The Psychology of High Intensity Training


Following my previous blog entry on Attitude, I am continuing on this theme of the mental aspect of training by writing this blog post on the psychology of high intensity training.  Notice, I am specific here in that I’m only talking about high intensity training and not other forms of training as the psychology involved in high intensity training is different than say doing a 100km trail hike which is quite intense in its own right but not what I am referring to as ‘high intensity’ training.

I am writing about this topic because as I continue to train some of my clients who have trained with me for quite some time now, I am noticing that their limiting factors are quite common and resides in the nebulous region that is between the ears.

This topic is vast.  It’s impossible for me to cover it all in this blog post or if I can ever fully cover it at all.  But I’d like to start pinpointing some areas of this really important subject in the hopes that it may help you, especially if you train with me privately or in my classes.  This is the first of what will be a series of blog posts that will be under the ‘Psychology’ category so here we go delving right into it…

Your 100% effort level, is NOT 100%.

When I’m training clients and I tell them to give me 100% effort, they try hard, some try really, really hard.  And they may actually believe it was their 100% effort level but then when I ask them if they could have done one more rep; as if their lives depended on it; they almost always say yes, or at least they could have tried to do one more rep and perhaps they may fail halfway through the movement but without trying and actually reaching that point of muscular failure, it’s not 100%.

To achieve real 100% effort level, you must adopt an extreme level of mental toughness – a ‘never give up’ mentality that is not easy to do because to take on that mindset, you are essentially volunteering to endure a lot of discomfort – A LOT OF DISCOMFORT.  And this amount of discomfort isn’t natural.  At least, it’s not natural of your current state.  Your body will be sending signals to your brain that it’s breaking, it’s not going to survive any longer and that you need to stop whatever you’re doing and go back to the safe and secure environment just a moment ago.  Your body is trying to protect you from danger – it’s a defence mechanism, and it has served you well.  However, it is also the reason why it’s so hard to reach that 100% effort level.  Your body is giving you a false ceiling, it’s telling your brain you’ve had enough; and this is exactly the point in time where your MIND comes in to play.

Assuming you are doing exercise in proper form and in a safe and controlled manner, your body won’t get hurt.  So the defence mechanism that your brain is receiving needs to be overridden because it is no longer relevant in high intensity training.

For someone who doesn’t regularly train high intensity, it will be a challenge to overcome because you have to train the mind like training any other muscle in the body.  You need to slowly build it up and as you get more and more used to pushing your body to higher levels of intensity, your mind will get mentally tougher and can resist the urge to stop going and instead to endure more of the discomfort.  Athletes live in this world of discomfort.  They don’t just live in it, but thrive in it.  That’s what makes them feel alive!  I know it sounds kind of crazy, even borders on masochism, but it has been shown that the pain and pleasure centres of the brain are quite closely linked.  And because they are able to endure so much more pain and discomfort during their training process, they’re able to push their bodies to such high levels of athletic accomplishments.

Now, I’m not telling you all need to kill yourselves to become athletes in order to stay healthy – that would be ridiculous.  But if you can start dialing in to this mentality of pushing your body to a higher level and do it on a consistent basis, your workouts won’t just yield better results, but you’ll find your mental toughness that you’ve built up will transfer over to your other parts of life.  Keep pushing the envelope, keep re-defining what 100% effort means to you, and before you know it, you’ll be more resilient than you ever thought possible – physically, and mentally.


See you in class.

+ And if you still don’t believe me, check out this link from big think (may need VPN).


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