I recently saw a proposition on Instagram: “If you’re so mentally tough, take a rest week.”
What if mental toughness isn’t about your ability to go-go-go! When I watch athletes during the CrossFit Games or at competition, it seems like mental toughness means fighting through at all costs.
But what about that rest week as the Instagram account proposed? If you can’t take a rest week, or a rest day, or take the time to focus on mobility or gymnastics to address those weaknesses instead of the WOD, tell me this — are you really mentally tough?
I propose that mental toughness is actually mental flexibility. It’s recognizing when something is an excuse versus when you should stop, assess, and in some instances, modify the movement or stop the movement altogether to get assessed by a professional. Mental flexibility is going to mobility class instead of the WOD when you feel really tight and a bit exhausted.
“I determined something else was going on. So I stopped.”
During 19.2, the recent CrossFit Open competition workout with sets of 25 toes-to-bar between increasingly heavy hang squat cleans, I felt something funky happen in my hips and in my core. At that moment, mental toughness for me was pausing for a moment and assessing my body. Was this the typical “I feel tired and want to slow down?” thoughts, or was it something else? I’ve invested the time to train proper movement and therefore have a good grasp of what things should feel like when done correctly, including what is uncomfortable but still functional and safe, I determined something else was going on. So I stopped.
My mental toughness at that moment wasn’t “how much can I push through the pain?” Instead, in that scenario, mental toughness meant recognizing that something was out of whack, stopping my workout, and getting myself an appointment ASAP with Nicole. (Side note: something WAS wrong. I had thrown my SI joint out of alignment.) That mental flexibility allowed me to come back for a WOD and continue my training routine without interference. Had I pushed through that pain, well, who knows?
On another day, mental toughness may mean recognizing that I am recovered and using that data to feel confident giving my 100%, even if that max heart rate zone and seeming inability to breathe feels uncomfortable.
So is it all about mental toughness? Maybe for some folks. But I challenge us as a community to think more about mental flexibility. Let’s cheer people on when they’re going all out and giving 100%, but let’s also recognize the value and the strength it takes to take a step back; whether that means you need to modify a movement, take some time away from the main WOD for mobility or gymnastics to address some weaknesses, or to take a rest day. And ultimately, can you apply this to your life outside of the gym, too? How often are you pushing through life when maybe some rest and self-care are needed? Think about it.