There is a moment that occurs in the midst of difficult workouts or physical undertakings – when signals of physical and mental stress begin to register. The moment occurs at a point of effort when your mind can still comprehend the remaining volume of work to be completed and can consider your body’s best chances for survival – quitting, slowing down, changing course, or continuing on. Emotional reactions often accompany this moment arising as thoughts of anxiety, doubt, or fear, such as:
“I can’t maintain this pace.”
“When will this hill/interval/minute/mile end?”
“How many more rounds?”
“This is too fast/steep/difficult”
“I don’t think I can finish”
“My legs feel like lead.”
Have you ever muttered sentiments like these inside your own brain?
I recall encountering “the moment” at various times such as a difficult workouts. I am certain many of you have met this moment as well – it’s normal! While no one is immune to the moment’s arrival, it is the difference in our response to it that will dictate our performance.
Sports performance scientists and psychologists have studied various tactics to trick, One concept that I am particularly fond of is rooted in Buddhist concepts of mindfulness and non-judgement. By cultivating these skills and applying them to our physical and mental state during workouts, we can foster the ability to remain more focused and able to execute uncomfortable but accomplishable paces, efforts or tasks.
What is the CrossFit Buddha?
Being the “CrossFit Buddha” is contingent on two skills rooted within Buddhist teachings and applied in a state of physical duress (such as midway through a 40-minute EMOM):
- Staying present in the moment of effort we are in rather than worrying about work or effort still to come in the future.
- Cultivating the ability to suspend judgement on how our body feels.
Staying present means not dwelling on the future work, duration, effort, or intervals to come. Which is different from willfully ignoring an appropriate pace and hoping for the best. First and foremost as athletes, we must know ourselves and have a general idea of what we’re capable of. But to increase our ability over time, we must be willing and prepared to live and go beyond those uncomfortable edges of perceived thresholds. Existing at those edges will undoubtedly bring effort, discomfort, and fatigue. How we deal with them is important.
Once we have reached the point of the workout where our body’s fatigue catches the mind’s attention – fatigue, mounting effort, elevated heart rate, discomfort – it will only cause further stress to anticipate and worry about the remainder of the work. Instead, borrow from Buddhist mindfulness practices – staying present, focusing on the task we are performing in that exact moment. Worrying about the future only causes stress and suffering in the present. Marathon runners call this “running the mile you’re in”.
In an EMOM, it means existing entirely in your burpee-box-jump station instead of dreading the upcoming Assault Bike station.
Dwelling on future work detracts precious brain power and focus that can be utilized to accomplish present work faster or more efficiently. In addition, stress about the future increases present-moment anxiety, heart rate, breathing rate, shallow breathing and more sympathetic activation. Remind yourself – the Assault Bike station is going to arrive whether you worry about it or not; the top of the hill will arrive whenever it does. Instead of contributing to panic or dread, simply narrow our focus to the moment you’re in and focus on what you can do to accomplish the present moment’s task at hand – it’s often more than you realize.
The best athletes in the world feel similar pain and discomfort as novice athletes do (simply at higher thresholds of output). The difference lies in their ability to attach less concern and reactionary behavior to those signals – it turns out that over years of difficult training, they’ve learned that effort and discomfort will in fact not kill them. The brain’s job is to constantly scan our body’s input and adjust physiological responses accordingly to keep us alive. To be the CrossFit Buddha, we must recalibrate our brain’s relationship to signals of discomfort. This starts by evaluating our reactionary feelings and actions in response to effort.