Being in the CrossFit Zone with Mental Toughness Training (Part 1)

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(In part 5 of this series on engaging your will, I talked about the dark side of having a will that is on top of the food chain of defiance. With a will this strong, you are on the edge of meanness. If you are competitor, there is nothing wrong with being ferocious on the playing field. It is an admirable trait to have, especially if you are up against a formidable opponent. However, if you are just your average desk jockey, you should not fear a will that can teeter on the dark side. The game of life is a hundredfold more cruel than any sport. Sooner of later, an adversity will sneak up on you and hit you below the belt. When it does, you are going to need a will that is so forceful to help you get through the situation or even save your life.)

When everything is going right for an athlete, they get into that a state of mind where performance is on higher level than normal and it becomes effortless for them. The athlete is able to block out the normal distraction that usually impair performance like crowd noise, pressure, or personal issues. Many sport psychologists call this being in “the zone”. For an elite distance runner, being in the zone can be running pain-free at a very superhuman five minute mile pace. In baseball, when a hitter in in a hot streak and is whacking the shit out of the baseball, a lot of players in “the zone” say the baseball looks as big as a grapefruit. No doubt, professional athletes strive to be in this state of mind where they could do no wrong and everything will become easy for them. Sport shrinks have studied this phenomenal for years because millions of dollars are on the line when a baseball player can knock 10 home runs in a row or if a basketball player can made shots with his eyes closed. Their usual schemes to improve a player’s ability to be in this win-win state of the mind are hypnosis, deep relaxation technique and even brain waves manipulation.

Unfortunately, the sport’s doctors are nowhere close to getting players in this zone state on a consistent level. For us CrossFitters, getting in this zone during the WOD is a goal too. This is the desired state that I strive to be and that I coach all my client to do so as well.  Although, I would say doing a WOD in an effortless fashion may not be a good thing. It is a sign that intensity is lacking and that the athlete is pacing himself in a slow manner that’s not doing him or her any good. On the other hand to the observer, a CrossFitter could be performing a WOD at the highest intensity level that the actions can seem effortless. This is  a totally different scenario. In the first example, the athlete is moving with half ass effort while the second athlete is giving it all she has and making the effort look easy. Her body is probably screaming at her to quit as she is barely holding on, but you would never know it by how smoothly her body is moving. I would say in this example, the athlete is in the fucken zone.

The reason sport psychologists are having a impossible time pinpointing this high performance state of mind is because being in the zone is different for the type of sport that you play. For example, being a quarterback in the zone and throwing ten completed passes in a row is far different than when a boxer is getting his ass kick and then all of a sudden makes a comeback and becomes unstoppable while being in this zone state. For those us that participate in sporting events that involves tolerating high degrees of suffering like boxing, MMA fighting, endurance sports, and CrossFit, being in the zone can have similar meanings.  When I get into this so called zone state, it is nothing more than me engaging my will into the training.

When you have a strong will, it has only a one track mind. When you implement it during the workout, it’s sole purpose is to finish it to the exclusion of everything else while enduring upper levels of discomforts that only a very small population can do. Nothing will get in your will’s way which is exactly the attitude that a fighter and marathon runner needs to have when they are their zone. All distractions that will hinder your ability to finish the WOD like your personal problems, what you are going to have for dinner, whining and even fatigue must be put to the back burner. Finishing is the top priority and pain is somewhere on the bottom of this priority list. When the inevitable pain does comes up, I will suppress it because I have decided way in advance to make it a non-issue. Pain becomes more of a nuisances and annoyance than anything else.

When my will is this honed in on finishing the WOD, I can’t think of anything else. That’s how focus I get. Like a professional baseball player that is locked in on the hitting zone where the size of the baseball looks like a grapefruit, I would say I’m in my CrossFit zone when my thinking is clear.  My thoughts are not passive and hesitant, but like the metaphor of the baseball being a grapefruit, the thought of finishing the WOD is dominating my thinking patterns. Distractions can’t interfere with my sole intentions of trouncing and finishing off the WOD. My visualization of me finishing the WOD with my arms raised high in the air is so real to me that I not only know it will happen, but I expect it.

(To be continued)

Today’s CrossFit WOD –

Every two minutes for twenty minutes perform the following:

Push press – 3 reps

200 meter run (approximately)

For example, start the WOD. Repeat the 3 push presses and run at 2:00. Repeat again at 4:00 and so on.

Today’s WOD is very simplistic with only two movements, however, don’t let that fool you. The combination of push presses and a run every two minutes will play havoc on your lung capacity and your ability to stand up straight.

This WOD is not only brutal, but extremely fast pace. It’s one of those few WODs that gets more intense as each rounds passes by. The challenge with this WOD is that you have to perform the later rounds with pretty much no recovery time. For example, by the mid-rounds is when your body starts to tire is when the real suffering begins. After you do the push presses and come back from the run, you think you have time to catch your breath, but you really don’t. The two minutes are suddenly up and you have to repeat the cycle again, regardless of how fast your heart is pumping or how bad your legs are shaking. This pattern of misery gets worse after each round as you even have less time to recover.

