There’s a door at the back of my gym. It’s one of those doors with the big red whammy bars on it that you’re only supposed to push in case of an emergency. When I moved in to the space we took the alarm off of the door so you can hit it at any time without alerting the fire department. It’s now called the puke door.
Yes, I’ve pushed clients to the point of throwing up. We also have a tradition of chalk-lining the outline of a client’s body off when they collapse to the poured concrete floor with their heart jack hammering away and the room spinning.
There have been days when the floor of my gym looks like a mass murder crime scene. Yet when I grab the stick of chalk, people are elated not insulted.
The elation stems from knowing they pushed themselves to a place where they didn’t know they could go. They crossed the line to the point where they no longer care. . .they don’t care about what I think and they don’t care about the stack of paperwork on their desk. They only care about doing what ever they have to do to survive the day’s training. And that is an experience of focus that few have prior to being “chalk lined”.
In today’s soft world of computer keyboards and luxury cars with heaters in the seats to keep your ass warm, we’ve lost the unpredictability of meeting our most basic survival needs. Gone are the days where missing the kill means missing the meal. Gone are the times of true struggle. In modern western society, suffering is dead.
Oh sure, people suffer. There is unemployment, and homelessness, and other societal ills. But if you are sitting in front of a computer screen to read this rant, then I’ll bet your basic needs are being met. Your body, mind, and soul craves the exertion that was previously necessary for survival. And since we aren’t going to find it stalking our next meal or fending off a predator we must create suffering artificially in the gym.
Suffering is enduring pain or distress. And there is no growth without pain. Suffering provides reference points to compare future challenges that life will bring. Coming out on the other side of suffering is the backbone of confidence. Suffering provides the opportunity to exercise the will.
A strong will grows from identifying a goal, suffering the cost to achieve that goal, and then reaping the reward. The ability to endure suffering is often called mental toughness.
How can you know your limits if you never spend any time with them?
Here are a few ways to build mental toughness in the gym. Suffer well.
As Fast As You Can
- Hit a stop watch and do a drill as fast as you can. Repeat the drill in a few weeks and try to beat your time. Two of my favorites are Power Clean and Push Press for 30 reps and Burpees for 100 reps.
As Many Rounds As Possible
- Designate two to four exercises and set the clock for 10, 15, or even 20 minutes and see how many times you can make it through the exercise cycle in the designated time. Try back squats with your bodyweight on the bar to Push Press with 75% of your bodyweight on the bar, five times each. Another good one is 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 air squats.
Grind It Out
- An especially long training session. Plan this one way in advance. An old Army favorite is the ruck march: load a back pack with 25 – 50 lbs and walk 10, 15, or even 20 miles. Or try 50 reps of the deadlift at 80% of your one rep max.
What are some drills you have used to build mental toughness in the gym? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. – If you like the hard training and underground stuff like sandbags, tires and ropes, you MUST check out Strength Manual