Mental Toughness Training and Performance in the Over 40 Male

My Take on Strength Training and Performance in the Over 40 Male

There are both advantages and disadvantages to strength athletics for people over the age of 40.

Here are a few of my observations regarding the behaviors of over 40 athletes and how their training has changed over the years:

  1. I have found that recovery from a hard training session doesn’t come as quickly as before.
  2. As an over 40 athlete, my level of concentration and mental toughness is much stronger than when I was competing in my 20s. I am more able now to push my body through distractions and fatigue.
  3. The secret to my success as an over 40 strength athlete has been following hard training days with easier recuperative days, and not letting myself put on weight in the off-season.
  4. In my 20s, I took few rest or recovery days. In my 30s, I normally had two rest and recovery days every week or so. Now in my 40s, I take an entire rest and recovery week after 3 or 4 weeks of hard training.
  5. I used to do strength training routinely but conditioning sparingly, now I do them both year round.
  6. It’s no longer my age I refer to as “over the hill,” but it’s how I describe a training session.

As an over 40 athlete, I want to encourage you to extend your longevity and enjoyment in the sports of powerlifting, weightlifting, and strength athletics by viewing your age as an advantage, improving your mental toughness, and understanding how strength training could stimulate growth in each of the 6 key areas described by Coach Don Nava, in his book Fit After 40: 3 Keys To Looking Good And Feeling Great.

  • Physical – the cross-training and entire body conditioning, flexibility, and strength aspects of strength training leads to total body health and fitness.
  • Directional – strength training can help a person live a focused and self-motivating life in the pursuit of personal goals and fulfillment.
  • Nutritional – every serious strength athletes pay close attention to everything they put in their body.
  • Emotional – the communal or relational aspect of being a part of the strength community, as well as training and competing alongside others can become an emotionally meaningful part of one’s daily life. The strength training social network of mutual encouragement and support makes a difference!
  • Mental – all competitive sports, especially the multiple challenges of strength training, helps build a mental toughness and positive outlook that can be applied to all of life.
  • Spiritual – for many people, the interest in sport culture is an expression of their spiritual beliefs and practices and the desire to train and compete with a larger purpose in mind. In many cases, this will follow us wherever we go and whoever we meet, give us something in common – a shared language, and raise awareness and involvement in worthwhile causes and charities.
Improve Your Mental Toughness for Sports Performance

Many athletes search for the answer for how to become “mentally tough” and many athletes don’t know how to cultivate it. Even worse, many athletes, and coaches don’t know what mental toughness is and how it can help their performance.

Athletes hear professional athletes and Olympians espouse the virtues of mental toughness training and how mental toughness was the reason for their great athletic achievements.

A lack of mental toughness is the biggest enemy of athletes. Lacking mental toughness causes athletes to give up, give in, tank the match, and give less.

The level of your athletic success is in direct proportion to your level of mental toughness. To be mentally tough, you must be willing to do what most athletes don’t do.

First, let’s demystify mental toughness…

Many athletes believe you are born with mental toughness. The sentiment is you either have mental toughness or you don’t… And if you were not born with the mental toughness gene, you can’t succeed in your sport.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You are 100% correct that you need mental toughness training to succeed, but you are 100% wrong to believe you cannot develop mental strength or become mentally stronger.

Some athletes do have a disposition to be more mentally tough than others, such as athletes who have handled psychological or emotional adversity in their lives and are used to rebounding. I’m thinking about Greg Norman and Michael Jordan–just to mention a couple athletes who responded well to adversity.

And coping with adversity is a component of mental toughness. Mental toughness is an attitude and attitudes are constructed by you and no one else.

If you are the one responsible for your attitudes, you can deconstruct the way you think about yourself or your ability to succeed. By changing the way you think and react in relation to circumstances where fear of failure, lapses in concentration, and self-doubt are heightened or eminent, you will change the way you feel about yourself, which changes the way you act, train, and compete.

Not only is mental toughness is an attitude and not something you were born with, it is a habit…

Mental toughness in athletics isn’t something you pull out of your back pocket when there are seconds left in a game… or when you need to sink a 3-foot putt to win a tournament… or even when you are up the plate with bases loaded in the ninth inning.

Mental toughness requires an ironclad approach to the challenges in your sport on a consistent basis. You need to consistently focus, train, and grow your mental toughness habit.

