The One Thing You Can Do To Finally Become An Elite CrossFit Athlete: Train Your Brain


Ever wondered why that “other guy” at the box always beats your ass at every workout, despite both of you basically having the same body composition? The answer might not be in the amount of gains in your muscles, but rather, the amount of gains in your brain.

Learn To Focus

Gold medal caliber athletes have an insane amount of focus. They know how to be in the game. The crowd’s cheers and jeers don’t matter. The performances of their competitors don’t matter. The pressure of winning doesn’t matter. They are just here and now.

You might not notice it, but you might often find yourself losing focus during a workout. Whether it’s glancing at your competitors to see how they’re progressing, checking the clock to see if the WOD is almost done, or mentally checking out when you come across a movement you haven’t mastered. Stop worrying about all of these things that give you unnecessary pressure. Just be in the moment and enjoy the task at hand.

“The interesting thing is, the champion athletes, the top athletes, the gold medal athletes, the gold medal mindset, if you like, that type of athlete will not see pressure as a problem,” says sports psychologist Tom Bates in an interview with BBC. “They perceive it as a privilege.”

Use Your Imagination To Your Advantage

You’re doing a grueling workout, you’re out of breath, your body’s worn out, and you’re not even halfway done. What are the thoughts running through your head? Were you thinking about despair, hopelessness, fear, or all of the above? If you did, chances are you took a nice, long rest right after – while everyone else left you in the dust.

Elite athletes are often encouraged by their performance coaches to use positive self-talk and mental imagery to boost their game. They imagine themselves scoring that winning basket or landing that punch or nailing that muscle up. Remember in the Adam Sandler movie, Happy Gilmore, wherein his one-handed golf mentor would tell him to think happy thoughts? Yeah, exactly like that! More than just giving you a good feeling, it actually motivates you, giving you that second wind to push harder and finish strong.

So before a WOD, leave your negativity at the door and think of happy thoughts, like doing a perfect snatch, or finishing ahead of everyone, or breaking your PR. It’ll do wonders!

Routine Makes Perfect

Do you know why we do the burgerner warmup, like, ALL THE TIME? Well, one, proper form prevents injury. Two, repeating the individual phases of the clean over and over and over will make the movement second nature to you. So the next time you’re competing, you won’t even have to think before executing. Everything becomes muscle memory.

For the 1996 Olympics, eventual gold medalist Shannon Miller would practice six to eight hours a day, six days a week. “We did a lot of repetitions. It was important to help perfect your routines, of course. But it also helped with the mental game,” she says. “With that much practice, you knew when you got into a competition situation, and you were a little bit nervous, you wouldn’t blank. You could count on your muscle memory taking over simply because you had done the routine so many times.”

According to Scott Grafton, a researcher at the University of California, practice rewires our brain network to make muscle movements more automatic, helping you focus and not overthink things. “If you think about how fast things are going when you make a golf swing, or hit a baseball, or do some gymnastics, you just can’t think and expect to not interfere with your body. As soon as you think about it, and try to make adjustments on the fly, you’ll see your performance degenerate.”

Eliminate Doubt

The smallest seed of doubt you plant in your head could reap a catastrophic outcome in your performance. Try to remember the last time you did a benchmark WOD. Right before the workout, what was your reaction? Were you groaning and complaining with your bros about how painful it’s going to get? Were you thinking about sandbagging it? Did you compare yourself to that “other guy” and thought he was going to beat you again? If you did any one of those things, always remember: thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to beliefs, and beliefs lead to actions. If you don’t believe you can do it, you probably won’t.


Photo credit: Huffington Post