3 Ways To Tap Into Your Mental Muscle

By Nate Palmer

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Stronger, Leaner, Healtier, FOREVER

Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

Join FST NOw

Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Much like training is to the body, imagery is to the mind. Combining the two can create incredible results, as long you take into account several key aspects including being realistic, controlling your thought processes and being consistent with your mental practice.

2. Everyone uses self-talk, no matter if they think they do or not, so make it work for you by doing it right. Speak to yourself in the affirmative, be high energy and use personal key words that deeply mean something to you.

3. If all else fails to prepare you for an epic workout, using strategic breathing techniques along with power movements to prime the central nervous system are highly effective techniques. And when combined with imagery and positive self talk, you’ll be unstoppable.

4. The next time you feel like throwing in the towel and dogging it through a workout, remember these tools, and give yourself the mental edge to persevere and make gains.

Boost Mental Workout Intensity

We’ve all been there. After taking your pre workout, you walk, no check that, charge into the gym feeling like you’ve got a massive pump even though you have yet to touch a weight. The weights feel like they’re filled with helium, you’re smashing PRs easily, adding on monster drop sets just because you can and they feel good.

You walk out of the gym feeling massive, energized and in a mental zone. THAT was the workout you’ve been waiting for.

Those workouts only come around every so often though, but what if there was a way to bring your everyday workout up to your peak intensity? Simply put, how can you stop wasting your time and efforts in the gym even when you don’t physically, emotionally or mentally feel like pushing yourself and training hard?

You’re in luck, because here are the three most effective mental techniques of elite athletes that you can use to dominate your next training session… If you’re mentally strong enough, that is.

#1 Imagery

mental training preparation

This is the most powerful technique at your disposal. More powerful than your pre-workout concoction or fancy fitness gadgets, imagery can help take you from good to great in almost any physical pursuit. When John McCain was a POW in Vietnam, he reportedly played 18 holes of golf at his favorite course in the US mentally twice a day. When he was released, he was able to shoot four shots under his previous best, despite being imprisoned for five and a half years. That’s impressive, but I guess that same strategy hasn’t helped in presidential elections.

If imagery is so powerful, why isn’t it more mainstreamed? There’s a reason that not everyone uses imagery to take themselves to the next level. It’s HARD and takes time and patience to master over time.

Much like training is to the body, imagery is to the mind. Combining the two can create incredible results, as long you take into account several key aspects.

Be Realistic

The best imagery is the most realistic. So if you’re going to visualize yourself squatting 405, go through your pre squat routine, putting on the plates, tightening your belt, smelling the rubber from the weights, and walking the weight out, before you even get to the actual lift.

If your current squat max is 315, also don’t visualize yourself squatting 900lbs. To get the benefit out of this technique, you need to recreate the events in your mind exactly how they’ll happen in real life. The same for sports, if you’re playing high school basketball, visualizing playing in the NBA playoffs isn’t going to have the impact you want.

Go Slow and Control Your Thoughts

At the beginning, it’s important to go slowly through your visualization technique. Although it sounds simple, many times insecurities will play out in your imagery, such as getting pinned underneath the weight, a false start off the blocks at a track meet, missing an important layup.

When going slow, it’s easier to rewind this mental imagery and play it back until you have it perfect. When visualizing something like a deadlift or a squat, make sure that your form is in check and everything is as tight as you would want it to be when actually doing the lift.

Maintain Consistency with Your Practice

It wouldn’t be effective to only lift weights once per week, and it’s not ideal to only use imagery techniques now and then. However, it can often be daunting to dedicate an hour to sitting down and visualizing.

The solution to this is to use the 30-60 seconds between each set to visualize your next, final, or PR set, depending on your goals. Additionally, if you find that bench is a strong point, but you’ve been struggling with your deadlifts, arm development, or losing the last bit of fat around your waist, use the breaks between your chest day to visualize resolving the problem area.

Imagery should be used 3-4 times per week for best results. And honestly, there isn’t really any such thing as overdoing it. Mastery takes time, so put in the work.

#2 Self Talk


By now, it’s fairly well known that the words you speak directly relate to how you see the world and yourself. So when you say “I can’t do it”, “I’m not strong enough”, or “that’s impossible”, your brain is inclined to agree with you whether you like it or not.

