The final leg of my five part series on Mental Toughness is being able to maintain strict form while your body is extremely uncomfortable.
This is a very difficult thing to do simply because your entire body is telling you to do exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. And this is precisely why we are talking about mental toughness – in a sense, it is the aggregate of all the previous sections and culminates here.
How do you maintain strict form while experiencing excruciating discomfort both mentally and physically?
You need a lot of practice to master a technique. When it comes to the White Collar Boxers, they had to train 3 days a week for 12 weeks in order to learn the basics of boxing. When you are first learning the jab, it takes considerable amount of mental energy to do the damn thing – like proper footwork, staying on the balls of your feet, keep your knees bent, keep your hands up, throw your hips in to it, keep your head straight, snap the hand, etc… The checklist is so long that you are mentally fatigued by the end of the session not only from physical exertion but also from remembering all the points on how to throw a proper jab.
“the wrong form now doesn’t feel good or normal.”
Now add in the physical exhaustion – the lactic acid burning sensation that’s occurring in all the effected muscles. An ever-increasing stinging, burning pain that only gets worse and worse until you stop doing whatever it is that you are doing. You’re feeling very uncomfortably hot as your body temperature keeps rising. You sweat profusely to desperately cool down the body. Your breathing has become rapid and hurts your chest as it heaves up and down greedily sucking in more oxygen.
So how does anyone maintain their form in the presence of so much suffering?!
If you can master the technique of throwing a jab, or doing a proper push-up and do it so well that you can do it with your eyes closed, then you at least have built up a technical foundation for you to train at a high intensity with good form. The skilled movement has been conditioned into your muscle memory to the point where it has become automatic – in other words, it’s on auto-pilot. At that point, if you were to do a push-up using bad form, it would actually feel weird – as if something was off. This is when you know you have good form. Because the wrong form now doesn’t feel good or normal. Now, when you are in the middle of a hard set and you are really struggling to finish the set, your form may start to break, but as it does, you catch yourself since your muscle memory flags you that something is not right. You correct your form and everything feels right again. And when you are doing something with proper form, you know you are doing it with good form because it will continue that burning, painful feeling in the muscles that you were trying to escape from.
To recap from the other points mentioned from the previous mental toughness blogs, you will employ the following to help you with maintaining strict form:
Visualization – mentally see yourself doing the skilled movement with good form; visualize your body going through the proper motion and check yourself if you are doing it right. Visualize yourself prior to the set of enduring through the physical pain and discomfort and executing the movement with perfect form.
Goal-setting – set small and attainable goals in your mind so the task at hand does not seem insurmountable. That allows you to keep to good form because “you only need to maintain it for a short time”. That is until you reach the goal, and then you set yourself another small goal…
Self-Talk – you’re internal dialogue in your head is an ongoing banter of nonsensical gibberish when your body is under immense discomfort. You need to focus the dialogue on positive self-talk that will push and encourage you to achieving your small goals that you set. Constantly telling yourself, that you can do 10 more seconds of perfect-form bodyweight squats, and then telling yourself, “okay, I did it, now I can do another 10 more seconds!”.
Checklist – go through that mental checklist on how to throw a proper jab that you had to engrain into your mind when you were first learning how to throw a jab. That checklist is gold to you especially when you are exhausted. That will keep your form in check as your body tries to cheat its way out of the form to ease off the burn – don’t let it!
“when you are doing something with proper form, you know you are doing it with good form because it will continue that burning, painful feeling in the muscles that you were trying to escape from.”
And lastly – constant training will allow you to glue all these points together and will drill into your muscle memory what proper form should be.
It takes a ton of discipline and mental focus to always train with the highest quality of technique. To hold yourself to that standard is not easy and it’s definitely not as flamboyant or ‘show-offy’ as doing large quantities of pull-ups or push-ups for example, so it lacks the ‘bragging rights’ appeal of doing something with bad form, but to anyone who knows how that movement should be performed, good technique will be impressive to them – its subtle and it’s beautiful. I’m not even going to mention the risk of injury aspect as that is obvious.
Stay humble and always seek to improve your training. By improving your mental toughness, you will elevate your training to a new level of intensity and soon you will be training like a pro!
Train hard and train smart!
See you in class.