5 reasons why every Crossfitter needs to "go to that dark place"

Learning from great role models

Several weeks ago one of our coaches at Crossfit 604, Pete Kendrick, shared some wise advice that has resonated with me every since.

As a crossfitter are you able to “go to that dark place”?

Pete was of course referring to those workouts where you push past all of the mental barriers and all of the little gremlins telling you can’t into a new frontier of pain, mental toughness, and overall performance.

I intuitively knew exactly what Pete was talking about and had a flashback to some of my basketball conditioning workouts that left me lying on the floor unable to move.

What I realized through Pete’s description is that going to that dark place is a tangible skill.

This triggered several key learnings for me:

1. "That dark place" is somewhere we all are able to go.

Each and every one of us is capable of pushing our bodies beyond our preconceived mental limits. Have you ever experienced a workout where you pushed yourself harder than you ever thought you could because someone was standing right beside you yelling at you to “pick the bar back up!”?

If so, this is a perfect example of building that mental toughness skill!

2. Just like any other skill it can be developed and honed

That’s right.

At first this may mean asking that friend to push you to that place once every week. After experiencing both the process to access that place, and the feeling when your there, you will begin to understand how to get there on your own.

3. We can train ourselves to turn it on or off

Your body Your mind can only operate in this state of pushing new frontiers for so long. For an all out sprint workout, 1-4 minutes (think "Fran"), you may be able to lay on the gas and stay in that dark place all the way to the last rep. In a longer, 8-15 minute workout, you may strategize your pace and only make that grueling push in the last handful of minutes.

4. There is no limit to exploring how far you can go

Whether you have no idea what I'm talking about or you’re a seasoned practitioner like Pete, there is always opportunity to improve. Here are some areas you can measure improvement.

  • level of intensity you are capable of pushing yourself too (power output)
  • level of intensity maintained over time (capacity)
  • ability to choose which workouts to apply this skill
  • how to use this skill strategically based on the given workout

5. It can be overtrained

A huge key to success, IMHO, is not ‘going there’ too often.

Going to that dark place is extremely painful and taxing on all of our systems including mental, emotional, and psychological.

My encouragement is to think of the acquisition of this skill like building a muscle. Consider the rest that is needed to effectively recover after majorly taxing a certain muscle group. The same recovery is necessary for your willpower and mental toughness capacity.

As you intentionally practice developing this skill you will gain control of when to turn it on, and turn it off. You will also get a much greater sense of when you are fully recovered from the last mental boundary push, and when you are ready for your next test.

Bringing it home

Yesterday we had a 500 meter max effort row.

This is a complete anaerobic capacity test. It is one of those short sprints, gas pedal down, 'don’t stop moving' type workouts. By the end of the classes warm-up I had made the commitment that this would be one of the workouts where I pushed the boundaries.

The butterflies immediately ensued.

Despite being very familiar with this dark place, it never gets comfortable, and it never gets easier. And this of course is the ultimate beauty of developing this skill!

The spectrum of emotions and conversations that went through my head in that brief workout was incredible. I actually don’t even remember anything past the 400 meter mark.

Complete darkness.

And then it was all over.

My body screaming at me, my ears pounding, and my mind still clueless as to what just happened I started coming too and realized I was laying on the floor (yes the floor) with my feet still strapped to the rower which was now beside my head...

Crossfit rowing - 500 meter row 1:17 PR Tyrell Mara
Crossfit rowing - 500 meter row 1:17 PR Tyrell Mara

I rowed a 500m PR of 1:17.40.

But much more importantly I had paid one more visit to the dark side, I grew my mental toughness capacity by another notch and I am a better, stronger athlete because of it.

Your turn!

What’s your story of going to the dark side?

How did you feel before (butterflies?), during, and after this mental test? Do you believe you grew from that experience?