When mental toughness training becomes a habit, you can perform at the upper range of your athletic ability… And you are better equipped to handle obstacles, interference and difficult circumstances without losing confidence or motivation.

Mental toughness is like your fitness level, the more you train, the more fit you become. When you stop training your fitness level slips back. If you don’t consistently attend to your mental fitness, your mental toughness level begins to atrophy.

So, in essence, mental toughness is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are varying degrees of mental toughness. This is great news because all athletes can benefit from mental toughness training.

As your mental toughness reserves increase, you will see a significant improvement in your performance.

8 Qualities of Mental Toughness in Athletes

Mentally tough athletes…

  1. Find a way, not an excuse – Mentally tough athletes don’t make excuses when things don’t go their way. Instead of playing the blame game, they take responsibility for their performance, go back to the drawing board, right the ship, and try again.
  2. Adapt – Instead of doing things the way they always have, mentally tough athletes find new ways of challenging themselves, pushing themselves to outer limits of their potential. Mentally tough athletes understand what they did yesterday got them to where they are today… but more is required today to get them to where they want to be tomorrow.
  3. Expend their energy on things that benefit performance – Mentally tough athletes focus on the things they can control. Mentally tough athletes don’t dwell on the past, or feel sorry for themselves, nor do they concern themselves with distractions outside of their direct control. Mentally tough athletes focus on what they can do in the present moment to overcome the challenges of performance and give them the best opportunity to succeed.
  4. See the past as valuable informative lessons and nothing more – Mentally tough athletes learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, then the let go of the past and move forward. Mentally tough athletes see the past as mental training for better performance in the future. Mistakes, errors, and losses don’t define mentally tough athletes, these experiences strengthen their resolve.
  5. Take risks – Mentally tough athletes understand that fear of failure prevents fully committing to and achieving excellence in their sport. Mentally tough athletes seek out opportunities to move out of their comfort zone. Mentally tough athletes meet challenges with enthusiasm instead of dread and anxiety. Mentally tough athletes refuse to be average and understand they may miss the mark on occasions but it is worth taking the chance in order to achieve great things.
  6. Remain persistent despite of failure –Mentally tough athletes are never defeated by failure. Mentally tough athletes understand that failure is another step in the journey towards accomplishment. Mentally tough athletes have the mindset that failure is not final and never quit pursuing their objectives.
  7. Pursue excellence, not perfection – Mentally tough athletes have a goal but their focus is on the steps they need to take to get to that goal. Mentally tough athletes understand that optimal performance is a marathon, not a sprint. Each step along the way moves them closer toward the ultimate goal. They are not embarrassed by mistakes, do not try to be perfect, push themselves to the max and seek daily improvement. Mentally tough athletes understand they will make mistakes along the way and these mistakes are both necessary and critical turning points in their journey towards excellence.
  8. Concern themselves with their talents and abilities – Mentally tough athletes don’t try to please others nor do they resent the success of other athletes. They focus on themselves, their talents, improving themselves, implementing their game plan and achieving the goals they set for themselves.
  9. In other words, talent can be over-rated. You can find thousands of talented athletes who never achieve greatness in their sport. As a matter of fact, 75% off all teen athletes drop out of sports–not because of a lack of talent–but because they lose the fun in sports and lack the mental toughness to compete at higher levels.

Talent without mental toughness training can result in average performance when it comes to consistent success… But average talent with mental toughness makes good athletes accomplish great things.

Building Champion-Level Mental Toughness
  1. Create the habit of mental toughness – Find ways in training sessions to grow your mental toughness. Look to uncover weaknesses in your mental game instead of shy away from them. Then, one by one improve your weaker parts of your mental game toughness.
  2. When you get tired, push on for five more minutes… Perform one more rep than you think you can… Respond to adversity with determination and fortitude instead of frustration.
  3. Commit to mental toughness daily. Consciously choose how you will respond to tough circumstances.
  4. Mental toughness comes down to your habits and your habits are up to you. Remember that mental toughness is about winning the small battles each day.
  5. You can’t expect to be mentally tough in championship moments, if you are not working on stretching your mental toughness muscle behind the scenes.
  6. Battle and prove to yourself that you can tough out each challenge that you encounter on your way to reaching your goals.

How will you add mental toughness training to fuel your game? How will you make it a daily habit?

Stay Strong,

Brett Place

References for this article include: