Mental Toughness For A Super You!

The Russians dominated the 1976 Winter Olympics.

In 1979 at a sports psychology and performance gathering in Milan, Italy, American Scientist Charles Garfield, PhD. found out why.  After a late night party in Milan with the city’s founding fathers and other dignitaries, a group of Russian Scientists told Charles that the reason they dominated that year was because of a secret mental approach.  They had been implementing visualization, relaxation and concentration drills on their athletes which helped them DESTROY the competition.


Charles Garfield had been a bodybuilder, weight lifter and powerlifter for most of his years and simply couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He called B.S.

The Russians and Charles went back and forth until one of the Russians said “Let’s go find a gym right now and we’ll prove it to you!”  So at 1am in Milan, Italy they went looking for a gym.


Once they found a gym, the Russians asked Charles what was the most he had ever bench pressed.  Charles said that about 8 years earlier he had been in hard training and had benched 365lbs.  They then asked him how much did he think he could bench press right now as an absolute maximum.  Charles thought for a moment and then told them 300lbs maybe.

As he warmed up, the Russians began using their mental toughness techniques on him – concentration, relaxation, visualization.  I should mention that Charles WAS NOT warming up with any weight or with a barbell.  At this point, it was all verbal.  Coaching him, prepping him mentally.  They walked him through 225lbs, 300lbs, 335lbs but only mentally.  They loaded the barbell with 365lbs and told him to go ahead and physically perform the bench press for 1 rep.

To his amazement, he did it!  Charles lifted 365lbs whereas just 45 minutes earlier he was sure that his one rep max was only 300lbs.  That’s a 20% increase!

Dr. Richard Restak, a neuroscientist and author of 12 books about the human brain:

“The process of imagining yourself going through the motions of a complex musical or athletic performance activates brain areas that improve your performance. Brain scans have placed such intuitions on a firm neurological basis. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans reveal that the mental rehearsal of an action activates the pre-frontal areas of the brain responsible for the formulation of the appropriate motor programs. In practical terms, this means you can benefit from the use of mental imagery.”


At any time, whether you are an elite world class athlete or not, you are only using 25-30% of your muscle power.

Think of it. Your muscle fibers are only giving you 25-30% of their total ability.  Wow!  JUST KNOWING that should cause your face to break into a big grin.  The question is, how do you bridge the gap?  How do you go from 25-30% to 31% or more?

You use your mind.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee

You work on the same techniques that the Russians used on Charles Garfield.  These techniques are those of:

  • relaxation
  • concentration
  • visualization

By the way, this is NOT foo-foo Austin hippie drill where you eat magic mushrooms and go into a trance.

No offense to my hippie friends…


This method is used on elite world class athletes who lift tons of weight, sprint like a cheetah and jump like a red kangaroo.

Prior to the 1976 Olympics, the Russians divided their high level elite athletes into 4 equal groups. They wanted to conduct an experiment with the mental training techniques that they had been developing.

  • Group 1 performed just physical training during the several week experiment
  • Group 2 performed 75% physical training and 25% mental training
  • Group 3 performed 50% physical training and 50% mental training
  • Group 4 performed just 25% physical training and 75% mental training

*At the conclusion of the experiment, Group 4 made the most improvement in terms of their physical capabilities.  BY FAR.  Group 3 made the second most improvement, group 2 made the third most improvement and group 1 made the least improvement.  * Peak Performance by Charles Garfield, PhD

The mental training obviously paid off

More than ever, we as a society are distracted.  Even if you’re NOT an athlete nor want to be one, these techniques will help.  I saw a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger recently in which he talked about his need to become more focused in the mid -seventies.  He was just starting to realize some success by way of his movie career, real estate, books and seminars.  He felt distracted and unfocused.  A friend told him about transcendental meditation.  He started using it 2 X a day for 20 minutes each session.  *The TM technique involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day.

Arnold said that it completely fixed his distraction problem and that he learned how to focus and go on to do some big things in life (mild understatement).



Spend 5 minutes in a quiet, dark room with a timer and a pen light, flash light, etc.  Turn the pen light on, turn the lights in the room off so that it’s dark, start the timer which should be set for 5 minutes (more if you want).  Your goal is to focus on the light which should be shining on a wall.  As thoughts come in and out of your mind, continue to gaze at the light.  Keep your mind clear.  Focus on your breathing to relax.  Once the timer goes off at the 5 minute mark, you’re done.

Repeat this drill every day for 7 days.  I’ve found that right after a workout but before I eat is a good time for me.  Find the time that works for you.  By doing this drill, you are working your mental muscle, building your focus capabilities and drowning out the noise.

But, in the first place, you must learn to exercise your mind

– Eugen Sandow

The above sentence is the third sentence of the classic 1897 book, Strength and How To Obtain It


The toys could be anything that you desire – a car, a vacation, a house, win an adventure race, etc.  YOU decide what the toys are.  That’s the fun part.  They’re is no trophy or award for how many facebook posts you make or how many likes your post gets.


Next is the put your plan into motion part.  Get going, it only takes 5 minutes.

I’m doing this step (step 1) of the 3 steps this week.  Stay tuned because I’ll be writing about step 2 next.

Stay tuned and stay focused!






Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Strength and Conditioning Client Highlight – Keeganreply
March 04, 2015 at 05:03 PM

[…] we focus on the workout.  Talking is kept to a minimum today.  I’ve been talking about mental toughness, preparation and focus with Keegan and the weight room is an excellent place to practice these hard […]

Mental Toughness For Life Changing Results!reply
October 13, 2015 at 10:10 PM

[…] If I didn’t work out (exercise) what would happen?  I would become unhealthy and weak. It’s the same with mental toughness.  You have to practice it regularly to get better at it.  Once you get better at it, then you can unleash that beast at will whenever you need to.  It will help you with both fitness and personal challenges – finance, health, work, school, sports, life.  It’s what the Russians used to win the most Gold medals at the 1976 Olympics.  Dr. Charles Garfield, PhD wrote a book about this called “Peak Performance:  Mental Training Techniques Of The World’s Greatest Athletes”.  If you haven’t read this book, it is highly recommended. […]

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