Mental Toughness and Health Issues (Part 1)

healthFor the over 15 years, I have struggled with hypertension. When I was first diagnosed with the health issues, I knew nothing about it. My doctor prescribed drugs for me because he said my blood pressure was approaching a dangerous level.

That shocked me out so I took them without thinking twice about it. Since I was always working out and relative healthy, I assume the drugs would be a temporary solution.

As a couple of weeks went by, I asked my doctor if I could get off the drugs since my blood pressure was now normalized. He looked at me with a deep gaze and said my blood pressure was a sign that my heart was having problems and that I need to be on the drugs for a bit longer. Again, I was frighten by his comment. I never consider myself as having a weak heart as I was in my early 40’s. Once more, his fear arousal approach coaxed me into feeling it was OK to take the drugs.

After the fear has settled down about a month later, I did some research and found out how dangerous hypertension drugs were. I was bodybuilder-health freak at the time so I made it my goal to get off the drugs as soon as possible.

The research suggested that a diet free of salt would help lower my blood pressure. So I completely stop eating foods filled with high sodium and made a huge effort to cook everything myself salt-free. I followed this diet strictly for about 6 months and when I when off the drugs for a couple of days thinking I would be able to get off the meds, I was wrong.

My blood pressure skyrocketed back to the high-risk level.

I was obviously frustrated and disappointed that my new salt free diet didn’t change my blood pressure.

So I tried the next best intervention, which was stress reduction. I’m a pretty high-strung person so monitoring and lowering my type one personality would be the most logical manner to tune down my blood pressure. However, after months of yoga and meditation classes, my blood pressure remained high and dangerous. Although, I was able to pick up a really flexible chick from my hot yoga class, that was the only thing positive about my yoga experience. I pretty much hate my pseudo-vegan-yogi  life and was glad to trash my yoga mat.

For about a year of diligently trying to get off the prescription meds, I made no headway. I was still not ready to commit to taking drugs for the rest of my life so I decided to get second opinions from two heart specialists. Both of these so-called experts have written books on hypertension and were well-known in the medical world of hypertension. I figured if anybody would have a solution for me, these two brilliant doctors would provide me with the answer that I have been desperately seeking for.

After dong many sorts of tests on my heart and arteries, both doctors concluded that my bad genetics were the real reason for my hypertension issues. They told me that it would be unwise for me to go off the drugs and that I will probably be on some form of prescription drug the rest of my life.

By now I was more discouraged than ever. However, I didn’t want to give up all hope yet until I used up all my resources. I haven’t explored the alternative medicine route yet, so I decided to give that world a try. I went to homeopathic specialists, had acupuncture done, got allergy tests, hypnosis, biofeed back therapy, meditation, and other types of shaman that I’m too embarrassed to tell you all about.

None of the alternative medicine methods worked. For over ten years, I gave these unconventional routines a shot, but nothing good every came out of these treatments. The only thing I got out of these wacky-therapy sessions was an empty bank account.

By now, I was at my wits end. I was sick and tired of all the broken promises and major disappointments. Especially when all these so-called experts were “promising” that they can get me off them if I followed their program. With each new appointment with all this alternative experts, I left each visit with high optimism. However, after trying each regimen with great enthusiasm and unbridled hope, the results were again the same. When I experimented and got of the drugs for a couple of days, my BP flew up to unhealthy levels.

The cumulative loses had huge effect on mindset rendering me feeling extremely negative like I’ll never overcome this problem. Half of me was telling myself to accept that fact that I would be prescription drugs the rest of my life while the other half was tell myself to not give up.

Also, during this time I was in the height of my CrossFit training and was in the fantastic shape. Externally, I looked like a billboard of great healthy, but internally I had the arteries of an elderly man.

By worse of all, I felt like a health phony. I was getting clients off their prescription drugs, but I couldn’t do the same for myself.

To be honest, this is the first time I have discussed my hypertension issues. Back then, I was too embarrassed and ashamed that I was on pharmaceutical drugs. I would criticize big pharma to my clients and friends, yet I was on drugs for over 10 years. I always preached about how exercise, sleep, stress and whole foods could get anybody off drugs. And I got many of my clients and friends off their drugs, yet I couldn’t find an answer to my own heath issue.

I felt like a huge hypocrite.

I wasn’t ready to give up. I knew there was an answer out there somewhere.

I just had to keep looking.

(To be continued)

Today’s strength training WOD

5 sets of three reps

Front squats

Dumbbell bench press

Back squats

Military press

Toes to bar (As many reps as you can do per set)

You probably noticed that I dropped the reps to 3 for today’s strength WOD. That means, I want you to progressively add more weight with each per set, even if it’s only 5 more pounds. I want you to try to establish today is you PR max with 3 reps for the compound movements today.

The psychological focus today is how to regain your aggression during a WOD after you lost it. Getting into a state of an aggressive mind set for the beginning of a WOD is pretty straightforward. You do your mental warm-ups and when the WOD begins, you mind is fuming with aggressive thoughts. Simple enough. The problem arises is when the WOD begins to overpower you and fatigue starts to set in. When this happens, you become less aggressive with your thoughts and actions and doubts of your ability to finish the WOD begins to dominate your mind-set. When this happens, you are prone to quitting.

Most newcomers to this high intensity training make the wrong assumption that just because they psyche themselves to become relentless during their preparation time, they will automatically be aggressive throughout the battle. You can never assume that you will be in attack mode. The skill that you are honing in on today is this ability to summons in on your aggressiveness at your will.

The goal of the preparation process is not to elicit aggressive thoughts and behaviors throughout the challenge, but to make it immediately accessible when called up. One of the best way to do this is by constantly referring back to your needs and reasons to become mentally tougher. Unlike the metabolic conditioning WODs, with strength training workouts, you have a distinct resting period in between sets. Some of you will take this resting period too literally and by doing so, you will dissipate a lot of your aggressiveness out of you. This could be especially a problem if you start a conversation with somebody, begin texting or just day dreaming. So stay focus on your task which is – you have to lift some fucken heavy shit really soon.

Instead of zoning out, you should use the time to focus on the lift, especially when the weights start to pile on. Your thoughts should be coaching cues to help you make the lift with correct form mixed in with the occasional reference back to why you need mental toughness in your life. Learn to visualize yourself making the lifts and how the successful lift will get you closer to ending a life of being mentally and physically weak. By tying in the successful lift with mental toughness growth, you just created a greater sense of urgency by putting more meaning in the lift if you make it than just your average last set. By taking risk and putting yourself on the line with the outcome of the heavy lift, you have a lot to lose, but so much more to gain when you make it. This is the attitude that I want you all to seek after.

This is the sort of aggressiveness that is rarely seen in the average, but common for those who aren’t afraid of trying. With the effort comes the toughness.

You will strain today, but you will not be stopped.

Now go pile up some weights and experience it for yourself.

Scaled back versions of today’s WOD –

1. Omit the toes to bar.

2. You can replace the back squats with good mornings.

3. Do only three sets per movement.

Acceptable alternatives –

1. You can use a barbell for the bench press if you wish. And for the presses, you can use either dumbbells or a barbell. Just don’t use a shoulder press machine.