CrossFit Mental Training

Love to Eat? Introducing

Are you passionate about food, nutrition and recipes? Unleash your inner foodie and check out our brand-new site - share your favorite recipes at Nutrition-WOD today!


Great athletes and champions are often hailed as having outstanding mental toughness, inside or outside of the box, on or off the field of play. The good news is that you do not have to be born this way; you can develop and improve your own level of mental toughness. In our article on athlete self talkPart 1 of this 3-part series on the mental side of CrossFit, we identified ways to prep mentally before a workout – that is, applying a foam roller (or a lacrosse ball, if you prefer) to the brain.

Here in Part 2, consider some practical advice about how to get through a difficult workout once it is under way. While it all sounds relatively simple, it still takes effort to apply under stress, so plan ahead. Next time you PR or find yourself truly embracing the next challenge, you’ll be more than happy you did.

Yes, You Really Can

Make a plan: Choose a go-to word or phrase that will motivate you before and/or during a workout to prevent negative thinking.
CrossFit Lisbeth is a blog, not a box, where the author shares her inspirational Words of the Day – her original style of WOD. She believes in mind over matter, as she writes in a recent post:

This bar is light.

That’s what I tell myself every single time, no matter what the lift is, no matter how many plates are on the bar.

This bar is light.

It can be a snatch, a thruster, a front squat, or a deadlift. There can be 85 lbs on it or 225 lbs. It can be a practice jerk with PVC pipe or it can be a 10lb PR on a 1RM back squat.

Still, this bar is light.

It might sound stupid. Okay, not “might” — it is stupid. But it works, for me. Because if I approach that bar with the idea that the weight is heavy, then it will feel heavy. And my chances of making that lift go way down if my mind is weighed down.

Establish the go-to motivational phrase that you will use the next time you approach the bar or see what’s on the whiteboard. It makes a difference — self-defeating language can only hurt your ability to stay focused. Find the words that will keep you fired up when the going gets tough.

Think Small to Tackle Big WODs

A veteran of CrossFit and CrossFit competitions, Josh Bridges of CrossFit Invictus echoes the sentiment of having a positive mantra. His wrestling coach encouraged him with “Break through that wall” during strenuous matches to help him maintain a strong mind over a tiring body.

One step at a time: Besides working to stay in the present moment, set manageable mini-goals and celebrate as you complete them.
If you can’t think of anything positive to tell yourself, or perhaps you forgot to make a plan before the workout started that day, Dawn Fletcher suggests replacing harmful cues with counting reps, counting breaths, or using key words for particular movements (i.e. “shrug hard,” “hip extension”).

Upon feeling or hearing a negative thought creeping in, stave it off by completing one more rep. Getting into the habit of overcoming self-defeating thoughts gets easier the more often you can do this.

During a longer WOD – say at minute 12 or 13 of Cindy – it’s easy to start “future-gazing.” Same thing happens when you are starting round three of a 5-round workout and thinking, “I am so far from finishing.” Besides working to stay in the present moment, set manageable mini-goals and celebrate as you complete them. A trainer at CrossFit Redondo writes:

Let’s say you are doing the “Lumberjack 20” which consists of seven 400m runs and seven difficult movements each with 20 repetitions. After finishing the first run and movement, instead of thinking “Oh Geez, I’m only 1/7 of the way done” think “I rocked that first round; I’m going to push it on this next run.”

Be Self-Centered

Just breathe: “When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Instead of constantly checking the clock or staring wistfully at the people going slower or faster than you, save those quick glances for going between movements or sets, or when there is a designated break in a workout, like Fight Gone Bad.

You can also focus solely on your own technique, as highlighted in the Podium Sports Journal. Bobby McGee, an expert running coach, writes, “Concentrating on your form is the purest form of concentration.”

When things get especially rugged, focus entirely on what you are doing.  For one minute at a time, observe a specific element of your running form:

  • the 90 degree bend in your elbow
  • peppy cadence
  • stacking your shoulders over your hips
  • your proper forward lean from your ankles up
  • refocusing  your gaze 35 feet out
  • relaxing your shoulders and dropping your chest.

This ability to engage in each movement — rather than disconnect from it — allows you to stay present in each moment of the workout. Be conscious about the way your body moves and strive for virtuosity. Good, technically-sound movement is often efficient movement.

By embracing the process of the workout, as opposed to focusing on the outcome, you can achieve better results.

Say Cheese!

Annie Thorisdottir – now two-time women’s CrossFit Games champion for 2011 and 2012 — and Annie Sakamoto, both fierce CF Games competitors, smile even in the midst of battle. In her observations of the 2011 CrossFit Games, Dawn Fletcher had the following notes from the grueling beach WOD:

Annie T. flashed at least 8 smiles during the workout and ran THROUGH the finish line pumping her fist. You have a CHOICE how you finish a WOD… before the line, at the line, or through the line….shaking your head in disappointment or with a grin on your face. Always imagine the finish line is 10 feet further than it is; hold your head up high at the end of a WOD.

Smiling not only helps you maintain a positive mindset, but scientists have noted that smiling lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins and serotonin, both known to produce feelings of well-being.

A Final Thought

“Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.”
-Bill Russell
Experienced CrossFitters know that the mental benefits — and challenges — of CrossFit can far exceed the physical ones. Train your brain to be your best ally.

Tabata Tidbits: Extra Mental Training Resources

8 Components of a Powerful Mindset: Dawn Fletcher lists — alongside the ten components of physical fitness — the necessary traits of a mentally prepared athlete. To lack in one’s mental preparedness means that you are holding yourself back from reaching your highest physical potential.

CrossFit Goal Setting: Do you want to learn from the original firebreather himself – Greg Amundson? He offers up daily wisdom about mentally training for CrossFit at and also offers a CrossFit Goal Setting specialty course.





Printable Version

We Are Scouting Top Writers

Are you passionate about fitness and have something to say? Reach a huge online community and get the discussion going - start writing for Tabata Times today!

Share this post
@TabataTimes on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook 

Contribute to this story by commenting below:

Advertise Here

Most Popular of All Time

CrossFit Train shared an image on Facebook

2014 Fall Smasher is coming up! Oct 18th! Space is limited. Get signed up today! Same sex partner competition. $100/team! Guaranteed 3 WODs. Top teams move onto finals! Cash prizes! Find yourself a partner and let's go! RX and Scaled division spots still open. #competition #fallsmasher #crossfit #crossfittrain #corvallis @crossfit

Tracktown CrossFit shared a link on Facebook


CrossFit Train shared a link on Facebook

markalewine published the post At the Crossroads Between Yoga and CrossFit on Tabata Times
My wife started to believe she wasn’t going to be able to be an active person. Her back was in...
CrossFit A.P.E. shared an image on Facebook

Announcing Crossfit A.P.E.'s newest member... Please welcome Rohan Allan Duffy, son of Ripple and Selena. Rohan was born 1 week ago at 7:52pm (weighing 6.14lbs, 19.25" length). I think we may have the next SUPPLE LEOPARD in the making here with Firebreather Dad Ripple and Yoga Mom Selena :) Congratulations on your new baby from all of us!!!!!

CrossFit All Terrain posted an article
CrossFit Grants Pass posted an article
Beaverton CrossFit shared a link on Facebook

It's finally here! You can now purchase Beaverton CrossFit memberships online!

Anonymous shared a link on Facebook


Eugene CrossFit posted an article
Anonymous posted an article
CrossFit Train shared an image on Facebook

Squat hold! Can you accumulate 10 minutes a day? #mobility #squat #hipmobility #crossfit @crossfit @roguefitness

championsclub published the post Focusing on your P.A.C.E. on
Pace: (pās) n. 1. The rate of speed at which a person, animal, or group walks or runs. 2. The...
CrossFit All Terrain posted on Facebook

TWILIGHT 5k RUN/WALK @ 7:00! Arrive early (grassy area below deschutes brewery to get your bib if you haven't already and get ready for Super Dave to yell a little bit. Be there wet or dry and we'll see you at the finish line...

Beaverton CrossFit posted on Facebook

Well, found out why my knee has been hurting so much lately...the good news is its only 1 Bakers cyst, 50cc of fluid and a torn meniscus....whew, i thought it was going to be bad

Tracktown CrossFit shared a link on Facebook

A team is stronger than an individual! FACT!

CrossFit Sandpoint shared an image on Facebook

August 28th at 10am, Ammi is hosting a workshop for you and your kids on how to pack their own lunches. Wishful thinking? I doubt it. As those of you who participated in our last nutrition challenge know, Ammi knows her stuff and knows how to convey it to her audience. There will probably be less swearing in this workshop (at least on her part, I can't be held responsible for kids' vocabulary these days).

CrossFit Train shared an image on Facebook

Back in the day cafe. The first CrossFit Train garage. #tbt #crossfit #garagegym #originalmembers @crossfit @katybkelly @fittest_addiction

CrossFit Grants Pass shared a link on Facebook

It's a slow burn today.

