How to Build Toughness
Written By Bryce Smith

That unique ability to compensate for a lack of strength, skill, or ability usually comes from a little thing called toughness. If you are tough, you have the ability to overcome challenges and will have gained strength through adversity.

Toughness is having to be at your best when you are not feeling your best. It is internal discipline to not give in to that little voice in your head that is telling you to cave in when you are in a hot gym, judges are making bad calls, or the bar and your hands are slippery.

Toughness is the ability to figure it out even when the odds are not in your favor. This extends much further than just training and sports, but to life. Too often I see people fear being uncomfortable or coming face to face with failure and as a result will give in to that little voice in their head. So how do you build this quality of toughness to help in your training?

It is really quite simple. I find that little challenges are helpful in building toughness. Below are some of my favorite challenges to help build toughness in training.

1) 150 unbroken wall ball shots. The goal is to keep the ball moving continuously until the reps are complete. If you can’t accomplish this goal just yet then try completing 150 reps without allowing the ball to touch the ground. Or you could try to perform 3 sets of 50 unbroken wall ball shots with 60 seconds of rest in between sets. Get creative with ways to build success in achieving this goal.

2) 50 unbroken back squats at bodyweight. Every Thanksgiving I perform this workout to thank my body for the ability to squat and perform fancy fitness year after year. Build up to this in a preceding session by performing 30 reps and rest 3 minutes, 20 reps and rest 2 minutes, and then 10 reps. If bodyweight is a little aggressive right now, that is okay, choose a load that you can do for 30 reps and then challenge yourself to do it for 40, then 50. Of course ensure that you or your athlete is a strong squatter first as mediocre form and technique can become dangerous with all of the volume accumulation and time under tension. The same holds true for the next challenge.

3) Nine Minutes of Hell. Take roughly 35-50% of your 1RM back squat and perform the following:

3 minutes of Back Squats without racking the bar
2 minutes of Rest
2 minutes of Back Squats without racking the bar
1 minute of Rest
1 minute of Back Squats without racking the bar

In addition, if you are pressed for time, this workout gets you in and out of the gym pretty quick so you can get back to your daily life.

4) Set challenging goals. Grab a back squat weight that is challenging for 8 reps and perform 15 reps. Do not rack the bar until all 15 reps are complete. Stand there and suck wind while the bar rests on your back until you can safely complete another rep. This exchange of 8 reps for 15 reps can be done with any of the major lifts, but only go to the limits of mechanical failure. Stay safe!

5) Intervals. Assault bike interval, rowing intervals, sprinting intervals, hill sprints, sled sprints – all of these things, among others, can take you to what I like to call hypoxia hell. The best way to increase suffering and increase conditioning is to take away an athlete’s precious air. Teach them to stay calm in the face of adversity. So many athlete say ‘hang on, I’m trying to catch my breath’. You may not catch your breath at times, and in order to be successful in the sport of CrossFit, you must be able to keep going all while knowing you will catch your breath when the workout is over. By playing with high intensity and short rest intervals, an athlete can enhance their lactate threshold and their cardiovascular fitness all while building toughness mentally and physically.

There are many other tests and ways to build mental toughness but the ones listed above are my favorite. An athlete will either quit or come out that much stronger. Which will you choose?

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Sivan Berko
Sivan Berko

Great blog post! 🙂

Michele Vieux

You’re pretty tough yourself! Share your secrets!