Sports Injuries and Mental Toughness Training

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Getting over an injury is one of the biggest adversities that many of us face. This is especially true if you hurt yourself during an athletic event and can’t workout for an extended period of time. For me, when I tore ligaments on three sides of my ankle and found out that I couldn’t run for at least six months, I was devastated. This was during my running phase of my life when I was a zealot long distance runner.

I’m not exaggerating, but I went through a slight depression during the beginning stages of my injury. Running was such an outlet from me. I never envision myself as a runner as I avoided cardio when I was bodybuilding. But, once I discovered the joys of accomplishing challenging runs, I was hooked to the runner’s high.

When I wasn’t able to run, I felt a huge part of me was gone. The first couple of weeks were very difficult, but I refused to believe that I would be out of action for 6 months. I put all my determination in the doing research and finding out as much as I could about rehabbing a torn up ankle. When I was done with rehabbing my ankle with the therapist, I would go home and do more stretches and drills. When I was at work, I found creative ways to work on stretching, balancing and strengthening my ankle without others noticing.

I became obsessive with getting back to running before the six month time line that my physical therapist had predicated.

I was back on the running trail in about 5 weeks.

Thinking back on this huge obstacle in my life, it was a pivotal turning point in my discovery of mental toughness development. I taught me that I could get over any adversity if I put all my attention to conquering it. Like all positive learning experiences, I am glad I went through the struggle. Getting my ankle ripped up was one of the most empowering experiences in my life.

However, I was just your average Joe Blow with no financial consequence behind the injury. My injury is nothing compared to all those professional athletes that go through season ending or even worst career ending injuries. The pressure on them to comeback must be enormous due to the millions of dollars in loses if they fail to get their body back to where it was before the injury. So when I was reached by Dr. Mario Trucillo who wrote this wonderful article on the worst sports injury in 2012, I was more than please to link the article on

For these professional athletes, I hope they can gain the great insight that I did from my injury.

Making a positive out of a negative is the creed for those who are mentally tough. It is not easy, but making sense out of bad situation and seeing the hidden message takes incredible insight. However, the lessons are there. You just have to look hard, connect the dots and decipher the code.

Once you do, move forward with your life and become stronger because of it.

I know I have and I hope those athletes in Dr. Trucillo’s article can do the same.

Today’s WOD

Strength Day

5 sets of 5 reps


Strict overhead press

Front squat

Incline bench press

Barbell row outs

I often think about the time when my ankle was severely damaged and I had to temporarily give up my passion of running.  Looking back at the struggle now gives me a great sense of gratitude, especially when I compare myself mentally and physically to how I was back then. I am definitely much stronger in all aspects of my life now. I feel fortunate that I can move my body and do things that a normal fifty-one year old shouldn’t be able to do like muscle ups, clean and jerks, snatches, sled pushing, single leg pistol squat, etc. When I was a avid runner there was no way I could have done these feats or even imagined doing them.

One of the reasons I continue to improve on my performances and make strong gains on my CrossFit skills is that I dedicate a lot of my training to becoming stronger. Physical training can improve mental strength only if the mind is the primary focus during your strength day workouts.

So for today’s WOD, put your mental thoughts to the forefront of your training before and during the compound movements.  When getting ready to do a set and you feel intimated by the heavy load refer back to a mantra that will inspire you and give you some added fire During your recovery period, engage yourself with some positive self-talk as you gear yourself for the next set. If during a lift and you feel like you are going to drop the weight, implement your will and refuse to quit. Use as many of the mental strategies that we have discussed on this site.

After lifting something heavy, ordinary gym rats attribute only their muscles to their sense of accomplishment.  We are training to be the opposite of the common man, so after you finish your set give all the credit to your mind for the success of the lift and not just the body. The more you attach and see your mental thoughts as the one of main sources of strength that enable you to pick up something extremely heavy from the ground, squat or press a new PR over your head, the more you will experience the empowering mind/body connection. When you discover how the body can lead your body to do amazing things, get ready to run faster, lift heavier weights, but more importantly, have the capability to come back from a devastating situation like a major injury.

The goal of this mental toughness program is for you to face any adversity and have the absolute certainly to know that you can overcome it, no matter how impossible the predicament may seem or how badly damage your spirit may be.

As contraindication as it may sound, the greater the odds are against us, the more likely then that we will vanquish the obstacle and shut up the enemy. It is not that we perform better when our backs are against the wall, but we become more determined when all hope is nearly gone. When we decide to fight back, we will strike with more force and conviction that will stagger the opposition so that nothing will get in our ways of what we want. During the battle, we have the capability to endure the severest of blows and most heartbreaking setbacks so instead of weakening us, it burns my fire deep inside of us.

We will not be stopped.

This is who we are.

Scale back version of this strength WOD –

  1. Do 3 sets of 3 reps.
  2. You can use a bar or bench press for the strict overhead and incline presses.

Acceptable alternatives –

  1. Instead of the barbell row outs, if you have an “ab wheel,” all the better.

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