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Mental Toughness

November 2nd, 2011
Henry Day

We often hear it commented during television coverage of sporting events how mentally tough certain competitors are.

This usually refers to the psychological strength that is displayed by an individual to stay composed, focused and determined to achieve their objective when their body, mind or both are under extreme duress.

My favourite example is the Ali Vs Fraser fight dubbed as the “Thriller in Manilla” here we had two athletes of exceptional mental fortitude slog it out in extreme conditions. By the 11th round both fighters were gone, totally exhausted and virtually dead on their feet. Yet both pushed on in pursuit of victory.

Closer to home I’ve witnessed Muscle Pit’s Stephen Ramsay at body weight of 67.5kg pinned to the floor, folded in half like a taco while attempting a squat of 250KG at the 2011 West Australian State Championships. Not phased, 2 weeks later he’s back under the bar box squatting 300kg’s (band assisted). That’s gutsy…

Unlocking the Key Components

Undeniably in both examples the individuals above have an unshakable self belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

Their motivation and desire to succeed is backed up with action and sacrifice (I.E: Their motto “what-ever it takes”).

They plan and prepare for every possible roll of the dice which may prevent or affect them from achieving their desired out come.

They work bloody hard and embrace pain, pressure and except that anxiety is inevitable.

Their focus is intense to the point of obsessive.

They visualise the outcomes they want to happen.

This type of attention to detail helps build confidence & courage and is why the athlete is able to stay composed and perform to their maximum potential during the heat of battle.

Developing Mental toughness

Obviously mental toughness is not a suit of armour you can just put on or peel off, it needs to be developed over time.

Just as muscle gains are developed incrementally by physical training, mental toughness also needs to be ingrained psychologically over time in order to make you stronger.

The fastest way I know to embed the traits and mindset highlighted in the key component section of this article is to train in an environment that encompasses these values.

The best results I’ve personally seen have come from teaming up of like minded individuals who are prepared to commit 100% to their training and each other.

The positive energy and belief this can create amongst the group is massive and contagious.

Goals are shared and reinforced, installing confidence and amplifying motivation while keeping everyone’s eyes on your committed target.

The competiveness factor a team environment creates will ensure you’re mental and physical threshold are constantly challenged and intensity on those off days maintained.

Mishaps along the way are shared and aired as a team and are quickly put into perspective. – It could be likened to having a team of Dr Phil’s.

The benefits of group training are varied and it really deserves its own article, however for the context of this article I’ll leave it at that.


This is probably the one of the most neglected practices in training and really is an individual thing to adopt.

Some people think it’s a bit of a wank, but the reality is every elite sportsman visualises success either consciously or unconsciously.

To some degree it’s like day dreaming in vivid detail which programs our sub conscious mind and changes our mind set accordingly.

From a training perspective you’d imagine your approach to the bar as you take position, how your body looks performing the movement and how each muscle group responds and feels as you complete each repetition perfectly.

This practice will obviously help develop and reinforce correct technique to the point your subconscious takes over and the movement becomes habitual.

I guess the bottom line with visualisation can be summed up with this quote 

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”


The cold hard fact with mental strength is that some individuals will struggle or never be able to develop that mental edge for a host of variations that all boils down to self sabotage from years of bad psychological programming.

At Muscle Pit I am privileged to have witnessed the development of mental strength amongst a host of our crew. Always striving to do better, these individuals whether leading a team or contributing as part of a team, continue to lift the standard and atmosphere in the place. Their collective “Can do & will do” resolve is an infectious attitude that gives this place a psyche that is rarely found in gyms these days.


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