Rope Climbing and Mental Toughness

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The legless rope climb is true test of your mental toughness skills

If you hate climbing rope, don’t worry this post isn’t a tutorial on how to climb rope. Nor is a rope climb part of today’s WOD. So keep on reading. This post is on the lessons you can be gained from this challenging exercise.

The best and definitely the most exciting aspect of this year’s 2013 CrossFit games was the WODs with the legless rope climbs. If you didn’t get a chance to see any of it, here are the highlights of the team WOD that featured upper body only rope climbs. What was so brilliant about ESPN’s telecast of the rope climb WODs is that it had a camera directly above the rope. From there you could see a close-up of some of the competitor’s face as they got which in a couple of feet of completing the task. What was so compelling about this is and made for great TV is that there were many moments when the athlete was holding on for dear life right before the final ascend. In this moment of despair, you can see them thinking and wondering what they had to do to get one more pull out of them. Some of them were able to dig deep and get that final tug while others reached and fell short of touching the endpoint by a matter of inches. Only to rapidly descend down and with major disappointment and bloody rope burns.

That split second when the competitor was up in the air and wondering if they had it in them to make it to the top or not, is what mental toughness is all about. We all have had these moments of deciding whether to go on or give up. To fight or to run. To somehow find hidden strength in yourself when you are literally barely holding on. This central question is the great dilemma that we all must face when discovering our inner toughness. This moment of decision making was all accentuated when the CrossFit athlete was dangling up in the air trying to summon whatever strength they had left in them. It was great TV drama. I was glued to the whole action.

This event was an extreme example of what we go through when we are running out of strength and desperately and this time literally trying to hold on. We’ve all been there with this training. It is during these moments of physical struggle that builds our character as we unfortunately learn that our bodies have limits. As strong as we can get, our bodies can only take us so far. Soon or later we all face an opponent that is physically stronger and when that happens, we must rely on a source other than our bulging muscles. To reach the next level of strength, you must learn to tap into your greatest resource.

The power of the mind.

In order to tap into your mental strength, you must buy into the first principal of mental toughness training. That is, it is the mind that controls the body and not the other way around. The problem most CrossFitters have is that once they experience the strength of their body, they overly depend on their bodies to move heavy weight or display great stamina. Don’t get me wrong. It is great thing to believe in what they body can do. The body has to capacity to do more than we can ever imagine. Believing in what the body can do is only part of the equation. At some point your body will eventually hit a dead end when it goes through it energy sources. When your body depletes the all the glucose in its system, it will lack strength and stamina.

Your mind, on the other hand, never tires out. It lives on a different source of energy source than the kind your body does. Your mind runs on the power of your will

So whenever you are in a WOD and you reach that critical moment where you don’t think you can go on and about to give up, you must shift your attention from the pain in your muscles to the words of encouragement in your head. Your thoughts are what will continue the behavior when the body wants to give out. The whole point of this training is for you to discover that it’s your thoughts that dictate action.

One technique that you can use is what behavioral psychologist call “stop mechanism statements.” These are sudden and very abrupt statements that we all naturally do when we close to physically collapsing. Stop mechanism statements help you shift from the physical pain that you are feeling to a positive command. For me, I have used stopping mechanism statements like “No, I will not give up!” to “Screw this! I can go on!” whenever I don’t think I can go on. Stop mechanism statements are very effective because they are not only jolting, but can lead your body to follow the action that you have just said repeated to yourself. The body is always responsive and can be persuaded to do whatever your thoughts is telling it to do if you say it with enough conviction and authority. My stop mechanism statements are very reliable and have bailed me out of WODs that almost buried me.

Again, we all naturally tell ourselves stop mechanism statements during a urgent situation. However, instead of being arbitrary, you want to be deliberate and intentional when you use them. By doing so, stop mechanism statements can become another powerful and concrete tool for you in your mental arsenal. I use them all the time and I have no doubt those CrossFitters that were dangling up on the rope, unconsciously use them to help get them that the final pull to get to the top of the rope.

(To be continued)

Today’s CrossFit WOD –

6 sets

Push press – 6 reps

Pull-ups – 6 reps

Bodyweight squats – 25 reps

Today’s focus is for you to practice using your stop mechanism statements during today’s WOD. Many times during these demanding WOD there will be moments where you don’t think you can go on. These are very pivotal moments as they can either strengthen your inner will or regress you back to a weaker state. So before the WOD, come up with a couple of strong stop mechanism statements that are very personal to you and that you connect with.

Some of my most intimate stop mechanism statements are very powerful because they have such meaning to me. These single statements pack a lot of power because of the emotions that are tied to them. For example, whenever I am to the point where I feel like I am to crack from the WOD, all I have to say to myself is “No! I will not quit! I refuse to be a quit on myself! 

These stop mechanism statements are more than just a bunch of words to me. They hold very strong feelings and personal meaning to me. When I say them, it pumps me to no end and always able to push myself though the WOD, no matter how badly I am suffering. The trick with stop mechanism statements is to always follow up with them with positive self-talk or mantras. So after I say or scream the stop mechanism statements to myself, I load myself up with a much positive self-coaching as possible. These stop mechanism statements is like a shot of adrenaline. Now I must use and continue the momentum with aggressive and positive thought patterns.  The more forceful and clear you positive thoughts are, the less physical pain you will feel.  By shifting your concentration now to the mental over the physical, you will not only be able to go forward in the WOD, but don’t be surprise if you pick up a second wind that makes you stronger and more energetic than just how you felt a minute ago.

When you do, go with it. What you are experiencing is the power of your mind taking charge of an almost bad situation and turning you into an unstoppable piece of machinery.

Be relentless today.

Scaled back version of the WOD –

1. You can do this alternative rep scheme:

4 sets

Push press – 3 reps

Pull-ups – 3 reps

Bodyweight squats – 15 reps

2. Omit the pull-ups

Acceptable alternatives –

1.  Use a Woody band for the assisted pull-ups

2. Horizontal body rows can be done instead of the pull-ups. They look like this – images (18)

3. Jumping pull-ups are good too. Here’s what they look like – download (2)

4. You can do dumbbell or barbell military presses instead of the push presses.




4 thoughts on “Rope Climbing and Mental Toughness”

  1. I agree. Fantastic article. My CF box has ropes, but there aren’t very long. About 12 feet due to low ceilings.

    I usually go 3x times before I feel that I get a workout in.

    In my opinion, rope climbs are the most physical and mental challenges out there.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Just saw the Crossgames with the legless rope WOD. Wow, was that exciting! Those women walking up those rope with their hands was just so inspirational.

    What a bunch of bad asses.

  3. Watched this event on ESPN the other day. Very exciting and inspirational. Can’t imagine myself ever doing legless rope climbs myself, but would love to try doing them. Another reason why I should join a crossfit gym.

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