LGN 85: Mental Roughness

Inside: Upping the ante

This is a certain person’s fault. You know who you are. I’ve successfully avoided Mental Toughness class for over two and a half years and then she used some kind of Jedi mind powers on me.

“See you on Saturday. Hey, Justin, guess what? Gary said he’s coming to Mental Toughness on Saturday.”

“Wait, what? I didn’t–”

“Yes you did. See you at MT.”

[Saturday morning, 10am]

“Wait a minute. Why am I at UA right now? I don’t even remember getting dressed and driving here. Oh no Mental Toughness!!”


Oof. Sitting was a mistake. Now I have to get up and try to walk to the bathroom.

Over the years of training at Underground Athlete I’ve been getting stronger, faster and fitter in fundamental ways. When I watch what I eat I lose weight, too.

But I still haven’t leaned out like I want to. Lemme tell you. When you get to a certain age your body gets serious about holding on to its energy reserves, i.e. fat. Especially the stuff around the middle.

I haven’t been physically active outside of the gym since the weather became Autumn-like and we turned the clocks back. The last time I mountain biked my legs just failed. I was in one of those phases of perpetual soreness and so had an embarrassing outing. Oh, I did do some kayaking and a good bike ride, but then…

All of that together reminds me that I’m training to enjoy myself outside of the gym. For reasons. Not just because. Not because I want to pick things up and put them down again but because I want to walk, run, jump, ride, climb, and so on.

Point being, I’m going to start doing more classes. I’m not sure if I should go down to training 2x/week and doing classes or if I should keep 3x and hope my body won’t completely break down. But I think we all have to do something different to be at our best. That’s kind of a bummer.

Even if you work your ass off doing strengthy thing x and doing cardio (running, riding, whatevering), if you only do that you’re still going to reach some kind of plateau. Doesn’t seem fair. Because each realm of fitness is still important — all of the various ways to be fit. Fast twitch, slow twitch, flexibility, mobility, endurance, power, efficiency, capacity. You have to address it all.

I’ve gotten so much stronger and fitter over the past few 2.5+ years but put heavy kettlebells in my hands and give me a ten minute set and chances are I won’t make it to the end in one piece. (Let’s gloss over the technique involved for the sake of this conversation.)

On the other hand, do something like 10 minute sets of anything, which is an amazing feat, and it still won’t get you the results of lifting something so heavy that you can only do it ten times or eight times or three times or once. It’s not the same as maxing out. Also, strength training, when you lift, you’re often not using momentum. Well, that’s not true for olympic-type lifts. But most of the time you’re doing reps from a dead stop. Muscle power.

Strength training is indispensable, but it’s not the same as one of the classes — like the kettlebell classes, mental toughness, or the others that I haven’t tried yet — where you’re doing high reps or fast paced activities at a high heart rate for the entire hour and a half. Or you’re doing intervals for an entire hour.

I could tell you what we did in MT but in a way it doesn’t matter. Justin will sometimes adjust the rules on the fly so that people can get further down the list. Let it suffice to say that it’s way too much of everything and it hurts and it’s exhausting and will sometimes make you wish you could just pass out. In that good, tough workout way.

I was explaining what we did in one class to a friend and he asked why it’s called mental toughness.

I had to think about it because it just sounds very physical. Hundreds of reps. Running. Carrying things or people or pushing sleds for hundreds and thousands of yards. What’s mental about that? Well… heh. Mental.

Because when you reach the point where you’d normally run out of steam or collapse, there’s probably a whole lot more in you. More than you think there could be. And the psychological aspect of having a teammate depending on you or even a goal causes you to test those boundaries.

Here’s an example. In retrospect, I could have done the farmers hold longer. Because I put them down. I didn’t drop them. See what I mean? My grip didn’t fail (or my shoulders or my breathing even though it was torture). The fact that I was able to put them down in a desperate but somewhat controlled drop means that there was still something in the tank. That’s what I’m talking about.

My hands are still shaking, by the way.


Real talk. I’m not one of those people who has a high threshold for workout pain. Much respect. There are some people who always go the extra mile, maybe literally. They do the hardest stuff and are eager to do it. It’s cool but I can’t quite relate yet.

I’m trying to amp up my game because of the physical benefits. Also, I want to learn how to recycle workout pain into energy and motivation since it looks like I’m going to experience a lot of it.

The night before a MT class I’ll think about it and momentarily get butterflies. Like, “Oh no. That’s tomorrow.”

There’s a little bit of stress. It reminds me of how stressed out I was about Tough Mudder. Lesser degree, same flavor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

I’m still constantly amazed at what I’m capable of (I’m a baaaad man!) and also how little it takes for me to reach the point of failure (Gawd I suck! Why do I suck!).

I still think some of y’all are crazy, though.


This is true. In the realm of fitness, I mean. It’s not a lame ploy for pity or attention. I’m not being hard on myself for saying that either. I’m also not forgetting how far I’ve come and the PRs and how much better I feel and am than I was.

It’s just that it seems like everybody’s stronger, faster, tougher, more dedicated, more passionate, more adventurous, accomplishing things.

Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s always someone more advanced and there’s always someone less so. One of the reasons I kept training beyond when I thought I would is because I saw what other people are capable of. I saw the possibilities. I saw what can happen if you train for years — if you stick to it. I saw new people coming in who are fitter than me. I also saw the consequences of bad habits vs. good habits in the form of chronic illnesses and deaths of loved ones.

Here’s the carrot. You’re going to have to work for it and it’s going to suck sometimes. Here’s the stick. You will pay, eventually and painfully and maybe tragically. What’re you gonna do?

Whenever I see my family someone asks me if I’m still working out. I say yes. Others will answer for me and say, “It’s his lifestyle now.”

There may be a day in the unforeseeable future when I stop, but in that case it’ll be because of some misfortune or calamity or very unfortunate change in circumstances. Otherwise, it’s like asking a werewolf if he’s still transmogrifying when the moon is full.

“You still doing that thing with the moon and all that?”

Haha. I must be very tired because that was an awful analogy.

That is all. I have to do … nothing.

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