How to improve your mental toughness

While the military might push the limits, the principals of this training describe another reason why we civilians should workout

Last week, one of my clients told me about a training exercise he did while in the military.  The training exercise was 48 hours of straight physical and mental effort, including marathon distance hikes and runs, climbing, shooting, and swimming across rivers.  With no time for sleep, push through extreme fatigue in order to complete the challenge.  If he had never done it, he admits he wouldn’t believe he could do it.  Since he did it, he now knows that he can.

While the military might be an extreme example of pushing the limits, the principals applied in this type of training describe another reason we civilians should workout.

Becoming faster, stronger and fitter means pushing yourself- and that can be uncomfortable.  Pushing through boundaries not only strengthens the body, it also strengthens the mind.  Being mentally tough during a workout and pushing yourself is excellent practice for tackling challenges and overcoming obstacles in other aspects of life.

My husband is a good example of using a workout to exercise mental toughness.  He doesn’t love exercise.  He might rather not exercise at all.  He knows that overcoming the intense urge to not workout, and pushing past the boundaries of comfort during a workout, makes him a stronger person.   Because he practices mental toughness on a relatively regular basis, he is better equipped to take on challenges at work.

To improve your mental toughness (and fitness level) pushing yourself during a workout is key.  Here are three ways to challenge yourself in a workout:

Time your run or bike.  Map a route on an appropriate running or walking distance for your fitness level.  Time how long it takes to complete that route.  Record your score.  Test yourself one or two weeks.  Push yourself to improve your time.

Do your workouts by time.  For example, set your timer for 30 seconds and do as many push-ups as you can in 30 seconds.  Record your score, break for 15 seconds and repeat.  Try to improve your score.

Add 1-2 reps to your strength routine.  If you usually do 10 reps, try to push to do 11 or 12.  If you lose your form, take a break.

Life is full of challenges- whether you are raising a family, operating a business or enduring the daily grind at work.  Know that by pushing through that last repetition, or picking up the pace for your run interval, you are improving your ability to take on the demands of day to day life.  And hey, having a fit and toned body in addition to a strong mind is nice too!


Tanja Shaw is a Kinesiologist and Fitness Coach, specializing in weight loss, group fitness, pre and postnatal fitness, and health and wellness programs.  She owns Ascend Fitness Coaching, home to Ascend Fitness Boot Camp, Stroller Boot Camp, and personal training programs.  For more fitness tips go to

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