Increasing Your Pain Tolerance for CrossFit (Part 6)

breathe(This is part 6 on this extensive search on how we can raise our ability to handle pain during a CrossFit WOD. I would like to thanks all that have emailed me and commented on how they are enjoying and using the mental tips in this series

Since the overall response have been extremely positive and helpful, I will continue with this series with more suggestions on how to deal with suffering and making it less aversive.)

Tip #7 Don’t Freak Out. This mental tip is not really a tip, but an insight. When it comes to a hardcore anaerobic WOD, what causes the greatest sense of agony is not when your muscles start to break down or when they are burning like fire. The first sign of chaos is the uncomfortable feeling of struggling with your breath.

I always thought it was the muscles that was feeling it the worse in these brutal and intense short WODs, but it was the lungs that caused the first and worse signs of agony. Again, this pain theory may not be true for all WODS, but for those quick anaerobic sessions where you give you max pretty much the whole time, the extreme discomfort stems first from the non-stop pounding in your chest.

In other words, you feel like you are going to have a heart attack.

When I first thought about this revelation, I had to test it out to make sure my theory was correct. For example, when I re-visited “Fran” and “Helen” or doing the dreadful hill sprints. For all these WODs, you do experience muscle break down, but that’s nothing compared to the discomfort that’s going on in your chest and lungs.

There’s just nothing pleasant about feeling like your about to suffocate and being choked out by the WOD.

I’ll take muscle aches anytime over breathing issues. Anytime.

As a coping skill, there’s really not much you can do make the misery go away. You can’t ask or refer back to your “why” or give yourself a long motivation pep talk because when you are gasping for air is very hard to even think straight.

When your brain is lacking air, your ability to conjure logical thoughts begins to fade. The only think you can think is – can I survive the heart attack I’m about to have and be normal again?

Seriously. The thoughts of having to call 911 to resuscitate your ticker is always in the back of your mind when you’re huffing and puffing wildly.

This feeling is scary and the worse part of any maximal effort anaerobic WOD.

So my advice to you is to calm the fuck down during this final period of a WOD when you feel like you are drowning. Being able to relax the mind is the best coping skill to the painful thoughts of almost dying.

Feeling breathlessness is a way different than the pain of muscle burning. As a mental tool, you have to deal with it differently as well. So, instead of activating the mind with thought-provoking pain tolerance skill, you want to do the opposite here. A long mental manifesto won’t work here.

You want to relax the mind. The first thing you should do is to reassure yourself that no matter how awful it feels to have a jackhammer in your chest, you are not going to have a heart attack.

Far from it.

Agony management for this type of pain is all about anxiety control. When it becomes this difficult to breath, the mind freaks out and you begin to panic. When this happens and the anxiety gets the best out of you, you stop doing the WOD  and instead of going on.

Remember the main mental toughness adage is “Your body can always go on.” This is even true when you are having a difficult time getting oxygen. As you progress with this training, you will elevate your tolerance for this uncomfortable feeling of almost not being able to breath. In other words, you’ll find ways to keep on training when you have difficult times breathing. The key is not losing your composure.
In fact, it is near impossible to push yourself to death when you work a high maximal level because the body has natural defense mechanism that will shut you way off before you end of killing yourself. So stop worrying that CrossFit is going to end your life. It ain’t gonna happen.

So by calming the mind and telling yourself that you are actually far from pushing yourself to the limits of death, you can hold on for a little while longer.

A “little while longer” is the key here. The good news is that when the drowning sensation begins, it is a cue that the set or WOD is nearly over. Instead of giving up like the others, I continue to push myself a “little while longer” because I know the end is near. “A little more” or “almost over” are the mantras I used when I can’t string my thoughts together from the worry of getting my ass killed from a WOD. The more I repeat one of these mantras, the calmer my mind I get and before I know it, the WOD is done.

Knowing that the misery isn’t going to last forever and is about to end is a strong coping skill when the suffering becomes almost unbearable. You just have to remind yourself over and over that the pain means the end is near. This realization will appease the mind and prevent it from completely freaking out. If you can control your mind from getting hysterical, you will be able handle the suffering and precede with the training.

Mental toughness is all about how you think. This procedure is just different from the other pain tolerance techniques that I have discussed. But, you must master it in order to up your game and develop your toughness skills.

Elevating this type pain tolerance is difficult and will take a lot of practice on your part when you participate near-death-experience WODs. However, once you get used to the awful feeling of being choked out, know that it is almost over, don’t panic, you will raise your threshold to this type of challenge.

It just takes practice and learning how to calm the fuck down when the agony becomes barely bearable.

Which makes this type of training excellent for your mental toughness growth.

(To be continued)

Today’s CrossFit WOD:

6 sets

8 pull-ups

8 medicine ball slams

400 meter run (approximately)

Go into the WOD with your needs and purpose to become mentally strong brewing in your head. Refer to them often during the workout. Also, redirect your purpose and needs to how finishing the WOD will get you your goal of having personal strengthen in your life. For example, I have a reader that told me her need to become mentally tougher is so “that she would stop hating herself.” When she does this WOD, she would have to redirect her purpose statements with thoughts like “When I get finish this WOD I will learn to stop hating myself”…”Finishing this WOD and I will destroy my self-hatred.” 

Mix in your redirected purpose statements, aggressive thoughts, positive self-talk today with the mantra of “Strengthen the mind and a rock hard body will follow” throughout the WOD today. In fact, I want you repeat it to yourself to the point that you think you are over doing it. You are trying to set a mental foundation and cement one of the main mental toughness principals in your head. If this statement doesn’t strike a chord with you, come up something more personal like By toughing up the mind, I will finally get to wear those skinny jeans….By getting mental tougher, I will finally get a six-pack….Strengthen my mind and I will look great, etc. The point is to make this statement as personal as possible. The more you can connect with some statement of how a strong mind will lead to better aesthetics, the more likely you will succeed in getting that impressive built.

I will go into the power of mantras more in further posts, but let a statement like ‘Strengthen the mind and a rock hard body will follow”  motivate you especially when your legs are close to being done in the 400m run. Mantras like this one are very effective and can have a hypnotic effect on you and lead you to aggressive action when you repeat them often.

So get ready to train and know that a better body is coming.

In fact, getting lean and muscular is the easy part of this mental toughness training.

Now go kill it.

Scaled back version of the WOD:

1. Omit the run or walk the 400m run.

2. Use a Woody band and do assisted pull-ups.

3. Do 4 reps of pull-ups and ball slams.

Acceptable alternatives:

1. Go to mechanic or tire store and get a used tire. Tires are a great alternative for medicine ball and they are free.

2. Run on the treadmill or jump rope for a minute if you can’t do the run.

3. If you can do the ball or tire slams, do 10 kettlebell swings instead.