I’m not saying you can’t rest longer if you need too. If you need more time to recovery, take it.  Work according to your current fitness level. However, if you are above average with your conditioning skills, continue to push yourself through the hell. Being able to push yourself to go further is what separates those who are tough and those who are weak.

In order to counter to inevitable misery, you want to get into the zone as early as possible in the WOD. Make a commitment during your preparation process that you will stick it out to the very end, no matter how ugly it will get as things will get very sloppy early on in this WOD. If your forms begins to deteriorate with the push presses, take an extra breather and pull yourself together. There is never any reason to keep on working when your form breaks down.

The first couple of rounds will seem easy and non-challenging, but by third round you will feel the torrid pace of the WOD. With less time to calm down your breathing and amble rest for your body, you will hit a wall very soon.  When your body feels totally exhausted and your legs don’t feel like moving, you must rely on a greater source of energy. That source is the power of your will. Your will has the capacity to make your body move with respectable force when it is at its most weakest. When your body wants to quit the most is when your will can quickly summons it do the most amazing things possible. Your body doesn’t need a lot of recovery time and rest to re-energize itself. It just needs one thing. A will that refuses to be fucked with.

The combination of your will and you setting your goal of completing the WOD will be hard to beat. Throughout the 20 minutes, you want to repeat your inner monologue of finishing the WOD, over and over to yourself. It will help you stay focused and remain in the zone while your will leads your dead body back to action. When pain and fatigue begin to makes its way into your body, you must remind yourself that its all a mental diversion to make you quit. As bad as the discomfort is, see the exhaustion as what it really is – a distraction. You can block out any distraction with a will that fights back with explosive push presses and sprinting the last part of the 200 meter runs. By making a statement to yourself that you are stronger than ever, you can ignore and put a end to all your mental interruptions. Nothing and nobody can interfere with you while you are in your CrossFit zone.

This is how focus you are and must be.

When you first begin this training, you will feel flashes of being in this zone, but with practice you can consistently be in this state of mind where nothing else matter, but you destroying the WOD with authority.

Scaled back version of this WOD –

1. Instead of the push presses, you can do military presses instead.

2. Walk the 200 meter distances. Also, you can walk or run in place for 30 seconds.

3. Instead of doing the movements every two minutes, you can do them every 3 minutes or 4 minutes or longer. Work according to your current conditioning level.

Acceptable alternatives –

1. For the push presses, you can use a barbell or dumbbells.

2. Running on a treadmill for 45 seconds is also okay to do.




10 thoughts on “Being in the CrossFit Zone with Mental Toughness Training (Part 1)”

  1. I thought this post was going to be about the zone diet. LOL!

    Anyway, cool post. Every once in awhile I get in this zone state too when I’m doing a wod. Something I can sometimes I can’t. For me, it helps that I’m fully recover and having a great night of sleep.

    Today’s wod looks brutal. Going to attack it later. Hopefully, I will be in the zone.

  2. This WOD looks nasty.. very nasty. I hate running so I let’s hope I can get in the zone with this WOD.


  3. Jackson – you may it sound so easy! I wish it was, but when the distraction begin to attack me, it is very hard for me to stay focus. I almost think of everything else, but the wod.

    I know I probably sound like an impatient, spoiled brat, but I just have a hard time staying focused in the zone. It very frustrating….

    Sorry about the complaining today.

  4. Hey Deb: No problems about the complaining. If is normal when you do this sort of training and adventuring in something new and challenging. You need to be patent and take the training one WOD at a time. Instead of worrying so much, stay in the moment and focus on movement. If you have a coaching cue or mantra, the better.

    Your concentration will improve the more you do this training. Hang in there. Its only been a couple of weeks.


  5. Tim , Daisy and Ben – yes, this was a brutal WOD. It take a while to get into this zone state. It takes a lot of practice and effort. It won’t come easy, but after you put some hours in this training, it will get easier.

    Mostly, you have to get used to training under extreme intensities. It always will suck, but won’t suck as bad as you get more conditioned with your WOD.

    Looking forward to hearing back from all three of you with the upcoming WODs! Hang it there and do not give up!


  6. Hey Jackson – I have some shoulder issues and can’t use free weights. What do you think of the hammer machines? I can’t do push presses on them, but I can do presses. The trainers at my gym really advocate hammer machines and I have used them with no problems in my shoulders. I actually like them them.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks a million,

  7. I’m sure Jackson will agree to this – preferable to use free weights but if you can’t, then do what you can .Can you use dumbbells?

    I like some of the hammer equipment. The upper body stuff is good, but I don’t like the lower body leg machines.


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