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Why most athletes fail their grueling workouts - and how to fix it

blog Jul 15, 2014

Demanding training regiments, such as a fitness test or explosive HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training) programs, can take a real toll on an athlete’s mind. Grueling workouts are, by definition, brutal, intense and VERY, VERY physically uncomfortable.

We recently sat down with coaches who use Positive Performance Training to understand what their athletes faced with grueling workouts. Here are the 5 common themes they identified:

  1. Grueling workouts bring the confidence and toughness to push through pain and discomfort during competition.
  2. Intrinsic motivation is key in completing grueling workouts. This is especially true when the coach or team isn't around.
  3. Grueling workouts are critical to developing the right level of physical conditioning.
  4. Some athletes display a lot of anxiety before grueling workouts.
  5. As a coach, if an athlete can't handle a grueling workout, how can you expect them to compete when it matters?

KEY INSIGHT: As an athlete, it is critical to learn the mental skills of dealing and pushing through a grueling workout (Note: this doesn't apply to major injuries). 

Just like the physical side of training, the mental aspect starts before the actual session kicks into full gear -- and the after-effects of an athlete's mental state during a workout can linger long after one’s body has fully recovered. Because of this, mental training for athletes is every bit as critical as the physical side of training. If an athlete has problems dealing with grueling workouts, they should ask themselves these questions:

  • Do I get too hyped up or not hyped up enough for a workout?
  • What level of anxiety do I feel before a grueling workout?
  • What mechanisms/tools do I use to cope?
  • How hard is it to complete a grueling workout?
  • Do I feel more or less confident after a grueling workout?
  • What is the source of my issues with these workouts? Mental or Physical?

If an athlete suffers from anxiety and/or has problems completing a grueling workout, they’re not alone. Most athletes, at some point, have struggled with these types of workouts. Below are three effective ways you can boost your mental performance and overcome the issues associated with grueling workouts.

Before training

Set the stage for a successful workout by warming up both your mind and your body.

1. Stop thinking about workouts as a whole

How do marathon runners overcome a long, endless training routine? They break it up into small, manageable segments. Here's an example: Instead of thinking of a 5 km run as one long run, break it apart into five 1 km sections. You don't physically rest between sets -- instead, your mind gets to shift focus from one set to the next, until the entire run is complete. As each set is completed, give yourself a mental pat on the back and positive self-talk.

"People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals- that is, goals that do not inspire them." -Anthony 'Tony' Robbins

This method removes the overwhelming aspects of a grueling training program, and focusing on just one component at a time of a training session helps build perseverance and focus. It can also lower the chances of quitting, and decrease anxiety levels before the training session.

2. Change your pre-workout routine

We've worked with a lot of athletes that suffer from high levels of pre-workout anxiety. You can literally see stress building up in their faces as they sink deeper into their thoughts about the upcoming training regimen. The majority of the time, taking a step back to evaluate and modify their pre-workout routine was an easy way to reduce anxiety and improve workouts. For example, instead of going for your headphones, consider a pre-meditation routine before an intense workout.

3. Set positive affirmations

Quit saying, "This is going to be so HARD!". Instead, create a positive affirmation like, "I am a strong, capable and powerful athlete who does the hard work to be successful". Focusing on what you are or what you want to be is a powerful skill and facilitates a relaxed and positive mindset.

During training

At some point, your brain is going to tell you to stop or provide an easy excuse to stop.  Realize that this is natural and you don't need to listen to your inner monologue.

"I never feel more alive than when I'm in great pain, struggling against insurmountable odds and untold adversity. Hardship? Suffering? Bring it!"- Dean Karnazes, ultra-marathoner and author.

At lower levels of pain & discomfort, you can distract easily distract yourself with focusing on something else. At high levels of discomfort, it is difficult to distract yourself. Instead, focus on a mantra or set mini-goals and focus on them. For instance, you can set a goal of finishing this next lap or saying "Relax" on every out breath.

Post training

Take a few minutes post workout to set the stage for future success by looking at both the process and results. The trick here is to separate the process (what you did) with the results (what you accomplished). Focus on creating the right process and you will start getting the results you want. Especially at the start, focus 80% of your energy on the process and not the results. Do this for a few weeks and then start focusing more on the results.


  • Were you able to prepare yourself mentally beforehand?
  • Were you able to control your anxiety going into the workout?
  • Were you able to effectively handle your inner self-talk, especially when you were in a lot of pain/discomfort?
  • What is one thing that you did really well?
  • What is one thing that you would change for next time and how?


  • Did you complete all your goals? If not, what prevented you from reaching your goals?
  • Are the results what you need to improve?

Regardless of the end results, take a few seconds to congratulate yourself and focus on what you did well during the workout. Creating a positive memory association with a grueling workout makes future workouts easier.

[Tweet "Refocus. Refuel. Repeat. Using mental training to crush my next workout! "]

Online mental training tools and apps

Just as with physical conditioning, athletes require a strategic and progressive mental training regimen. Coaches and athletes alike can benefit from the range of tools and trainings offered by Positive Performance.

Our online team and individual mental training workouts are designed to keep an athlete’s mind sharp, positive and critical. Through enhanced data visualization and guided reflection sequences, individuals who take part in our programs are able to overcome their mental limitations from their home or on the go.

Additionally, our tools are combined with a mobile app to help athletes stay connected with their team -- and their training -- during everyday life and daily workouts.

How do you mentally prepare for a tough workout? Add your comments below.


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