OpEd — An “11th Component of Fitness”?

October 30, 2020 by and
Photo Credit: CrossFit LLC

In 2002, CrossFit founder and former CEO Greg Glassman explained his definition of fitness. Glassman wrote in the CrossFit Journal, that “CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains.” They are:  “Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.”

Fast forward to 2020 and the final event on day one of the CrossFit Games, “The Ranch Loop,” exposed and beautifully represented that there is actually an 11th component of fitness too: Mindset.  

This event was a three-mile loop that included upwards of 50-degree grades and 2,000 feet of elevation changes including a three-quarter-mile ascent. 

Most importantly, Dave Castro, CrossFit Director of Sport, was waiting for the athletes at what they thought was the finish line. He dealt the competitors a vicious curveball as he explained to them, “Turn around and run the course backward.”

You may not be an elite athlete but how many times has life thrown a curve ball your way?

If you watched the event live, you witnessed Mat Fraser and Justin Medeiros completely empty the tank in an all-out sprint to the finish line over the last few hundred meters, before learning about Castro’s twist.

Now one can only imagine both the physical and mental discomfort these athletes were enduring. However, it appeared that all of the athletes, even those on the demo team, accepted the challenge with open arms and an open mind (with the possible exception of Mat Fraser’s initial gesture to Castro).

Katrin Davisdottir stated in a post-event interview that the twist psyched her up, as she thrives on the unknown. This response is not a special gift, it’s purposefully practiced and trained. “Literally the thing that went through my mind was, YES. LETS GO. It psyched me up,” Davidsdottir said. “I love twists like that and honestly if it is hard for me it is hard for them too.”

Mindset Training

For the ten athletes in Aromas, mindset training had clearly been a focus prior to the Games, both in and outside of the gym and it won the day in the Ranch Loop, acting almost like armor, providing athletes with the ability to respond with purpose quickly, rather than slowly and emotionally. They transitioned and shifted a possibly agitated, angry, mindset into one based on hunger and grit.

This mindset armor was illustrated exquisitely by Chandler Smith on the demo team, making his performance a tribute to the heroes in uniform that he represents.

When Smith approached Castro, there was no hesitation, no emotional shift, no pause, only purposeful action. From the naked eye one could see how much physical pain Chandler was in, however, he looked Castro straight in the eye and said, “yes sir” and continued onward. 

Smith laid it out perfectly in a post-event interview, “You had to rely on something beyond the walls of your fitness. You had to spend a lot more mental energy than normal. If your mental preparation is right, then you are going to do well on this workout.”  

While these examples come  from elite athletes in the heat of competition, mindset training principles also apply to the everyday gym-goer, CEO, soccer mom and so on. 

Just as with CrossFit workouts, mindset training and tools are universally trainable for every single person and can be individually “scaled.”

Consider the following research suggestions:

  • An individual has 80,000 thoughts daily.
  • 90% of these thoughts are ones we have had before.
  • 80% of these thoughts are negative.
  • The mind is naturally lazy; we are on autopilot when thinking the majority of the time.

When we decide to exercise, we are activating our muscles with purpose, and through muscle memory, we learn a new skill. 

Mindset training works the same.

We can exercise our mind for health, wellbeing, and peak performance but it begins with awareness. It is not a one size fits all program and just like CrossFit, there is no quick fix for purposeful progress but there are basic exercises we all can try and apply.

Mental strength is earned. Mental Techniques we can learn.

How to Get Started

If  improving upon your mental game, earning mental strength, and being able to accept the Ranch Loop challenge with open arms is something you truly desire, you need to make mindset training a priority, just as you do with drinking water or monitoring your nutrition, on a daily basis.

Below are a few exercises to try out and apply to begin training your mindset:

1. Reframe 

“Reframing” is a psychological technique that challenges the mind to develop a practical growth mindset and develop self-competence, manage irrational self-talk, and the ability to acknowledge the small wins and take lessons from what we as individuals see as a failure.

2. Meditation

Your objective is not to be a master meditator. Your mind is either in a sympathetic state (fight or flight) or parasympathetic state (rest) and digests more in the latter, calm state.

As 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive from the day before, creating a meditation habit kicks us into a parasympathetic state that has mental and physical benefits.

3. Reading 

Reading is mind nutrition. It activates your neurons in a similar way a workout activates your muscles. Reading with the purpose of learning gives us new knowledge and opens us to possibilities.

Try these suggestions:

When trying and applying the exercises above, use the same model as you would in physical training: mechanics — consistency — intensity. The emphasis here is mastering the basics, but in mindset training, unlike CrossFit WODs, the ultimate goal is consistency, not intensity. 

If improving your mental game is something you desire, don’t be afraid to fail forward. You must focus on discovering what works well for you and this could mean doing the exercises provided above or reading the suggested books more times than the person to your left or right.

If you enjoy having a coach, your best option could be to hire and work with a professional, a specialist in mental training, who would give you individualized attention, aiding in your ability to unlock your true potential by providing you with direction and specific tools that will help you strengthen your mindset. 

For others, this could mean getting a new journal and simply looking up journal prompts or could incorporate more mindful practices such as daily walks, visualization, or yoga into your lifestyle. 

No matter what direction you choose to embark within your mindset journey, there is no wrong turn. Investing in your mindset is an investment in discovering a better version of yourself.

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