Building Toughness in the Gym

Many of us have seen the person in the gym who may not be the strongest, may not be the most fit, or may not have the highest skill level.  What this person has is something called toughness.  Toughness is characterized the ability to overcome challenges, ignoring the voice in your head when the odds don’t seem to be in your favor.

So how do you build toughness in the gym?

Little challenges are helpful to building up toughness and allowing you to better yourself inside and out of the gym.  Here are some examples of challenges that I and others have used.

Set Challenging Goals. When performing major lifts try to push. We did this with the Wendler program and I believe a lot of you surprised yourselves. Take a front squat for instance, pick a weight that is challenging for 5 reps and push to 10. Keep the bar racked until that full set of 10 is done. Just make sure you are staying safe. Do not push yourself too far to the point where form is compensated.

Intervals. What is worse than having to do the same thing over and over while also getting more and more tired.  This is the epitome of building toughness.  Set goals for yourself here too, but make sure they are reasonable so you are able to get yourself to the “redline” point without complete failure.  For instance, using the assault bike 6 sets 30 seconds on, 15 seconds of rest I know I can complete 8 cals if I really push myself.  Through all 6 sets I want to get to at least 8 cals.

150 Unbroken Wallballs.  Using a movement with less skill but which requires a mental push is a great way to build toughness.  The goal here is to keep the ball moving until all reps are complete.  If this seems a little too out of reach cut the reps down or break into sets.  I have personally used this one myself.  During a workout, I pushed myself to complete 50 wallballs unbroken, I honestly didn’t think I could but I surprised myself, and then I did it twice more in the same workout.  Now I know, during workouts, where I stand and how far I can push myself.

50 Unbroken Back Squats at Bodyweight. This is a great goal to try to work up to or to push your body into doing every year to show progress. Make sure to warm yourself up for this properly by warming up to the working weight through a series of sets. If bodyweight is a little aggressive right now choose a load that you can do for 30 reps and then challenge yourself to do it for 40, then 50 and work yourself up. You will get there one day! Of course ensure that you are a strong squatter first as mediocre form and technique can become dangerous with all of the volume accumulation and time under tension.

Nine Minutes of Hell. We have done a workout in the past similar to this one. The title is not my own, but definitely describes the workout well. As stated above, please make sure proper form is first and foremost before attempting this challenge or adding weight. Take roughly 35-50% of your 1RM back squat and perform the following:

3 minutes of Back Squats without racking the bar
2 minutes of Rest
2 minutes of Back Squats without racking the bar
1 minute of Rest
1 minute of Back Squats without racking the bar

In addition, if you are pressed for time, this workout gets you in and out of the gym pretty quick so you can get back to your daily life.

Good luck and enjoy!