Anonymous shared a link on Facebook

CrossFit Grants Pass shared an image on Facebook

CrossFit Grants Pass shared an image on Facebook

Luke Denney published the post Be the Whiteboard on
You do it. Your friends do it. i do it......we all do it. No one is safe from the hypnotic pull of...
saulj shared a link on Facebook

We haven't had a dance party a while. Sinister Dexter is coming to RWC! They are super fun. Who's in? The start times are a little confusing, I'll check on that.

Beaverton CrossFit posted an article
Beaverton CrossFit posted an article
CrossFit 101 posted an article
Berkeley CrossFit posted an article
Morgan Hill CrossFit shared a link on Facebook

week11 day4

Morgan Hill CrossFit shared a link on Facebook

week11 day4

Telegraph CrossFit posted on Facebook

Thursday 8/14/2014 WOD

Telegraph CrossFit posted an article
CrossFit Potrero Hill shared a link on Facebook

WOD- Thursday, Aug 14 SKILL OF THE MONTH: HANDSTAND PUSH UPS – Come early, stay late, open gym. Do the homework to become closer to HSPU. Week 8/11-8/17/14: 1. HS hold against wall, 2×30 sec 2. Handstand scapula push-ups 2x10reps 3. Negative HSPU to …

CrossFitOfFremont posted an article
CrossFit Cypher shared an image on Facebook

"The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering." -Benjamin Spock #ortheopposite #rolemodel

CrossFit West Santa Cruz shared a link on Facebook

Gardening Ideas

CrossFit West Santa Cruz posted an article
Molly Eledge published the post Breakfast Egg Pizza on Nutrition WOD
This is really not like pizza in any way, except for the fact that its round and flat. So...
Beaverton CrossFit posted on Facebook

Nice work on Eva.....most kept it under time cap....those that went over didnt grasp concept of time cap...we will make sure to help you next time...cheers

CrossFit Cadence posted an article
Concord CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

23 people tonight!!! You guys are amazing! Thanks for working together so well! Great teamwork :-)

Max Fitness CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Thursday 8/14/14 Come in make up a WOD. Work on a skill. Pic from 12:00 class 8/13/14!!!

San Carlos CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

A big happy birthday to coach Ruben. He is one of HomeGrown CrossFit's newest coaches but has made a tremendous impact. His drive and passion for fitness shows in his coaching and we are happy to have him as part of the family. Happy birthday Ruben!

CrossFit Ashland posted an article
CrossFit Los Gatos shared an image on Facebook

Tonight's 4:30 and 5:30 Endurance classes showing those shoulder to overheads who's boss! (Robyn is showing the FS who's boss) :) Great job tonight both classes!!!! I miiight have had a little fun with the frames today. ;) Ya CFLG!

CrossFit Potrero Hill posted an article
Beaverton CrossFit posted on Facebook

I'm going to order RPM ropes next week if you want one let me know!!

San Carlos CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

4:30pm class Jackie getting those power cleans done.

San Carlos CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Take your fitness outside. The endurance peeps did a 80 mile bike ride this past weekend in Napa. Lots of hills, a great training ride.

CrossFit Modesto shared an image on Facebook

CrossFit 209 Sport shared a link on Facebook

United Barbell shared a link on Facebook

T-Shirt Contest Voting!

bgerke published the post How CrossFit Saved My Marriage* on
*this might be a slight exaggeration. One of my dear friends likes to remind me how, not that...
CrossFit Sweatshop posted an article
paleobutter published the post Grilled Veggies w/ Raspberry Vinaigrette on
Please excuse the fact that this photograph contains cheese (and that it' s mozzarella, no less)!!...
CrossFit Mill Valley shared an image on Facebook

Good Morning! Ever have one of those days where you have to reach back into the eighties to find a clean pair of shorts? #tjsgyms #willdid #wifehasntchuckedthose?

CrossFit Los Gatos posted an article
stephring published the post Maximizing Power for Runners and Lifters: Maintaining and Increasing Flexibility in the Hip Flexors on
When we talk about the role of the hip flexors in squatting technique and running power, we can...
CrossFit Dark Element shared a link on Facebook

CrossFit Dark Element shared an image on Facebook

Congratulations to all you guys, and gals who toughed it out for those 30 Days! You hard work is officially over! Tomorrow at 12 pm the top three teams will be announced, and the celebrations can begin!

@TabataTimes on Twitter

Watch the latest episode of GPTV