The fourth segment of my five-part series on mental toughness is one that is probably most relevant to you as it is one of the biggest reasons why so many people don’t want to train or do high intensity training. Pain tolerance.
Of course the kind of pain I’m referring to is the good kind of pain and not the pain that is associated with muscle tears or joint pain. That is bad pain and should be avoided at all costs. So for the remainder of this blog, when I mention pain, I shall only be referring to the good pain.
As you become better at exercising, your form becomes better which makes it that much more challenging on your muscles. Eventually, you come to the point where you’re exercising close to 100% effort level (which isn’t easy to get up to as my previous blog talks about). The closer you reach the 100% effort level, the more pain you will experience. This is inevitable.
As discouraging as that sounds, there are some saving graces about training that hard. For one, it can be extremely satisfying, if not pleasurable, especially for those masochists among us. But let’s assume for the sake of this blog that you are not one to enjoy pain but you still realize the importance of training at a high level. What are some of the mental tools you can adopt to help you endure through the workouts?
1. Set Small Goals
This is the single most powerful tool to employ when dealing with a lot of pain and discomfort. You want to be able convince your mind that the end is near. The idea is to break down the set into manageable pieces so that the small goals seem achievable. This is encouragement your mind needs to continue to battle it out when your body’s signalling you to stop. For the white collar boxers, it’s about breaking down the match to three, 2-minute rounds, and breaking down each round to 1 minute focus pieces and so on and so forth.
During my ERG (indoor rowing machine) training, aka. “the most painful piece of exercise equipment ever invented”, I regularly employ this tactic to coach my clients through the grueling 5-minutes sets. The more pain you are feeling, the easier the goal needs to be.
The great thing about setting small goals is that it can be applied anywhere anytime – it doesn’t even have to relate to training. If your goal is to finish reading a really long book, set small goals of reading only 5 pages every night before you sleep. Some days you may end up reading more than 5 pages, but as long as you hit 5 pages every night, you will eventually get there.
2. Postive Self-Talk
In the throes of a tough set, sometimes the only thing that can keep you going is positive self-talk. You have to keep telling yourself that you can do it. There’s nothing particularly clever or unique with this tool but it is effective nonetheless. We all have internal dialogue that is going on inside our minds. Sometimes, that dialogue is just as intense as the pain of doing the exercise itself! It’s up to you if that internal dialogue is productive and will push you through the hard times, or negative dragging you down even further. Simply screaming the line: “I CAN DO 10 MORE SECONDS!” can give you that last boost of strength.
3. Get Angry
I touched on this briefly in Part 2, but it has the same effect for managing pain. Getting angry is a tool where you tap into your emotions for strength. When you’re angry, your body releases the hormone adrenaline that your body can capitalize on to push through the hard times. It also helps to mute the pain from your aching muscles. But try to contain your anger and don’t lose your form and go berserk, that’s not going to be productive either!
4. Embrace the Pain
I often tell my clients this. Instead of shying away from the pain and trying to avoid it, you should embrace it. Welcome it with open arms because the more pain you can endure, the more you are achieving from your workouts. Expect the pain to come and expect to struggle through it. This expectation takes away the uncertainty aspect of the pain that is yet to come. Some may be scared of the pain, because they don’t really know what to expect and they don’t know how intense the pain will be. This fear will further reduce one’s ability to endure through the pain. Using a technique that I talked about previously is re-framing. You can re-frame the situation to see the exercise set as only ‘temporary discomfort’. It’s not real pain, but just some discomfort that will go away soon.
By employing these tactics, you may be successful in going the distance with your high intensity training. You have to keep in mind that the most valuable part of the exercise are the last couple of reps where most people stop short because they don’t want to experience the pain. If you can train your mind to consistently play in that realm, then you will reap the benefits of high intensity training!
Good luck and tell me how you do in your next high intensity workout!