6 Steps To Build Mental Toughness

By Gabrielle Kassel | August 10, 2017


This blog was written in collaboration with Fisherman's Friend

When it comes to mud pits, barbed wire, and ice-cold water, you need more than physical strength and a tribe of Mudders ready to escape the ordinary with you… you need mental toughness.

You're already running , box jumping, and bicep curling your way to physical greatness, but now it’s time to start doing some mental burpees. Truth be told, building mental toughness isn’t as easy dropping to the floor and cranking out 20. It takes work to get your brain to a point where it is willing to push longer and harder than it ever was before. And while we swear that anyone can do a Tough Mudder, 10 miles and 20+ obstacles are no joke.

Fear not Mudders, here are 6 ways you can train your minds so that your neurotransmitters don’t fatigue and quit, leaving you waist-deep in a pile of muck. These strategies will set you up for success and unbeatable toughness on and off the course.

1. Blast Your Tunes.

Let’s start real easy… just grab your headphones. Science has shown that music can boost athletic performance… if it’s the right kind of beat. The key is finding music that inspires and motivates you. In training, the music will distract you from your effort, which allows you to go harder. So when you’re training to pass a challenging physical test, break a personal record, or gear up for your first time hitting the mud, listen to one specific song. Do this on your hard training days only. Then, come event day, blast the song before you take the start line. you’ll feel it throughout your body, invigorating you to go harder and longer just like you practiced.  While we don’t recommend lugging any musical device with you into the mud on event-day, what you blast on the car-ride to the site could be the make or break for mental wins.

2. Stick To A Routine

While the post-training bath or beer may feel like the most important part of a training, they’re not. Creating a workout routine is.  Challenging yourself to get out there when you don’t feel like it, when you’re busy, tired, or the weather’s not ideal, will boost your discipline. If you can make a sweat-routine that you stick to no matter what, it’ll begin to feel like second nature. Plus, it's that much more rewarding to finish a workout in tough conditions than in easy ones.

Need help finding a training plan that works for you? We’ve got you covered with our Tough Mudder Training Guide. This guide will have your mind and body start and finish line ready in no time.

3. Be Positive

In training and when you’re taking on the course, there will be a dialogue that going through your mind; some of these thoughts will be negative, but others will be positive. In order to be successful, focus on the ones that make you feel tougher, stronger, gritter. If you think you can’t muscle through Funky Monkey The Revolution, you can’t. If you think you you’re going to lose your grip on King of Swingers, you will.

An easy way to keep a positive frame of mind is to create and use a mission statement or mantra that gets you pumped up. Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., certified yoga instructor and owner of Keri Gans Nutrition  recommends finding a mantra that has worked well for you during training, a phrase such as “I’m okay”, “You got this”, “One foot at a time”, or “Yes I can”. These phrases can help rid the brain of negativity and replace it with feelings of “yes I can”, she says. Another way to make a mantra that will work for you is to focus on your “why”. Make this “why” your mission statement and repeat it to your tough self during training and on event day.

4. Meditate

The benefits of meditating to athletes are old news. But you don’t have to get all New-Agey to make it work. At it’s simplest form, meditation is an exercise (of the mind… woah) meant to calm anxiety, allow for the opportunity to be mindful of one’s presence, and nurture a healthy relationship with the body.  According to Chandresh Bhardwaj, owner of Break The Norms, “Athletes and people-in-training tend to go rough on their bodies. Meditation can help them understand the relationship between physical exertion and mental awareness. When you have a better connection with your awareness, you’ll have a better connection with your body, too”.

Meditation is particularly beneficial for athletes, says Bhardwaj; athletes who meditate regularly can expect to see benefits such as increased focus, reduced anxiety, increased ability to cope with painful injuries, decreased mind-chatter associated with failure and increased humbleness surrounding physical feats, better sleep, and less impulsive reactions. Bhardwaj emphasizes that training  isn’t just defined by what we eat or how we train, rather it’s also defined by how mindful we are with our bodies and how we cope during a particularly mentally taxing workout.

5. Be Prepared.

Obstacle course and endurance athletes know the drill: nothing new on race day. Meaning, if you’ve prepared for anything, you’ll be able to handle anything. If in training you know that you’ve done everything possible to get to your goal, on event-day you’ll be vibing on a next-level-feeling-of calm.

You should know on race day what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to wear, and what you’re routine is going to look like the morning of the event. The morning of your event is not the time to try out whipped-cream on your protein waffled after a year going dairy-free… nor is it the time to see if you’re stomach is as tough as the rest of you. Eggs loaded with Sriracha? Not today, buddy.  

If you’re planning on impressing TMHQ with a costume straight out of a Disney movie or an inflatable T-REX guise, you’d be wise to have the outfit sewn, sized, laid out and ready for wear the next morning. If you’re not planning on decking yourself out in superhero garb or something IG-story worthy, we’d still advise you figure out what you're going to wear to the toughest event on the planet prior to game-day. (Need some help making that packing list, check out our go-to’s HERE).

6. Visualize Your Success

Look over the map of obstacles as part of your training preparation and visualize yourself getting through each one successfully, suggests Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach Dr. Grayson Wickhman PT, DPT, CSCS. Before you step foot on the start line, you should have already completed the course mentally. “Literally visualize yourself getting dirty. Think about the feeling of the mud on your legs. Get specific” says Wickham. Once you’ve completed the course with your mind, all you have to do is complete it with your body.