Mental Toughness Tips From 9 Elite Strength Coaches

Get your mind right with the help of Ben Boudro and 8 other masters of high performance.

Some trainers can coach everyone from eager young athletes to busy working adults to clients from every other age group and walk of life through intense, sometimes grueling workouts—and keep them upbeat the entire time. When those coaches get done leading workouts, they turn around and push themselves through something equally (if not more) challenging. And they do it every day.

Do you ever sit back and think: What in the heck goes on in these guys' heads? Where do they get so much motivation? What do they know that we don't?

In my own work at Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Michigan, I've seen that the best trainers have a seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm. They come to every workout fired up to help people become better versions of themselves. And they focus on that mission for every minute of every session they lead.

While there's no one secret to success, there is a formula that you can learn from successful people. Here's what eight of the trainers whom I most admire and respect said when I asked them how they stayed motivated and mentally tough, along with some pointers from my own firsthand experience at the end.

1. Jason Glass

Jason Glass is one of the world's top strength and conditioning coaches focusing on rotational power. Jason trains and consults for athletes and teams from the PGA Tour, NFL, and NHL. He's also an international lecturer and presenter on the topic of human performance and athletic development, and host of the Coach Glass Podcast. Jason says:

Change Your Mindset.

Sprint Faster

As soon as I am done with my workout, I tell myself: "You didn't have to do that."

Just this morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and I did not feel like working out. I was tired from travel and just "not into it." But I sucked it up and got my run in. After I was done I said to myself: "You did not have to do that."

I hear people every day say,"I have to go work out" or "I have to get my run in," like it's a bad thing, or something they've been forced to do.

Nobody's forcing you to do anything. You choose to. Or you choose not to. 

When you work out, you're doing something purely for you. I'm empowered to wake up early and get that workout in. I decide to push it during that last grueling set. I choose to do it, and it benefits me. 

Change your mindset. Embrace your choice. And you'll benefit too.

2. Lee Taft

Lee Taft is highly respected as an athletic movement specialist. Since 1989, Lee has taught foundation movement to youngsters and helped everyone from young amateurs to professional athletes become quicker, faster and stronger. Lee's advice?

Focus and Nail It.

Tired Athlete at Gym

When I am going through a tough workout, there are two times when I have to inspire myself to work through it.

The first is before the workout begins. I remind myself why I am doing the workout, and how it will benefit my body. This conversation is what keeps me training day to day.

The second conversation is during the "sticky" parts of the workout—those times when it hurts. I have always been good at making myself focus on technique and how I am performing the exercise in the moment. This takes my mind off the discomfort, at least for a little bit, and allows me to get through it. What I say during these times is "focus" or "nail it." This keeps me on track so I do the exercise well and don't just agonize through the workout.

3. Frank Nash

Frank Nash is an author and owner of Frank Nash Training Systems in Worcester, Massachusetts. He says

Tell Your Mind That The Team is Depending On You.

Baseball Team

I have this weird mental trick. I flash back to when I was a college athlete. I picture my team in front of me cheering me on and depending on me. If I don't get one or two more reps, I let them down.

To me, letting your team down is one of the worst things in the world. I put that pressure on myself, and it makes me get those one or two more reps.

The idea of being there for my friends is what pushes me. It's you, them and one more rep.

4. Rick Mayo

Rick Mayo is the owner of North Point Fitness and Alloy Personal Training Systems. His advice:

Remind Yourself How Fortunate You Are.

Tired Athlete

When pushing through a tough workout, I try to remember that I have a gift. To be in this moment, with a body able to do whatever it is I'm doing, that is truly a gift—one that not everyone is so fortunate to have.

By challenging that body, I am honoring that gift—and giving to my future self gifts of better health, free movement and, of course, an improved physique.

Instead of viewing workouts as something that I "have" to do, I try to remind myself that training hard is something that I "get" to do. So suck it up buttercup and do work!

5. John Annillo

John Annillo's fitness career has taken him from corporate gyms in New York City to the Strength and Conditioning Department at Ohio State University and beyond. He's a partner in Beautiful Bodies Boot Camp in New Jersey, has developed a couple of iOS Applications and serves as a consultant for fitness companies through Gym Autopilot. John says:

Focus on the Three W's.

Bench Press

I need will to succeed. This extra rep is merely a test.

If I want to win, I can't give up.

My why is what turns the negative voice in my head telling me to give up into a positive one that keeps me going.

Thinking of where you want to be is the easy part. Realizing that it's that last rep, extra lap or next workout that will get you there is the hard part.

One reason some people are successful and others are not comes down to the number of negative vs. positive thoughts that they have throughout the day.

The difference only gets more pronounced when you're in the gym and have 300 pounds over your chest. Either you'll pump yourself up enough to push it, or you'll flail at it hopelessly. If you can't push through the tough times during your workouts, you'll never be able to push through the tough times in life or business.

6. Wil Fleming

Fleming is the co-owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Bloomington, Indiana, which is one of the most successful training facilities in the Midwest. He is a national level Olympic weightlifter and the coach of dozens of successful weightlifters, ages 11 and up. He says:

Remember Your Long-Term Goals.

Baseball Pitcher

When a workout gets really tough, it is essential to look at the long term. Thinking about where I want to be can either push me to hit bigger numbers, or convince me to dial it back in case I just don't have it that day.

For example, if my goal is a competition next year, I know I have to push myself. But I also can't wreck myself and risk losing the opportunity to train the next day. Long-term goals are the compass guiding me when it gets really tough.

7. Justin Grinnell

Grinnell is owner of State of Fitness Gym in Okemos, Michigan. He also runs a corporate wellness training center in East Lansing and writes for the publications Healthy & Fit, Muscle & Fitness and Breaking Muscle. Justin says:

Remember Why You Started.

Push-Up

Some days you are "on." You're moving a ton of weight but it feels like nothing. But on plenty of others, it's a bit more complicated. Work, school, your relationship, or whatever else is stressing you out gets in the way. When that happens, I remind myself of all the reasons I need to train: It will make me a better person for my family, others and myself.

8. Billy Burghardt

Burghardt is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Michigan State University football and wrestling teams. He's a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). His simple, powerful advice is:

Keep It Positive and Break It Down!

Mental Toughness

I focus on positive self-talk at all times. And when things seem big, I break them up into little things. So if I'm doing a set of 15 reps, mentally I'll chunk that out into 3 sets of 5. Then it's not so intimidating.

Lastly, if one of those smaller sets gets really excruciating, I imagine that someone in my family is depending on me to get that next rep.

9. Finally, Some Thoughts of My Own

If there's one fact that's helped me push myself over and over again, it's this:

There Is Always Somebody Trying to Outwork You.

Back Squat

It's probably weird to think about that, but it's a trick that has stuck with me since my wrestling career. I force myself to go into a mindset that somebody is right next to me doing the same workout—and he's doing it better. I pretend he's exactly my age with the same build and same everything. I think of that person trying to get the same thing I'm after, and it drives me nuts. It forces me to get that last rep or finish that run faster.

Another thing I do is picture my family watching me. My son, Hudson, is watching. My wife is watching. My brothers are on the sidelines cheering me on. Don't ask me why, but it works. It pushes me way outside of my comfort zone every workout.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: MENTAL TOUGHNESS | STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING | MENTAL FOCUS