But what you might not know is that the brain is notoriously bad at hearing negatives, like don’t, not, and no. That explains why when told “Don’t think of a pink elephant” we can’t help but picture the very same thing.

So saying “don’t screw up” or “don’t round your back” is akin to telling your brain that you want to focus on the very things you are trying to avoid.

Everyone uses self-talk, no matter if they think they do or not, so make it work for you by doing it right. Here are some key tips to set your self talk straight and reap the benefits of your practice.

Speak in the Affirmative

Always phrase things toward what you want to accomplish, and not what you want to avoid. Substitute “finish strong” for “don’t give up”, and “spread the floor with your feet” for “don’t let your knees fall in”.

You wouldn’t put up with anyone talking shit to you in the gym, so why do you accept it coming out of your own mouth, or even worse, your own brain? My clients are firmly discouraged from using negative language or speaking ill of themselves, because they’re awesome, and you are too.

High Energy

When you’re grinding away at weights that feel heavier than normal, psyche yourself up by using high energy self-talk. If you can’t think of anything off the top of your head, just remember any football game you’ve ever been too and what words they flashed across the jumbotron. “Close it out!” “Let’s Go!” “Keep Pushing!”

All of these will psyche you up and help you get into the training mindset as you close out a tough workout or finish a game.

Use Personal Key Words

Everyone has a few words that can really serve to help them come back to the zone. Whether it’s something a coach said that stuck with you, lyrics from a song, or a CT Fletcher quote, try to make a list of two or three before you need them.

One that always got me riled up was “Here comes the Boom!” from the POD song of the same name. Did I just date myself? Maybe a little.

#3 Physical Arousal

tuck jump prep

This technique adds in a physical element to some of the mental ones discussed above. To make these doubly effective, combine these physical elements with positive self-talk.

Intense Breathing

Slow and steady breathing can calm you down and bring someone back from the edge of a panic attack. But right before I do a 20 rep front squat death set, it’s clear that I don’t want to be calm.

During times like these, do the opposite. Take a deep breath into your lower lungs, trying to expand your stomach as much as possible. Then exhale forcefully. Repeat three times.

Power Movements

If you want to jack yourself up and turn your central nervous system into fight or flight mode, well hopefully just fight mode, do a few power movements.

Slap your thighs, drive your fist into your empty hand, drop down and do three clapping pushups, or do a few tuck jumps as high as you can. This will wake up your sympathetic nervous system and prepare your body and brain for whatever lies ahead.

Here’s To No More Sluggish Workouts

Just because you drag yourself into the gym after a tough day at work doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel on the workout. As you warm up, visualize the exercises you’re about to do, and see yourself squeezing the muscles hard and getting stronger as the workout progresses.

Turn on some rowdy music, and remind yourself that you’re a wolf, not a sheep, and you’re capable of anything. Amp yourself up with some intense breathing and power movements before jumping into your main exercise for the day, and don’t forget that your brain believes what you say out loud, so only speak to yourself and others in a positive uplifting way.

If you find these techniques to be helpful on the day when you’re feeling just so-so, you’ll be amazed at what a difference they can make on a day you’re feeling unstoppable.

Remember, true strength isn’t just physical. Make the brain your servant, and realize your potential.

About The Author

nate palmer

Nate Palmer has an old-school, strength-first philosophy that he applies to himself and his clients, and he believes that getting stronger, both mental and physical, will cause a trickle-down effect into the rest of your life that will provide unbelievable benefits. Nate is a husband, coach, writer, and adventurer, and spends his time coaching clients online, jumping off of high things, and writing on his blog, N8 Training Systems.

Nate is an internationally recognized coach, speaker, and writer, whose work has been popularized in media outlets such as Testosterone Nation, Breaking Muscle, STACK Media, and The Personal Trainer Development Center, just to name a few.

 Nate is the owner of N8 Training Systems, an online fitness platform geared toward synergizing the best of evidence based training principles and behavior science, to create results for life.

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  1. Spyros March 28, 2016 at 6:40 am - Reply

    Great article mate. Keep it up

  2. Leighton Wells April 4, 2016 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Thanks for these helpful tips! Imagery has taken me awhile to really get down but it does help a lot when I do it. Love the story about John McCain- incredible!

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