Mental Toughness Training in the Primal World

Don't Give Up!This is a guest post from Jack Yee. Jack’s Primal Blueprint Real Life Story “Free at 50” was published a few weeks ago here on Mark’s Daily Apple. In this article, Jack shares his four strategies for conquering intense workouts, and becoming both physically and mentally stronger as a result. Enter Jack…

When I first made the transition from conventional bodybuilding training to full body primal workouts, I quickly realized it was one of the best things I ever did. I used to look forward to doing the primal workout of the week or the contest WODs that were sent in by some of you. There was something so liberating about pounding a sledgehammer, crawling on grass, or throwing a stone and running as if I was being chased by a saber-tooth predator (all while being outside soaking in some much needed vitamin D). The primal workouts were fun, but very difficult to get through due to the high intensity that each workout demands. Many times, I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. As a result of this training – along with the Primal eating plan – I was able to get in the best shape of my life. But, something unexpected also changed in me; I became mentally tougher.

Now whenever I coach an athlete or train a client I tell them my first priority is to get them mentally tougher. High intensity training will teach your mind how to push your body to do amazing things. The byproduct of mental toughness training is having a better body; by focusing on the mind first, the aesthetics will follow.

More importantly, I teach my clients how a strong mind will improve their overall quality of life by teaching them how to persevere. However, the majority of them couldn’t care less about being mentally tougher as they have the misconception that being mentally tough is about being a macho rough neck. This is hardly the mental toughness I teach my clients. Mental toughness is the ability to overcome adversity. It is a skill that can be honed and strengthened.

The problem is most people don’t see how advantageous it is be mentally strong. They think toughness development is only for competitive athletes. However, we all participate in the cruelest sport of them all – life. Just living day-to-day life is full of painful ordeals and unfairness. If you are weak, the harshness of this world can destroy your spirit and hinder your health recovery. When adversity strikes, it does not discriminate between age or gender. It doesn’t matter how great of shape you are in or how long you have been grain-free. If you are you are mentally weak, you will always be susceptible to falling apart during a personal crisis. This is why men and women, young and old can all benefit from some mental toughness training. We all need some improvements in learning how to stay in the fight.

The best thing about mental toughness training is that you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to join a navy SEAL boot camp and get yelled at by a muscle bound sergeant. But, you do have to go through some difficult and challenging physical training to get there. There just isn’t a shortcut to become mentally tougher. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your current workout protocol. All you have to do is add one high intensity workout per week to your schedule. Mark’s recent article on 10 Full Body Workouts You Can Do in 10 Minutes Flat is loaded with great workouts that will test your perseverance skills. CrossFit WODs or the Workout of the Week from the Primal Blueprint Fitness series also fit the bill.

Now, let’s take a look at my four strategies for destroying tough workouts and cultivating mental toughness in the process:

Strategy #1 – Prepare Yourself to Be the Aggressor

When it comes down to the workouts, there are only two outcomes – either you get through them or you don’t. Aggression is a primal instinct necessary for survival. It doesn’t need to be expressed through violence. It can manifest from your mind into positive action. The behavior you want to achieve is to finish the workouts. How you prepare for each workout will ultimately be the difference in your mental toughness progression or regression. Sun Tze’s “Art of War” is all based on winning the battle before you begin the fight. Same philosophy with this program as well.

One of the best ways to develop the mindset of one who is relentless is to understand your need to be mentally tough. Ask yourself empowering self-questions like, “Why do I need to become mentally tough?”, “What is my purpose with my training today?” Confront yourself for the truth in your preparation. Dig deep in yourself for personal reasons.

A wide range of emotions from desire to passion will be sure to surface. Stimulating your emotions can be a very powerful source of self-motivation. It doesn’t matter what the emotions are as long as they provoke aggressive ideas and thoughts to you. The more personal your answers, the more provoking they will be to arouse you to become the aggressor in the upcoming feud between you and the primal workouts. If you do not have a strong purpose or need, you are not going to be able to handle the demands from the training sessions. Finding a sense of great urgency with your purpose and need will help you pack some much needed heat going into the fight. You should do it before every training session. Let it be a ritual where you load and reload your mind’s chamber. You can go over your purpose and need when you drive to the gym or think about it during your warm-ups. Just let it build up and stew with you until you begin the workout. You want your mind and body overflowing with pure aggression before the workout. I don’t care if you are a law abiding citizen, mild-mannered person, soccer mom, or a nerd like me. When it comes to getting ready for a tough workout like Mark’s burpee ladder, you must transform your soul to become a merciless caveman with primitive aggression with only one thing in mind – you will finish the workout, no matter what.

Strategy #2 – Strengthen Your Connection with Your Will

Your ability to overcome obstacles is all dependent on your will. Your will is what imposes your thoughts and desire into action. You have to think of your will as something concrete that can be molded and shaped.

The primal workouts is a great system that you show you how powerful your will is. Constantly putting your will to the physical test and demands of these workouts is how you raise your pain and fatigue tolerance. If you don’t quit during the workouts, you are teaching your will to be defiant. With repeated practice at even higher levels of discomfort is how you develop a will that is indomitable. The only caveat is that the workouts must provide some level of anguish like Mark’s brutal car pushing workout. When you’re struggling to get a single inch out of the car push, you have to remind yourself over and over that what you are doing is honing your skill to persevere.

After you finish each workout, you must acknowledge your will as one of the sole reasons for your accomplishment of getting through them. The more you recognize your will, the less elusive it becomes. As your will becomes more accessible, it becomes a solid tool or better yet, a weapon that you can use against any adversity that is trying to break your morale. Being mentally tough means continuing the fight, no matter how much your strength seems to be fading.

On the contrary, let the discomfort you are feeling stimulate your will even more, so it can deliver strength to your body. This is the “second wind” great athletes all have as they are able to supply a rush of energy from the power of their will. The more your mind practices pushing your body to do things it doesn’t want to, the stronger your will becomes. The ultimate sign of a tough-minded person with a strong will is they have the ability to come back stronger than ever even when they seemed completely down and out.

Strategy #3 – Optimizing Positive Self-Talk and Visualization Skills

We talk to ourselves all the time. What you say to yourself can have a profound effect on your actions and feelings. Even if we don’t say things directly to ourselves, our thoughts can unconsciously manifest in our body. You must learn to optimize your inner positive dialogue to your advantage, especially when you do a devastating workout like Mark’s challenge that requires you to carry ½ your body weight for 10 minutes. I just did this workout and by the first minute my mind was filled with negative thoughts to quit. By the fifth minute, my mind was pleading with me to stop and by the ninth minute, my mind was screaming negative profanities to drop the weight! Suppressing my mind’s negative chatter was 90 percent of this battle.

Positive self-talk is a subtle change that can put whole different meaning to your thought process. Remember, this training is all about how your thoughts influence your behavior so you want to have as much positive and aggressive action statements roaming around in your head. The good news is that most people repeat the same negative statements over and over like “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard.” Look for certain negative verbs in you thought patterns like “can’t”, “don’t” or “won’t” and replace with positive verbs like “must”, “can” or “will.”

Strategy #4 – The Power of Mantras

Mantras are strong one sentence phases that motivate you to be aggressive and relentless. They should be short and full of action words as you will repeat them often during the workouts. They are meant to inspire you in times of need. If a mantra doesn’t motivate you to keep on going, they are not effective. They should cause your body to take on a life of its own.

Mantras are a great way to teach you the relationship of how the mind can lead the body. Repeating them over and over can be very hypnotic as they will lead you into action. This is why you want to create as many different types of mantras as possible, especially the ones that really push your buttons. With every workout, there is that pivotal moment when the workout is becoming overbearing and you are close to quitting. When this happens, you need a mantra that will create some rage in yourself to force you into action. By seeing red, you’ll be able to re-energize yourself and finish the workout with some authority.

One of my potent mantras that I have is “I refuse to give up on myself anymore.” When I repeat this mantra, I always am able to jump-start my energy no matter how exhausted I’m at during a workou. This mantra causes my mind to be fuming with past memories of me when I was at my most mentally weakest. In an instant, these words are all I need for my body to regenerate itself and push through. This mantra has so much personal meaning to me, I can’t count the numerous times it saved me from letting a classic primal WOW like “I’m Gonna Be (500 reps)” from burying me.

Remember the challenge of the workouts in this program don’t start until the point when you want to quit. Only when you have reached the throes of your suffering and can’t take any more of your muscles burning or psychological stress, does the real toughness training begin. Many times the demands of primal training were close to shattering my combative caveman spirit, but my mantras that incite me, always came through. Grok on!

Learn more about Jack Yee’s take on mental toughness training from

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