Guest Post: Step up your Mental Game

This post is written by my friend, colleague and training partner, Eric Salvador. Eric is a master’s athlete, coach and personal trainer, who started doing CrossFit in 2011. His words of wisdom have guided me through many a WOD, and have helped mold me into the athlete that I am today.

“CrossFit is a sport, and each workout should be approached as such both mentally and physically, whether it’s practice or game time. Before every WOD, I create a mental checklist. It looks something like this list from Dawn Fletcher of @mentality_wod:

  • ‘Be grateful for what you can do & the opportunity
  • Trust your ability
  • Think about your strengths
  • Know what you’ll think about when it starts to get tough
  • Smile, breathe, dance…whatever makes you feel good!’

 I then devise a game plan and get ready to attack.Deadlift

Here are my three tips on how to step up your mental game and get ready to conquer any wod:

  1. Have a game plan. Before the start of 3-2-1-GO, whether the WOD is a 20 minute amrap or a 3 rounds for time, make a strategy. First, ask yourself, is this more of a burner (work capacity) or is this a strength stamina workout (lifting heavy loads for multiple reps)? Then, identify the movements that may give you trouble versus the ones that you’re proficient at and may come easier. Where will you be able to move fast? Where will you need to take your time? Next, think about how to break up your sets, whether it’s a longer chipper or a shorter sprint. Choose a rep scheme that will work for YOU. For example, Open WOD 15.5 called for 27 cal row followed by 27 thrusters. How many sets will it take you to achieve 27 reps without redlining, keeping in mind that you can recovery for a bit when you get back on the rower. Maybe you go unbroken, maybe it’s two sets of 16-11, or for some of us maybe it was three sets of 12-8-7. Which one should you do? Well what did Eric do? I’ll just do what he did. Wrong! Everyone has a different aerobic capacity. The key word being aerobic, the ability to breathe and control that breathing during workouts. Learning to find your zone is very important. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself out of breath because you went to hard in the beginning. Now you’re fighting to catch your breath as you stare at your barbell and your friends are yelling, ‘pick up the bar!’ We all have a breathing zone that will let us continue to work (roughly at about 80% ) without redlining. We call this threshold. The more fit we are, the higher that threshold is and the better we are able to perform. Each workout that you do will help you identify that threshold for future WODs and at the same time increase your threshold so you become more fit. On the other hand, you don’t want to work below threshold for the entire workout, game it too much and play it safe. We’ve all seen that person who gets has to go back to the chalk bucket every 3 reps, or stops to take a sip of water during a 7 minute WOD. They typically will say finish a workout and say, ‘that wasn’t so bad.’ Ha, try working harder next time! Remember the shorter the workout, the higher the intensity.
  2. ‘Improvise, adapt and overcome.’ This was a saying we used in the Marine Corps when things didn’t go according to plan. What if Plan A doesn’t work? This happens when on paper your plans looked like it would work, but then during the WOD either your legs, your heart rate or your grip are saying ‘hell no it’s not happening.’ Do you just give up? No!  First, improvise. Accept it, slow down, take a deep breath and say it’s ok, I still got this. Second, adapt. Two sets isn’t happening? Ok, I’ll do three. A good example was during open workout 16.4. Once I finished the 55 deadlifts, I had planned to break up the wallballs into 2 sets, but I could feel my heart rate escalating and didn’t want to start missing reps, so I dropped the ball, took one second to breathe, and did it in 3 sets. Third, overcome. Think positive thoughts like ‘it’s OK, l only have 10 more reps,’ or ‘I’ve done this before.’ Having a coach is important to help you remain focused and calm for the task at hand. This is also a chance to think back at the previous hundreds of metcons you’ve done. There was most likely a similar metcon where you had to improvise, adapt and overcome when your plan A didn’t work. What did you do differently? How did you adapt? What thoughts went through your head to help you overcome? Doing these three things will help you face adversity and make you mentally tougher.


    “You have what it takes inside you. You just gotta be willing to dig a little.” Coach Dawn Fletcher

  3. Learn how to push and when.  Also known as redlining, going all out, emptying the tank, max effort. Go to that dark place, as my friend and mentor Eric Love would tell me. This is usually at the end of the WOD, and it will leave you floored. Literally. It won’t last long, but when you go there, you’ll know. Yes it’s going to hurt but knowing you gave it your all is the best feeling of gratification. It’s hurts so much, but that’s what is so addicting and that, my friends, is CrossFit.

I hope this will help you as it has helped me prepare for numerous competitions and Open workouts.”