Elements of Mental Toughness

Written by  Friday, 05 July 2019 22:26

Elements of Mental Toughness: Intensity, Grit, and Consistency


Still striving for that illusory first pullup? Hoping to run your first 5K? Let’s say that you want to do 50 burpees below a 5 minute limit. Or it could be that you are hoping to complete your first Murph challenge. Whatever your goal, the road will be challenging.


It has been said before, and by now has long turned cliché, but there’s really a lot of truth to the idea that fitness is predominantly a mental game. Arguably the most important part of successfully staying fit is developing mental toughness.


Mental toughness means sticking to a balanced diet, a workout program, and pushing yourself more towards challenge instead of complacency. 


No. Matter. What.


In this article by Strategic Athlete, the author describes the many benefits of mental toughness in convincing fashion. (He does so using a few colorful expletives, so just as a warning if you do click on the link!)


Building off of that resource, the most desirable outcomes of mental toughness is plainly put the ability to push through a tough workout without external motivators, the ability to stick to your gameplan, and the ability to ramp up the intensity even though you’d rather not. Because remember, although cheesy as it sounds, intensity leads to immensity!

Intensity: Building a Portfolio of Powerful Workouts!

Until you have enough intense workouts under your belt, you most likely won’t have the proper foundation to keep progressing the specific way you want to progress.


This takes mental toughness to keep building up a portfolio of powerful workouts (as it were). Something you can mentally refer back to and use as fuel for the next workout. 


it is recommended that you build up this portfolio of intense workouts with a personal trainer or someone knowledgeable who can teach you proper form and safe lifting early on. And working in tandem with someone else is also key because you can learn how to maintain the proper workout intensity


Once you build a definition of what it means to truly push yourself, you’ll have a frame of reference you can take with you to every subsequent workout. 


Soon, your mind will strengthen as well, and you won’t be satisfied with your workout until you have completely emptied the tank. 


James Clear says in the article The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Your Health, Work, and Life that the most mentally tough people have the following things: 


  1. Grit
  2. Consistency
  3. Good habits
  4. Their own personal definitions of mental toughness.


I’d add just one thing to that list: Intensity. But one key aspect of becoming mentally tough is definitely the first on that list. Let’s explore the all-important quality of grit!

Grit...What’s all the Hype About?

 Now, I have not read Angela Duckworth’s book on grit, so any reference towards the concept will be based solely on a general understanding of the term. But from the looks of it, it seems to be straightforward.


A low-level definition of grit could just be consistency amidst diversity. Or it could even be described as that X-factor or resolve that sets two people apart.


Angela goes into much more detail. She breaks down grit as the culmination of these 5 characteristics: 


  • Courage - Moving forward despite fear or difficulty.
  • Conscientiousness - Making sure tasks are done right.
  • Perseverance - Determination despite setbacks or challenges.
  • Resilience - The ability to get back up after failing or falling.
  • Passion - Loving the process. 


Angela also defines grit in this way. It goes hand in hand with #5 on the list (passion): 

“Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you're willing to stay loyal to it...it's doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.”


Now, when applied to fitness, you can’t always love working out. Sometimes the last thing you’ll want to do is stop watching Stranger Things and start lifting heavy things. But having grit means you’ll push through anyway. 


Take the test to check your current grit level here.

Why Consistency is Key

This really is one of the central things that will drive a successful fitness journey. Chris Zaino of Bodybuilding.com calls consistency the key to progress.  


And in all honesty, consistency means that you have grit, that you have toughness, that you are finding the necessary energy and are continually having intense workouts. 


In short, consistency separates the merely ambitious from those that are passionate about their fitness journey.


This means that you don’t put in intense workouts only when you’re feeling energetic. It also means that you don’t load up on workouts one week, and then fall off the next. 


As Ben Ilaria says in his article Consistency is the Key to Successful Training

“Training for four days in one week, one day the next week, then seven days the following week will not have the same positive health effects of training four days a week consistently for three weeks.”


He also mentions the importance of making sure you ramp up the intensity at the gym, if you know you’re going to miss a few scheduled workout days. This will ensure you are not only doing something to mitigate the rate of muscle deterioration, but also that you have a mind towards consistent workout frequency.

Be Consistently Gritty and Intense!

To conclude, I want to encourage you to develop some mental toughness when it comes to your workout routine.


Don’t be afraid to ramp up the intensity (with safety in mind!). Get some grit. Be consistent. Your body will thank you, and you’ll start to accomplish things you never thought possible!