that keep the miracle that is our human life maintained. However, he explained, the mind mostly gets in the way of the bodies capabilities. By remaining positive during these long workouts, we are essentially getting out of the way, and letting body’s machine take over. Positive self-talk is a key component to staying mentally strong during LAW’s. Affirming to yourself that the task can be completed and that “you’re doing great” go a long way.
Dealing with the task at hand is another important strategy when going long. The most fatal error when doing long workouts is looking into the crystal ball and seeing that you still have to run a mile and do another 120 air squats. This “future gazing” can lead to negative thoughts, defeat, and even panic. The goal is to focus only on the task at hand, whether it’s the next rep, finishing a short set, or picking out a telephone pole on the road and trying to run to it. It’s even helped me to just think about my next breath. By staying task-oriented, you are basically dividing a long workout into multiple, shorter workouts which makes it way more manageable. Stay task oriented.
The last strategy I learned is the small victory technique. Let’s say you are doing the “Lumberjack 20” which consists of seven 400m runs and seven difficult movements each with 20 repetitions. After finishing the first run and movement, instead of thinking “Oh Geez, I’m only 1/7 of the way done” think “I rocked that first that round, I’m going to push it on this next run”. This is somewhat like staying task oriented, except you are actually celebrating success. Remember, CrossFit workouts are some of the toughest ever created. It is important to keep perspective; sometimes I think to myself there is no one else in the world right now doing what I’m doing in this workout at this moment. By slapping yourself on the back during LAW’s, you are staying positive and staying in control.
Steph recently asked me if the workouts ever start getting easier. They never do, but my answer was they get more tolerable when you attack them instead of just trying to get through them. Enjoy the process, the difficulty, the challenge of the workouts and embrace the “suck”. Once you start doing that, the long ones aren’t so bad. Annie Thorisdottir, the fittest woman on earth actually smiles during her workouts, even at the CrossFit Games. There are many people in the world who cannot exercise, due to physical limitations, socioeconomic factors, or just lack of access. Find a way to enjoy these workouts and all of a sudden the burden of physical exertion turns into the privilege of accomplishment.
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