3 Tricks to Move Through the Pain Cave

When your body is screaming for you to quit, here’s how to move through it.


We’ve all been there. It can be an important part of advancing your fitness, but to say it’s enjoyable would be dishonest. It’s called the “pain cave” for a reason, and if it feels good, you probably aren’t really in it.

Here are three tricks to keep you moving when everything in your body wants to stop:

1. Count Small Rep Sets.

I’ve always done extremely well with “Fran,” for example, but the idea of doing all 21 and all 15 reps unbroken makes me want to vomit. Of course, I do everything unbroken, but for the round of 21, I count to seven in my head (three times). The round of 15? You guessed it. I count to five (three times). If it sounds complicated or like overkill, it might not be helpful for you, but it surely gives my mind a break.

2. Coach Yourself. 

This idea is an old-school tip from CrossFit Games veteran Jason Khalipa, who is nearly as notorious for entering the pain cave willingly as he is for his time spent on the podium. When asked how he can push through the pain and avoid all the self-talk that says to stop, he said he focuses on what he’d say if he was a coach watching himself. Rather than, “Man, this sucks! Take a break,” try saying things to yourself like, “Spread the floor!” and “Elbows up!” for a positive distraction.

3. Use a Mantra.

Founder of SEALFit and former BUD/S Honor Man Mark Divine made it through the toughest training on earth with a positive, lighthearted mantra that he’d repeat to himself while in the pain cave. For this Navy SEAL, it was, “Looking good, feeling good, might as well be in Hollywood!” that did the trick. Finding your mantra might take some homework, but it could be the focal point that helps you in times of adversity.

Ultimately, you’ll need to find what helps you under stress and exploit that. For many of you, one of these three strategies might be a helpful tool to add to your mental game.