“Don’t train to be the best athlete on the best day possible. Train to be the best athlete on the worst day possible.”
- Louie Simmons.
This quote always sticks in my mind. Training against adversity is the core of the CrossFit program. At some point in every workout everyone feels their lungs burning or their muscles getting heavy. Webster’s dictionary defines adversity as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.” Facing adversity takes shape both physically and mentally, you must be ready to attack both. So how do you train against adversity? What are ways you can mentally win in competition?
Being able to excel in the face of adversity is what separates elite sports athletes and tactical athletes from the rest of us. You can see examples of this in athletes such as Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and in the sport of CrossFit where there is no greater example than Rich Froning Jr. These athletes have faced major adversity both in their respective sports and at various times in their lives. In 2017, Tom Brady took his team from a 25-point deficit to win the Super Bowl, completing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Before that, Eli Manning had also taken his team down field and beat the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, in what has been called the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. Rich Froning is famous for coming back on the last day of competition to take the title of World’s Fittest Man for four straight years. Being able to not let the odds against you bring you down is what it means to face adversity head on.
Just recently the world of college basketball was thrown for a loop when #11 seed Loyola Chicago went all the way to the final four. I am not bashing this team, they had an amazing season (even if they beat my team Kansas State). They played excellent for the entire tournament and when they went to the final four game against Michigan they lost their composure when they started losing. They started rushing shots and throwing the ball away. All tournament they kept their composure and were able to beat teams that were ranked way higher than them but for whatever reason they lost it against Michigan. After the game I said, “Michigan didn’t win the game, Loyola lost the game”. They lost their composure towards the end and allowed themselves to be beat. Again, this team did a great job earlier in the tournament but allowed themselves to be beat. We will all face uphill battles in our lives, we will all face adversity, training mentally is just as important as training physically. Tactical training is no exception. In any selection program, it doesn’t matter how physically strong you are, everyone meets muscle failure.
So how do you train to face adversity? It starts before the workout begins. For one thing, don’t stand there and think about how much the workout is going to hurt. “Ugh, burpees and thrusters!” Look to great athletes like Annie Thorisdottir, who smiles during every workout. Don’t tell yourself that you hate burpees, re-frame your thinking to positive self-talk like “I can’t fail a burpee rep.” On a marathon run at mile 20, just tell yourself how you only have to keep moving no matter how slow that pace may be. In my world of CrossFit, one of my pet peeves is when people put their hands on their knees. I am repeatedly telling people, “That is a stance of defeat and you aren’t defeated yet!” Stand up, take a deep breath and keep driving! Everyone is feeling the same pain. This strategy can also apply to life. One of my favorite lines in the movie Lone Survivor, “You are never out of the fight!” You are only defeated when you say you are.
In the tactical environment, focus on the task at hand. Don’t look at it as days of the assessment. Instead look at it as one task at a time and when that task is done, attack the next task with the same fervor. Attack each task/mission given to you one at a time. In his now famous commencement speech to Texas University, Admiral William McRaven talks about going through Basic Underwater Demolition (BUDS) training and facing some of the hardest training in the world and how his classmates faced it. “If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.” What does he mean by this? In today’s world there are many challenges, in a workout there will be many times that you want to slow down, and in a game you will be down. You must face these challenges head on. Sure you can quit but what have you now taught yourself? It’s ok to quit. In a workout, I’m ok with you slowing down. I’m ok with you lightening the weight. In a game I’m ok with you subbing out to regain your composure, but I’m not ok with you quitting. Whatever your proverbial shark is, face it head strong. Push through it. Hit one rep at a time, go one yard at a time, and one point at a time. Take small steps to complete your goals. Don’t look at the marathon, look at small steps that you can take to make the difference. Keep your eye on the prize, not on the journey. Having a positive outlook on your workout and smiling at all times will lead you to beat any workout that you face.
Mental training is the hardest part of any workout regime. Having a strong mental game and facing adversity is key to overcoming any workout or challenge life throws at you. Doesn’t matter how slow you may go, how heavy the bar may feel, or how daunting the task at hand, never quit what you started. Put one foot in front of the other and drive forward to face adversity head on.
*Side not NYU did a study on this particular topic and you can read the study