Visiting the wizard: How to push yourself beyond your mental limit

We've all been there..."seeing the wizard" or "the dark place" or "your pain cave".

The Wizard - the better you get to know him, the better competitor you will become.

The Wizard - the better you get to know him, the better competitor you will become.

That point you reach during a workout where you stop hearing the music that is blaring, you can no longer hear the shouts of encouragement from your teammates - all you can hear is your own rasping breath, your heart pounding inside your head, everything begins to fade to black.

Your ability to reach this point is a benchmark in and of itself - your ability to stay there for an extended period of time is what separates you from others. The greats can get there and stay there for what seems like forever. For the everyday crossfitter, this dark place is not somewhere we visit every WOD, not even every PR. I can't honestly say I get there even once a week. We hit the wall, we step back from the bar, we chalk up - whatever it is that allows us to catch our breath. We should be pushing it every second of every workout, but we don't.

If you aren't gasping for breath, vomiting and re-evaluating for your life decisions after a workout - you didn't push yourself hard enough.

If you aren't gasping for breath, vomiting and re-evaluating for your life decisions after a workout - you didn't push yourself hard enough.

What is it that prevents an athlete from getting there and staying there? I personally reserve this dark place in my training for big name benchmarks - Fran, Isabel, Diane...the girls. I tend to only push it to my very brink in competition - but I should be going for it every day. Finding that lace in training will allow you to push harder when it comes time to compete.

If training is the only real competition you get, I would direct you here, to my article on why you should be competing.

When you get to the dark place, you no longer hear the music, you can't hear the words of encouragement being shouted at you - it truly becomes just you and the workout.

When you get to the dark place, you no longer hear the music, you can't hear the words of encouragement being shouted at you - it truly becomes just you and the workout.

If you think this kind of intensity is just something you can turn on whenever you get to a competition, it isn't. To truly get to your breaking point and stay there, takes training - and not just physical training. This is a mental thing - you have to know when your mind tells you that can't - and know that your body CAN.

Your mind will always tell you to quit before you really need to - before your muscles give out or you collapse from exhaustion. Training yourself to push past this moment of mental weakness pays dividends every time you do it - every second you spend in this "dark place", is a deposit in an investment that pays off your next workout.

Don't reserve pushing yourself for competitions. Your ability to find that dark place in training will pay dividends on the field of battle.

Don't reserve pushing yourself for competitions. Your ability to find that dark place in training will pay dividends on the field of battle.

Getting there takes a commitment from you that must be made before you even step in the gym. You must set a goal of reaching this dark place - and keep this goal in the forefront of your mind while you warmup and in the seconds before the 3-2-1 counts down. It's going to come - that moment, whether it's seconds into the workout, or 10 minutes into a grueling Hero WOD - you are going to want to stop, to "pace", to get some more chalk. You are prepared for this, you know it's coming, and you push yourself. Get beyond it and stay there as long as you can. For many of us, this may be one or two reps, a brief moment where you shut your brain off and just go. This may mean you don't PR a workout - pacing has its value in many workouts - but would you rather PR in training, or give yourself the ability to PR in a competition, to win an event, to beat someone head to head on the field of battle? If you said PR in training, go read someone else's blog. While you're at it, don't buy any of our gear either. We don't want you as part of our tribe.

If competition is your goal, you need this ability - and it should trained with the same vigor and resolve as anything else you do.  This is going to be a new way of training for many - you have to stop looking at the clock, the focus now is on PR'ing your "dark place" time, not your workout time.

Defeating an opponent head to head is what it's all about. 

Defeating an opponent head to head is what it's all about. 

Look back on your workout and count the times you went beyond your limits - gauge your performance not by the time it took you to complete the workout, but by the time spent visiting the wizard. PR's will come, trust me. Your ability to stay in this place during a workout will make you a better competitor and the mental strength gained will make you a more formidable opponent in every stage of your life.