All of us face off against mental roadblocks during training, despite how advanced we are in our fitness journey. On occasion, these roadblocks may appear to be synonymous with the feeling of resistance. Dealing with resistance is one of the most significant barriers to overcome in order to consistently put in the work to achieve our goals.
Resistance can show up in many forms. For me, it physically manifests in a sinking feeling in my stomach. Mentally, it shows up in the form of self-deprecating thoughts and excuses; that inner saboteur that likes to tell us we’re not good enough. It creates inane reasoning to continue procrastinating, preventing us from getting out the door – especially on those harder training days.
However, if you do feel resistance, it means you’re doing something right. You’re about to embark on a challenging task that will aid in your self-growth and push you out of a place of inertia and complacency.
Roadblocks come in varying degrees, but what separates us normal folk from the best in the world is the way in which we’re able to overcome said roadblocks. In this post, I’ll outline some strategies I’ve used to help me suppress that voice of doubt while also outlining methods used by even the most seasoned athletes.
Keep Long Term Sustainability in Mind
When starting a new fitness regimen, it’s so easy to fall into some common traps: comparing ourselves to others, setting unrealistic expectations of our current fitness level, or expecting rapid weight loss. Don’t do this. If you want to commit to a lifelong habit of getting and staying in shape, you need to have a long-term mentality.
We see this with yoyo dieting and aggressive cuts – sure you may lose weight quickly, but eventually, you’ll realize that this isn’t sustainable in the long run. You’ll either develop a depriving relationship with food or end up caving and feel the bloat of eating 4 bowls of cereal. Of course, this is extreme, but the point I’m trying to get at is that this isn’t sustainable. James Clear sums it up perfectly when he states, “ignore the short-term results. If you commit to the long-term process, the results will come anyway.”
We tend to work towards our fitness goals and when we hit them, we sometimes feel that “peaking” effect and can fall back into old routines. These goals can be cyclical: drop the weight, gain it all back, decide we need to drop the weight again, diet again, hit our goals again. Rinse, repeat.
Consistently putting in the ongoing but necessary work to achieve our goals is an art. It takes patience, ongoing learning, introspection, and open-mindedness. It requires us to be real and honest with ourselves; evaluating where we’re at and where we need to go. It requires us to acknowledge and accept that our current routine isn’t working and have the courage to seek out new information, unlearn, and trial new strategies to help move us towards our goals.
This is how I was able to finally transform my physique and continue achieving personal bests in my running times year-over-year.
Don’t Make Your Training Hard Every Day
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make who are just commencing their fitness journey is pushing themselves too hard for too many consecutive days. Not only can this cause overuse injuries, but can also help you develop a general hatred of training. If you make working out a chore, it won’t be enjoyable. Space hard workouts throughout the week and try to not set the bar so high for yourself – it then becomes laborious.
If I have a tempo or high-intensity interval training day planned, it’s usually accompanied by a side of dread. I’ve been running for +12 years now and I can tell you with full confidence, that the feeling doesn’t go away.
When we expend an immense amount of energy, we’re going to face mental resistance; our mind is going to put up that barricade and try to force us back into complacency. It’s a survival technique and embedded in our DNA.
Steve Magness, running coach and bestselling author of Peak Performance, explains that sticking to an exercise program isn’t supposed to feel like labor, writing:
Even the best endurance athletes on the planet spend about eighty to eighty-five of their time training easy. Yes, the other fifteen to twenty percent is the kind of training where suffering and pain are real. But experienced athletes know that they have to save up their mental and physical energy for those days. If they tried to train at that level all the time, they’d burn out.
If you want to develop a habit and make serious strides in your fitness, it’s important to scale back on the over-the-top time commitment and focus more on consistent practice.
Choose your weekly commitment levels and stick to that plan. For me, I schedule 1-2 tempo or HIIT workouts per week MAX. The rest of my runs are easy, steady-state or as my friend April says, aiming for a “sexy pace” that I could sustain for hours.
Dealing with the Voice
I’ve written about this voice often…the voice we all know too well. The incessant chatter in our mind that weighs us down, burdens our thoughts and, at times, disrupts our sleep.
On the days where the voice is particularly loud and annoying, I need to get myself out the door as quickly as possible. Action defeats the voice every time. Mel Robbins’ developed her 5-Second Rule to help beat this very real human flaw. She used the 5-second countdown rule to launch herself into action. Before your mind has a chance to talk you out of doing an important task, countdown by 5 then immediately take action. Mel writes,
Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that’s all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you. And it happens in less than—you guessed it—five seconds.
The key here is knowing that you’re rarely ever going to feel like working out, but affirmative action is how you’re going to build up that self-discipline muscle. Like any new skill, this takes time.
On Training Days
If you’re training for an upcoming race then rest assured you will face off against resistance during your training sessions, whether it is a tempo workout, long progression run, or hitting that long mileage right before you begin to taper.
Know your why and continue to remind yourself why your upcoming race goal (whether it be just completion or a specific time) is so important to you. If you’re following a strict training schedule, you’ll be most likely have to sacrifice other parts of your life (work, relationships, etc.), so making the most of these training sessions is so important.
My fellow running friend, Abbott’s World Marathon Major six-star finisher, and overall badass, Marathon Marcus writes,
Training for a specific time result requires consistent effort. It requires focus on doing the right little actions daily and making the actions of a person you aspire to be, rather than an all or nothing focus on a race outcome. I’ve also learnt to find the good in all parts of the journey, as my biggest lessons have come from the difficult moments, rather than the perceived wins.
