How Do You Overcome Pain In A Fitness Competition or Training Workout?

How Do You Overcome Pain In A Fitness Competition or Training Workout?

10 Jul

How Do You Overcome Pain In A Fitness Competition or Training Workout?

I have been progressing a pretty weird workout lately that, in some capacity, could be a competition styled workout.

I started week 1 with:

Run 1 mile

40 burpees

Run 1 mile

20 burpees

Week 2:

Run 1 mile

50 burpees

Run 1 mile

25 burpees

This week:

Run 1 mile

60 burpees

Run 1 mile

30 burpees

Next week...well, you get the picture!

Each week, I have felt the moment during the workout where I could go for it likely sending my body into the “death zone,” or I could throttle it back to remain aerobic. For me, in my phase of training, I prioritize a big aerobic base + some muscle endurance - where weight training and running are included weekly. That is Jim Crowell speak for “I throttled it back” for good reason haha.

However, each week I do this workout I get transported to my competitive days. “Those days,” you likely know exactly what I mean...where I’d be in the middle of a “burn you to the ground workout,” and I inevitably faced that moment of “I’m getting really “hot,” but I still have a way to go.” 

It really made me think back to some of the things that I would do to fight through that pain in a workout and “win.” 

Then, like any over the hill competitor who happens to have an epic team around him, I asked some of our Big Dawgs Team how they and their clients deal with this “Decision Moment.”

Here is what some of our team discussed as being what you can do to recognize that you are in the death zone and still work your way out of it the more effectively to win. I’ll break this into 2 main sections:

1. What you can do in a competition when you’re burning

2. What you can do in a training or testing workout when you’re burning

The reason we need to look at both is because no matter how hard we try, there is simply a different throttle in a competition so there will be different stresses in one vs the other. Let’s take a look at what the team discussed and then break it down a little bit!

How Do You Deal With That Brutal Moment In A Training Workout When You Are Burning Hard But Need To Keep Going?

Big Dawgs Coach Henry Torano - Bio , IG

“I just think about how Im gonna feel afterwards about having faced the decisive moment and opted to back off or quit.”

Big Dawgs Coach Brian Foley - Bio - IG

“I tell myself to find a way to keep moving. I think about how useless my effort is if I hold back which pushes me more thinking of the satisfaction of staying in it. I try to find ways to manipulate my reps with minimal eccentrics while I gear my focus on gaining control of the situation once again or just hang on with my eyes closed saying 10 left, 9 left, etc... until the work is completed lol.” 

Big Dawgs Coach Mizar Fuentes-Ortega - Bio - IG

“During training, I visualize my competition; if you give up in training, you will give up in competition. Train like you will compete. Now is the time to build so that in competition you can simply enjoy the present moment without any regrets of failing out of the cave pain. This is my time to confirm my goals. Is this SO important for me. If it’s not, I should do something else. If it is, I should go for it!”

Big Dawgs Marketing/Media Strategist Megan Mondelli - IG

“Generally when I feel that way, I think “my coach wouldn’t have programmed it for me if she didn’t think I could do it. and sometimes think vainly ‘what about the gainz?’” haha.

My take on dealing with the pain during training

Everybody has different internal levers that they must find to deal with pain. Some people naturally “like” it and want to find it a lot. Why do they love it? It could be a thousand different things. For everybody who doesn’t inherently love pain (most of us haha), you must do a few things really well during training:

Build a big base of training ensuring that your aerobic system is strong

This helps you recover faster generally which allows you to train more which allows you to hit more burner testers at the right times in your training phases. Without a great aerobic base, when you go all out, you’ll burn to the ground and struggle to recover which will stick negatively in your mind


Focus on what you can control

Something like focusing on your breath is something you can control. It doesn’t mean you can slow your breath way way down, but it does mean you can focus on it. If you focus on every instance of pain, you’ll more likely get out of control or scared

Make a decision and practice sticking to it

If you’ve decided that this workout is supposed to test you, you will inevitably face a decision of whether you’re going to go for it or not. If you’re putting in the right amount of training - ie you have the ability to actually go for it lol - and if you decide to go for it, you’ll be tested on whether or not you stick to it. The more you practice sticking to it, the better you’ll learn to trust in yourself that when you say you’re going for it, that’s it, you’re goin for it.

