4 Ways to Build Mental Toughness During Your Workouts

There are a lot of ways to train your mind. There’s visualization, journaling, watching film, reading, etc. In this post I'll explain one specific way to build mental toughness. But don’t worry, it’s not through some yoda-esque mind game. It’s through physical stress. 

Your mind and body are connected (for more on this topic, check out the book Mind Body Mastery by Dan Millman). So when your body fatigues, so does your mind.

Think back to the last time you did a conditioning workout. How clearly were you thinking right after you ran that last wind sprint? When our body gets tired, our play gets sloppy, the quality of our decisions deteriorate, and we lose focus. We become mentally weak. 

While this connection between mind and body means that physical stress can cause us to be mentally weak, we can also flip this logic on it’s head. We can also use physical stress to train our mind.

Practically, How Do We Leverage the Mind-Body Connection?

Essentially, it comes down to doing stuff you don’t want to do. By doing the things you don’t want to do, you build your mental toughness. Below I’ve listed 4 ways to incorporate mental toughness training in your workouts. 

1) Make a habit of finishing drills strong. 

The end of a drill is when you’re the most tired. It’s that last rep of a shooting drill, the last 10 feet of full court ball handling, or the last squat. That’s the time where it’s the easiest to lose focus. 

It’s a natural impulse. We’re always trying to rationalize reasons why we can slow down. We tell ourselves, It’s the last set, it doesn’t really matter. I’m basically done. I worked hard today, let me just coast through the finish line. These excuses are insidious. When you give in to one, it leads to others. Bad habits soon follow. 

Having the discipline to resist that impulse is how you build mental strength. 

The ability to finish every drill strong is rare. By doing this, you will stand out from the pack and I guarantee your coach will love it. 

You’ve probably done some form of "zig zag dribbling:" The common drill where you zig zag back and forth up the court while the defender works on their defensive slides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teammates or players go through the drill hard for the first 84 feet and then coast the last 10. They stand up, get out of their stance and jog through the end.

They’re physically strong enough to finish that last 10 feet, but they don’t. Why? Because they’re mentally weak.  

2) At the end of workouts, do a conditioning drill.

Conditioning is one of those things that we know is important but dread doing. It’s not fun. Especially when we’re already tired from a workout. That’s why including a conditioning drill at the end of your workout is a great way to build mental toughness. It’s something you don’t want to do.

So when you want nothing more than to unlace your shoes off and collapse onto the sideline, run a set of lines or a "17 across” first. You’ll hate doing it. But the act of dragging yourself onto the court and pushing yourself for 30-60 seconds will make you mentally tougher. 

Here are a few ideas:

Lane line slides: Start on the lane line and slide back and forth, touching both feet outside the lane on each side.

Slide - sprints: Start on the sideline and slide until you reach the lane line. Then turn your hips and spring the rest of the way to the opposite sideline. Repeat.

“Greenies”: Shoutout to Jeremy Russotti for this one. This one is great for leg strength. Take your jersey or a t-shirt and place it on the floor. Then put your hands on it so you’re on your hands and feet. Then start pushing with your legs, keeping your hands on the jersey the entire time. Just going the length of the court and back is tiring. But if you want to kick it up a notch do a set of lines.

Full court broad jumps: Perform broad jumps the length of the floor and back.

3) Hold yourself accountable to your workout plan.

Your workout plan is only worthwhile if you follow it. It's tempting to make last minute changes when you're tired especially when the next drill is one that you hate. 

For me, the worst drills were always the pure ball handling drills. As soon as I saw a ball handling drill on my workout plan I groaned, “ugh.” I started to think of reasons to do different drills, Well, I missed a few pull up jumpers last workout so maybe I should work on shooting off the dribble. Or, my last drill had some ball handling in it so I don’t really need to do any more ball handling. 

There were times when I fell prey to these excuses and switched my workout plan to a drill that was easier. In my mind I thought I was actually making a smart decision. I had rationalized it to the point where I didn't feel guilty about it. But in reality, it was just mental weakness. 

Your workout plan should be treated like a holy doctrine. Follow it religiously. There’s a reason why you chose that drill when you crafted your workout plan. Don’t let your mental weakness get in the way of doing what you need to do. 

4) Do drills with consequences.

For example, if you’re doing a shooting drill that has 10 shots in it, choose a target number of makes. One where you’ll reach the mark 50-80% of the time. If you fail to reach your goal, perform the punishment.

One of the most effective uses of consequences is when you’re shooting free throws. After a drill (while you’re tired), shoot 2 free throws as if your team was in the bonus and it was 1 and 1. If you don’t make both, perform the punishment. 

Key: Choose the punishment before you do the drill when you have a clear head. 

Some punishment examples: 

5 burpees

10 backboard/rim touches

30-90 second plank

8 laneline to laneline slides

10 lunge jumps

Building mental toughness doesn’t have to be it’s own separate workout. By incorporating these 4 tactics into your training, you can build your mental skills and your physical skills at the same time.