If you’re a highly competitive person, both against yourself and others, try running “naked’. Try running without any sort of fitness tracker or watch and just try to enjoy the sheer act of running. When you’re laser-focused on achieving a certain time, it’s a recipe for burn out and can prevent you from even starting in the first place. As I wrote in my article How to Like Running, performance pressure can make running unenjoyable, so try to relax and enjoy the journey. Show up and do the best you can on that specific day and be satisfied with that.
Mental preparation is just as important as physical training. Visualizing race day and potential outcomes is a great method to help deal with uncertainty. The fact is that no matter how hard you train and how physically ready you feel, shit can go down that you may not anticipate.
This could manifest in the form of gastrointestinal pains and cramping (which I sustained for over half of the NYC marathon) when my little lady friend showed up just minutes before the start. Your body may feel stiff or sore, energy levels may be low, your nutrition may not be fulfilled, or bad weather could roll in. For me, I try to use a strategy called “if-then” planning. Exactly how it sounds, if-then planning requires you to imagine hypothetical situations or issues that may arise on race day then come up with a plan on how you’re going to deal with them. When I was doing my first 100-mile race, I paid particular attention to the weather. Race day was calling for hours of rain and potential thunderstorms in the afternoon. Since I had never run a race in the rain, let alone a 100-mile trail race, I had no idea what I would do if there was a potential downpour. To prep for this outcome, I packed additional dry clothes in my drop bag, two rain jackets, an extra pair of shoes, and mentally told myself to slow down the pace so I don’t slip and fall on my face, rip my tights, and emerge from the wilderness looking like Grizzly Adam’s shitshow cousin. I reminded myself that this was a likely scenario and that I needed to accept the circumstances.
Another big aspect is pain. The obvious truth is that if you’re running a marathon, you will feel pain at some point. Hopefully in training you will push hard during those particular days and acclimatize to the pain, easing the shock on race day. Embrace the pain, know it will exist, and remind yourself that it will pass. A scenario I’ll use is, if I feel pain, I’ll remind myself to bring down my pace until the pain subsides. There will be a point where the pain won’t go away (usually the last few kilometers of the race), but you have to tell yourself to push through it; full David Goggins’ running on broken leg style.
If it’s your first race experience, it may be difficult to predict various outcomes. For me, I like to spend time learning about the course and terrain, where the aid stations will be set up, and if it’s a new distance, I’ll reach out to a more seasoned runner and ask their advice. I use that advice and information as mental fuel in preparation for race day.
If you’ve prepared for your upcoming race day with a solid training plan and have included the aforementioned “if-then” planning, then you should be ready to face adversity during the race.
Most experts recommend replacing negative thinking with positive thinking and I don’t necessarily agree with that Mr.Rogers bullshit. For any endurance sports, there’s going to come a time where you’re going to be battling with yourself. While I do agree that you need to deal with negative thinking that can easily spiral out of control, it’s also important to anticipate this happening and accept it.
I mentioned this in my recent post, How Meditation Can Improve Your Running, and that’s the concept of surrender. I know that sounds deflating but hear me out. Whether it’s physical pain, stomach issues or a “bonk”, it’s important to recognize and accept that it’s a normal and inevitable part of race day. If you resist, it can cause a lot of inner turmoil, which can result in the form of anxiety, stress or even physical pain.
I try to let myself enjoy the experience; take in the scenery around me, enjoy the course, let the crowd’s cheers push me through hard parts, and focus on that feeling of crossing the finish line (which is literally the best feeling in the world).
Quick Tips to Help Overcome Resistance
Now that I’ve discussed a few scenarios of where resistance and mental roadblocks can pop up, I’ve put together a quick list on how to overcome resistance in your daily life. These tips have helped me sustain a regular workout routine for years and have aided in sustaining my 3-year running streak.
- Put gym clothes out the night before and put them on as soon as you wake up (if you’re a morning person).
- Develop a pre-workout ritual: for me, it’s sipping on my pre-workout (a mix of BCAAs and creatine), putting on my headphones and pumping some of my favorite EDM tracks. When my shoes are on, my water bottle filled and headphones in, I’m amped up and ready to go.
- Find an accountability partner – my friend Kristie and I do regular check-ins to review our weekly goals. Find someone that’s supportive and also just as goal oriented as you. You can also share any adversities you may have faced, then brainstorm ideas together on how to overcome them the following week.
- Share your progress with social media. This is similar to accountability, but logging and sharing your runs can help you stick to your plan. You also get the added benefit of inspiring and collaborating with others on their fitness journey as well. Don’t look at it as a brag or “look what I did today, let me shove it down your throat a bit more”. I personally love following people’s journeys – I draw inspiration into my own life and many others do as well.
Facing resistantce is inevitable, but as we continue to deal and conquer it, our self confidence and ability to manage it going forward will improve. When we jump into a new activiity or challenge completely foreign to us, there’s always going to be a degree of uncertainty and that can be terrifying.
Coming up with strategies on how to deal with the voice and the feeling of resistance will be key in helping you build and sustain a healthy lifestyle and training plan. When you feel the pull of procrastination or you start to talk yourself out of your workout, take action immediately.
I’m always on the lookout for new ways to conquer mental roadbloacks that hold me back. The strategies I deploy work for me; eliminating barriers to starting my training, being mindful of the existence of the inner saboteur, and taking it easy in my training more often than not; especially on those days where I’m really not feeling it. What types of mental barriers have you faced and how do you deal with them?