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Four Ways to Trick Yourself to Better Performance

Need to up your game? Try these strategies for improving your performance.


We often talk to our more advanced athletes about “the game within the game.” It’s a way for us to challenge more seasoned students with something bigger than, “Now that we’ve drilled the movements, here’s the work for the day. Call ‘time’ when you’re done!”

Though these aren’t strategies to use all the time, they can provide fun, helpful mental exercises to improve performance with what’s between your ears. Here are four ways to trick yourself to better performance in your workouts:

1. Rest Only Inside of Movement Sets.

The mind is a powerful force. Mastering transition time is all in your head. In that way, let’s hope its power is working for us not against us, right? You may be able to shave off key time in workouts by making a deal with yourself only to rest inside of movement sets rather than during transition time between movements.

Our minds see breaks between movements as obvious break time that can go unaudited. In a three-round workout of 75 double-unders, 25 chest-to-bar pull-ups and 15 shoulder-to-overheads, there’s an almost guaranteed break between the pull-ups and shoulder-to-overheads that probably goes on longer than it should. Challenge your mind to begin the shoulder-to-overhead, even just for a couple of reps, before resting and the mind will likely take less rest than it would have between movements.

2. Avoid the Max-Effort Set.

Whether the movement is a push-up, muscle-up or squat, delaying (or completely avoiding) the max-effort set is key to staying moving in your workouts. Forward progress is important. Though there are plenty of workouts that can’t be unbroken, you can always choose to break before your fitness forces you to break.

Come off the bar, the rings or whatever movement you’re on before failure. That will allow you to stay in the game and keep you from “running out” of reps. For some movements, they take time to come back (if ever).

3. Create One Big Negative Split.

Longer workouts will have no problem providing a trip to the pain cave. Delaying the time it takes to be consumed by the workout may mean better movement deeper into the workout and having enough in the tank to finish strong. Getting workout drunk too early, however, could mean a suboptimal effort.

Try to finish the workout faster than you started. Whether you actually accomplish the task or not is almost neither here nor there. What’s important is that you don’t make the easiest mistake in the book and try to do too much too soon.

4. Set Odd Rep Goals.

Think about how many times you’ve told yourself midworkout, “OK, let’s do five and take a break.” Naturally, we choose things like five-, 10- or 20-rep increments because they are common, clean numbers in our mind. Given that they are mostly arbitrary and usually the most familiar number near our perceived ability, there are probably some reps left on the table here.

If you’re mind is telling you, “OK, sets of five,” do sets of seven instead. Being able to set odd rep goals midworkout will tap into your fitness more, limit you less by your mind and having you call “Time!” faster.

Don’t underestimate the power of your mind to affect your performance. It’s up to you if that effect is positive or negative.