Mental Toughness in Training

Mental toughness

The picture above shows one of the most challenging mental toughness workouts I’ve ever done…


“A few years ago, the question came up, “What is the role of a strength coach?” Well, it is like the role of an English teacher; the answer is in the adjective. 

Teach English. 

Coach strength.” 

-Dan John from Intervention 

I love this quote from Dan John’s book Intervention, a phenomenal book by the way, perhaps not for the beginner, but certainly for any coach, PT, trainer, trainee and athlete alike.

Anyway, back to the point, I think that the term strength coach gets thrown around a lot these days. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am fairly new to this industry, but I am making no claims to be a seasoned vet. I do however hold the term coach in high regard.

Much like a fitness sensei, the coach is there to teach, to learn, to guide and to bring up the trainees. Someone to assess, re-assess and set goals that the athletes couldn’t set for themselves and be the person to give them the steps, the skill and the attitude to get them there.

I want to coach people to be strong, both in a physical and a mental sense.

In the fitness world physical strength gets a lot of attention, but I’m not sure you see quite the same with the mental side of things.

Personally, when I program, I put more into the mental toughness/strength side rather than the physical elements. That’s not to say the workouts are easy, quite the opposite. The athlete will need to dig deep physically, that’s a given, but also battle the voices in the back of their mind telling them to stop.

Why though?

Well, mental toughness / strength plays a huge role in success. Whether it’s in life, health, fitness, competition or business, mental toughness is the trait the successful encompass.

Going back to Intervention, Dan outlines a 10 question toolbox that, depending on the answers, will shape your training. One of which is “Will this goal allow you to spiral out – to enlarge your life?” Building mental strength and toughness is always, regardless of the athlete, sport, age and level of fitness a principle goal I give my athletes.

While you may not be able to alter your genetics, mental toughness can certainly be developed through training.

How do you develop mental toughness?

First and foremost, you become consistent. You don’t miss a practice. You don’t miss a workout. You don’t miss a deadline. You execute and consistently make all of your commitments.

Secondly, you have something in mind that you will not falter from until it is completed. You set a goal, outline the necessary steps and commit to reaching them. You don’t let negative influences steer you from that goal. You don’t let negative feedback deter you from that goal. You don’t let silly things like a “busy” schedule, unimportant tasks and social media stop you from driving forward to that goal.

Thirdly, you work through a lack of motivation, a lack of immediate feedback and approach life like a professional, not an amateur. If it needs doing, it gets done.

Mental toughness isn’t just the extremes. It’s not just the gold medal match in the Olympics. It’s not just digging deep during a bout with a serious illness. It’s more than that.

It’s the everyday little tasks that shape and define your toughness.

Much like a muscle, it can be trained and grown.

Choosing the healthy option over the unnatural, sweetened, processed crap is a form of toughness.

Choosing to say no to the piece of birthday cake because you have a larger plan in mind is mental toughness.

Pushing through the final rep when your mind is telling you to give in is mental toughness.

Walking the extra few feet during a weighted carry is a small win for toughness.

Pushing through at 100% effort and focus during sparring right up until the final bell, when all you want to do is cruise and recover is mental strength and toughness.

Training alone, outside in the cold is building mental toughness.

It’s these small wins that define your character and forge mental toughness.

Prove yourself is these tiny ways throughout the day, each and every day.

Want a Mental Toughness Workout?


Grab something heavy, be it a sandbag, kettlebell, barbell, log, partner, whatever. Find a steep hill, the longer and steeper the better.

Now, hold the weight and get walking up it, then back down and back up it again.

It’s not running, not jogging, just a meaningful marching walk.

Breathe solely through your nose the entire time and repeat until your legs feel like they have squatted 1000lbs. Trust me, it’ll come quicker than you think it will.


Closing Thoughts

This is a real test of mental toughness. The walking speed makes this a truly grinding movement. The nose breathing makes things pretty uncomfortable when the lungs and heart start pounding. Your mind is going to be telling you to stop way before your body does.

As always, strive to get tougher both physically and mentally, in and out of the gym.


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