T Nation

Train the Body, the Mind Will Follow

By Ross Enamait

How does one gain confidence and develop mental toughness?

This is a common question, asked by many aspiring athletes. While searching the Internet, I typed the phrase �??mind power�?? in the Google search engine. I received several thousand hits with this phrase. Many of the links were to expensive information products dedicated to the subject. For a few hundred bucks, some guru will tell you how to develop a strong mind, which will then supposedly improve athletic performance.

One thing that I�??ve learned in my life is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Training the mind does not require an investment in an expensive course, nor does it require a degree in psychology or neuroscience.

Although I am all for strategies such as pre-competition visualization and positive affirmations, there is one commonly overlooked way to develop an indomitable mindset.

If you train the body, the mind will follow. By pushing yourself in the gym, your mind is forced to come along for the ride. If your mind is weak, you will quit as soon as fatigue mounts. Fighters are trained to work through fatigue. The ability to display skill in a fatigued state is a unique skill in itself.

Such abilities are developed through intense physical training. If you want a strong, confident mind, you must develop this mindset in the gym.

Consider the words below from Bernard Hopkins, one of the greatest middleweight boxers of all time. These words came in a pre-fight interview earlier in his career. Bernard said the following:

�??I�??m always going to come in (to the fight) overconfident and I have a reason to. I always come in overconfident because I train so hard that I leave no room for doubt in my mind. I never go in there to lose. The word is not even in my dictionary. I train confident, and I train to think overconfidently. If I didn�??t, I�??d be a fool.�??

By pushing through strenuous workouts, you will gradually improve physically. As your strength and conditioning improve, you will gain confidence in your abilities. This process does not happen overnight. It takes time, dedication, perseverance, and a regular dose of hard work.

There is no room for doubt in an athlete�??s mind. You must gain confidence in yourself. As you push through difficult challenges and routines, your mind will become increasingly resilient.

It is easy to quit when the going gets tough. A strong mind will enable you to keep plugging away despite the fatigue that will inevitably mount. As Vince Lombardi once said:

�??Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.�??

Tour De France bicycling king Lance Armstrong perhaps said it best with the following words:

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?”

Obviously, you need a strong mind to live with such conviction, but you also need a strong body. Quitting offers an easy way out of any challenge. Everyone has a breaking point. By continually raising the bar in the gym, you can avoid reaching this point during competition. Train your body to go the distance, and the mind will be prepared for the journey.

Don�??t just coast through your workouts at the gym. Crank up the intensity and gain confidence in your training. Don�??t enter your competition wishing that you had one more week to train. Plan ahead of time, put in the work, and develop a strong body AND mind!

To drive home this point, let�??s look at one brief conditioning workout. Set a timer and challenge yourself to perform 100 burpees as fast as possible. Can you perform 100 burpees in 10 minutes? What about 9, 8, 7, 6, or 5 minutes? How fast can you go?

As you work through this brief challenge, your mind will start whispering in one ear, convincing you to stop completely or take an extended rest period. It will become difficult to maintain a fast pace as fatigue starts to rear its ugly head.

Upon completing the routine, the mind may add another piece of advice, something such as �??Let�??s never work through that routine again�?��??

When working through a difficult challenge, it is useful to ignore the mind. Don�??t let the mind convince you to quit. Stay focused on the task at hand. Make the decision to complete the challenge in its entirety BEFORE you begin the workout. You may even find it useful to post motivating words on the walls of your gym. It is always useful to glance up to a motivational phrase from a dominant athlete such as Lance Armstrong. A quick glimpse may provide that extra spark that you need to keep working.

Before closing this section, I�??d like to provide one last quote. These words come from former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. He once said:

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

Many readers may consider these words harsh. After all, we live in world where the easy road is most often traveled. You must remember however that the fight game is harsh. Combat sports are not for everyone. Anyone who suggests otherwise is talking out of his ass. If you wish to partake in such an event, you must take the training seriously.

Prepare the body and mind, or be prepared for injury.

Nice post

I seriously fucking love your avatar lol… it pretty much sums up my college experience.

On the first read I thought it was a good article. Then my subconscious processed it further and a mental bubble floated up 10 minutes later. I read it again and realized that he provides arguments against his premise (If you train the body, the mind will follow.)

The article actually has more support for the premise: If you train the mind, the body will follow.

I get his overall point but the reasoning just didn’t sit right. It could also be that I have too much time on my hands and I’m nitpicking.

i see your point… imo its a simultaneous thing… but his overall message still rings true.

Good post. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Conditioning the body and the mind is where the blade is forged and sharpened. Success breeds success. So, in the weight room…should we ever train to failure? Fred Hatfield preaches teaching your body to succeed.

I do believe everyone needs to experience “quitting” at some point…so they know just how shameful it is. It can be a good driving force. Guess it never helped Mike Tyson, though.

[quote]Tour De France bicycling king Lance Armstrong perhaps said it best with the following words:

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?” [/quote]

I’ve always said the main thing that keeps me lifting is the fear of having to start up again if I stopped. To me, there’s nothing worse than the mental torture of knowing you quit and the physical pain having to start over. I don’t think I could live with myself and have to face that every day. Besides, if training is your lifeblood then nothing is ever going to be right in your world unless you’re in the game. If you don’t understand that, then we’re not even on the same page.

I believe you have to train your body and mind to work separately and together. The together part is easy: that’s when your body says, “Hey dipshit, enough!” and your mind says, “No, let’s keep going!” and your body responds. The hard part is finding that happy mental place when your body is about to drop off the edge, or getting your body to take over when your brain takes a hike. Having experienced both, I’d say that’s easier said than done. It takes practice, which means having to experience a bit of misery.

For me, it’s always been easier to mentally squeeze more out of spent body than get a taxed body to ignore the mental voice that screams, “WARNING! WARNING! YOU’RE DONE!” I pretty much know that no matter what, my body will keep charging up the hill. It may not look pretty, but my body will respond to just a shred of mental prodding. Unfortunately, my mental game has been a bit trickier.

I’ve learned that I can break a mental block if I change my perception of a task. For example, I hate cardio. Hate it. For many years my mental approach to cardio was: I’ll do it, but I hate it. And guess what? I did it, but I hated doing it and didn’t do it very well. (I was consistent, but miserable) One day I decided to take a different track. I prioritized my goals and put conditioning goals first. Initially I still didn’t like cardio, but I started seeing some mental and physical progress. So I decided to take my approach another step, and started telling myself that I LIKED doing cardio. Guess what? I got much better at it. Now I can do just about any type of conditioning routine without feeling any hate or dread. If I find myself dragging my heels I get back on track by reminding myself how much I LIKE cardio. Yeah, sometimes that still sounds like BS to me, but it gets the ball rolling again.

Cappy

[quote]Michael570 wrote:
The article actually has more support for the premise: If you train the mind, the body will follow.

I get his overall point but the reasoning just didn’t sit right. It could also be that I have too much time on my hands and I’m nitpicking.[/quote]

I think they both become trained simultaneously and in the same way. You get stronger through working hard, and you build mental toughness by pushing that limit.

On the same level, you can do mental overtraining. You should push yourself to the edge, but if you get to the point where you always push yourself to the edge where you literally quit, you can start labeling yourself as a quitter.

Just as we worry about recovery for the body, we should worry about recovery for the mind. Do a high volume mental week one time of crushing discipline, hard as hell; then follow with a week of light training, beating up on some easy sparring partners, building yourself back up.

The more you go, the higher stresses you can tolerate and the faster recovery you acquire.