Change your environment for these testers

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an athlete fail out and then blame it on the music stopping or it being too hot or too cold. If you truly lost control because of an outside factor like that, you clearly haven’t messed with your environment. You need to be able to win anytime anywhere. Put yourself into some varying situations that force you to get even more uncomfortable 

Do not over test yourself

All of these examples are done with the caveat that you must smartly test. If you go all out every day, you will never sustain energy for months months or years on years. Also, if you “test” every day, it somewhat becomes the boy who cried wolf syndrome where you don’t really go “all out” every day even though you’re telling yourself you are. Then, when it comes time to throttle it up, you don’t have it

At the end of the day, everybody is going to be a bit unique in how they must uniquely build themselves up to face these challenging moments in their training. Just because something worked for somebody doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Be aware of what works really well for you and use it as you practice so that you continuously progress forward and prepare yourself for game day. 

How Do You Deal With That Brutal Moment In A Competition Workout When You Are Burning Hard But Need To Keep Going?

Big Dawgs Coach Sam Smith - Bio , IG

“I bring my focus to my breath. I don’t so much count my breaths, I focus on a conscious exhale as I need during the movement. Those breaths bring me back to the present moment and task at hand. It helps me quiet my mind - but that took practice. That concept was paramount for me during my golfing years, and it also helped a lot during my short lived competitive CrossFit career.”

Big Dawgs Coach Brian Foley - Bio - IG

“I tell myself to downshift, start clocking my time spent at the slower pace. Then I assess the workload ahead, increase my respiration through my diaphragm to calm down my system and wait until i can push the pace again while relying on my past experiences to keep me moving through the mud in the meantime.”

Big Dawgs Coach Mizar Fuentes-Ortega - Bio - IG

“During competition, I tell myself that NOW is the moment to push the limit. NOW is the time to trust the process and all the training that led me to this moment to express my full potential.

The moment where you start hurting is THE moment to push your limits. Do you accept this or shy away from this particular moment in time. Live trying or regret giving up.”

My take on dealing with the pain during a competition

Generally speaking, you must understand that a competition puts a different stress on your body. You must be prepared with your game plan and plan B’s when things get gross in a workout. Here are some of the big takeaways that I took from my conversation:


Stay in the present

If you have 200 reps left, it’s easy to let your mind fear reps 150-200. You must focus on the now. What is the task at hand, how will you accomplish it. It can be very helpful to chunk reps together to remain focused on the here and now

Trust yourself and your training

This is why we needed to touch on the training section of the question. If you have put in the work. If you have practiced these situations. If you have been through the ringer before, you know you can do it again. You must choose to trust yourself as your body heats up in pain.

Focus on what you can control

Just like in training, you can only action on what you can control. If somebody is beating you, you still need to do what you can do. If your best clean and jerk is 200#, you’re not clean and jerking 300# because somebody else did lol. It is no different when you’re gassing out. You need to do what you can do and focus on that.

Make a decision and practice sticking to it

The decision in competition carries more stress than it does in training. Perhaps when you have to make this decision to go for it in a competition, you allow your focus to drift into “what happens if.”  What happens if you lose, what happens if you don’t beat person “x,” what happens if you fail. This is when you must go back to what you can control which is whether you’re going to decide to go for it, suffer the pain of going for it, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Do not come out too hot

I know this is a hair different than the initial question at hand, but it’s worth saying. If you have an 8 minute workout and you come out at a 60 second sprint pace and hold it for 1  minute, you ain’t comin back from that at full speed. You need to go all out for that 8 minute piece. That doesn’t mean sprint. It means hard pace for 8 minutes

Enjoy it

Perhaps this sounds outrageous to you, but it’s worth discussing because I would argue that the best athletes in the world love to get into the thick of battle with their competition as well as themselves. When it matters the most, they trust themselves the most and they love it. The know it’s gonna hurt. They know it’s going to be a fight. And, the love all of it for what it is, their full expression of their fitness

Just as in training, everybody is going to be a bit unique in how they must uniquely set themselves up to overcome these challenging competition moments. Just because something worked for somebody doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Be aware of what works really well for you - from your training - and bring it into your competition with you. Remember that when you’re on the floor, you’re who you must rely on. The more you practice it and build trust in it, you’ll be far better off.  

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