Mental and Physical Preparation on Game Day
So you signed up for your first competition and you are getting fired up for the throwdown on August 4th. If you read my previous tip on tapering your training and eating leading up to the competition, you are already preparing well for the physical test you will face on Saturday. There is another type of preparation that must be done prior to showing up at Reebok CrossFit Back Bay on Saturday morning; your mental game is just as important as your physical preparation leading up to the big day. A competitor with mental strength and the ability to prepare their mind to endure what the day will bring can edge out other competitors who may have more skill and strength. Many of you may have felt it in a WOD: you feel slow, tired, drained, and you let these feelings creep into your head. Excuses soon become the limiting factor in your workout, and you leave disappointed with the result of that day. You must be able to shut out the negative thoughts and maintain a positive outlook, focusing on the little details of each rep instead of the quantity of work in front of you. This post is my attempt to assist you with the mental aspect of competition that is not often addressed.
The night before
The night before, even though it is Friday, I highly encourage you to end your night early and stay relatively sober over the course of the evening. The best thing you can do before bed (while stretching after your hot shower, don’t forget) is to visualize the following day. Visualization and, more importantly, thinking about how you will win each event is extremely important in elite athletic performance. When you watched the CrossFit Games online this year, one thing is always true of the competitors; they went into each event with a clear mental plan of how they would execute the movements and they had full confidence that they could win each event. If you are strong at certain movements in an event and weaker at others, start picturing how you will quickly move through your strengths while executing your weaknesses with perfect technique. Focus on the little things, like where exactly that barbell should hit on a snatch, in order to perfect your repetitions on game day. Make sure you get to bed early and get plenty of sleep; being physically fatigued going into Saturday can lead directly to mental fatigue if you doubt your body’s ability to perform.
So it’s an hour before my heat, what do I do?
Within an hour of your scheduled heat time, there are a few things that are important to do both physically and mentally. Mobility, mobility, mobility, and more mobility should happen an hour ahead of your heat time. Foam roll and use a lacrosse ball first, then stretch out the area after you have mashed out any scar tissue in order to loosen up and elongate the muscles. When you are about 40 minutes out, start warming up the movements involved in the WOD. If you are performing a barbell movement, try hitting a couple reps at a heavier weight so that the bar feels lighter during the workout. If the bar feels lighter than it should, the WOD will be much easier mentally; a little extra physical preparation goes a long way in making your mental game easier to achieve. Within 15 minutes of your heat, it is time to focus on the mental side of your game. Stay loose and warm, but you should be performing general stretches and movements at this point and no longer need to warm up specific movements or barbell movements. This last 15 minute window is when you should start visualizing again. Go back through your game plan for the WOD and offer up some words of self-encouragement: you ARE strong enough to move that weight, you ARE fast enough to crush your opponents and, more importantly, you HAVE put in the time and energy to get better. If you go into a workout confident and focused, you will perform better 99.99999% of the time.
During the WOD
You pick up the barbell and it feels way heavier than you thought, you are rowing as hard as you can and the guy next to you has a faster split time, your kip isn’t quite there and pull-ups are slow. If these things happen, it doesn’t matter. This is where your mental preparation really needs to kick in. You need to take the voice in your head telling you it’s too hard, you can’t, you are too tired and tell it to shut the F!%# up. Stay confident and focus on each stroke, each rep, one at a time until you finish your set of work. Stop thinking about the 46 and a half reps left in this round and focus on the ONE rep you are doing RIGHT NOW. Count in your head, focus on breathing, and make each movement as efficient as possible. Too many people make the mistake of starting their WOD like a bat out of hell and fizzle out by round three; the best CrossFit athletes are able to pace each round so they can turn it up when they need to. Your biggest goal should be to keep moving forward at all costs. If you are staring at your barbell for 30 seconds longer than the guy in front of you, it really doesn’t matter how much faster you got off your rower. One of the biggest things that helps me mentally in a WOD is limiting my rest by a set amount of time; if I don’t want to pick up my bar, I take a deep breath and give myself 5 seconds before picking it up. I force myself to get my hands on the bar and get it moving after a 5 count. Limit your rest, your mind will always convince you that you are more tired than you are. Keep battling that voice in your head and stay confident, one rep at a time, until the WOD is over.
Limit your rest, control your breathing, and focus on the task at hand. This combined with adequate sleep and mental preparation in your warm-up will allow you to perform your best on game day. I will leave you with this last point: you are all stronger, faster, more skilled, and more prepared than any of you will give yourselves credit for. We are our own worst critics by nature. You have done the proper homework and preparation leading into this competition, so relax and know that you are adequately prepared! I am excited to see how well all of you do on Saturday, best of luck!