Mind Over Matter: 5 Tips To Overcome Mental Roadblocks

You start at your local gym. You have your new gym apparel, you have a new diet plan and daily routine. You keep your goals in mind and push that bit harder so you can give yourself an even harder time when you cheat on the weekend. You follow your plan for up to a month and you achieve your own sense of gratification and the improvements keep you pushing on.


You feel more confident and going the gym is no longer a forced task, it is a necessity. You begin to enjoy it and you even begin chatting to personal trainers who you now know by name. You start to run for longer on the treadmill. You up your calorie intake and make minute changes to your diet at the advice of your newly found gym friends. You begin to lift heavier weights and you need someone to spot you. You share jokes by the water cooler and laugh about how you can’t fit it into your old t-shirts. Everything is going well but you hit a brick wall. It isn’t your physical anatomy that dictates this change; it’s your mentality. Your mentality starts to make you become complacent and your routine becomes convoluted. Your cheat days start to become day that end in “Y”.


Your gym sessions end within 15 minutes.  Your new form begins to soften and you’re back to wearing your old size small t-shirts on the beach. Your mind tells you that it is your body that has reached its limit but somehow you don’t believe it. You wonder whether it is your age, your lifestyle, your work commitments? It may be all of that but these are not external factors that are exclusive to the body, these are contingents of your mind.  Layers of stress; which have toppled under the burdens of your lofty expectations.

All of us can’t be Mr Olympia in a month and the human anatomy knows this better than you do. Your body will begin to adapt the more you practice; this is the same with the mind.  The human brain is incredibly active; It’s constantly moving, adjusting and repairing the physical body to facilitate optimum performance. The brain is the driver and your body is the vehicle. If you accelerate to hard your car wont pass its regular MOT. This is the same as your body. It picks up some wear and tear. Soccer players suffer from posterior cruciate ligament (ACL/PCL) and the menisa (cartilage of the knee). These knee injuries can adversely affect a player’s long- term involvement in the sport. Yet, a goalie can play till he is in his 40’s. His wear and tear is less than that of a striker.

Weightlifters suffer from injuries in areas such as the shoulders. Pinched nerves and shoulder impingement syndrome are typical. The quantity overshadows the quality in these respects. Overzealous physical activity is common among all novice gym-goers. Our naivety matches our impatience and we look towards the end product without thinking about the production itself. This is where we utilise your strongest weapon, your brain.  We too should exercises it and use it to our own advantage.

The UK National Health Service states that exercise is beneficial for the mind. It combats anxiety and depression. That is of course beneficial but we want to get lean, mean and have arms like cylinders of gasoline. We want to improve our mental ingenuity so it can benefit our workouts and physicality.  Here are five tips on how to keep the brain willing while the flesh may be weak.

1. Visualization

Everyone who goes the gym has a set goal to achieve and as I said before our mental fortitude can act as a blockade to our intended goals. When we start to slack or feel fatigued it is worth remembering why you are doing this and what your eventual goal is. Maybe you are going on a holiday with the lads and you want to impress those ladies on the beach or maybe you just want to feel more confident with a partner in exposed situations. You might just want make a positive change. Visualise that expected moment, visualise your workouts, visualise performing athletic feats of brilliance. Anything that pushes you into your set routine is beneficial because once the routine is disrupted it becomes harder to maintain.  Someone who has taken the means of visualisation to the extreme is MMA fighter Connor Mcgregor. The Irish equivalent of marmite punching you in the face is a keen advocate of the ‘Law of Attraction’. The Law of Attraction states that, we attract into our lives what we think about most of the time, good or bad. Mcgregor openly predicts the outcome of his fights with accuracy unknown to clairvoyants.

Mcgregor claims that “If you have a clear picture in your head that something is going to happen and a clear belief that it will happen no matter what, then nothing can stop it”.

This Law of Attraction is not a tough concept. You simply have to believe to achieve and this may sound like your typical self-help book but the mind works on your own assumptions not the assumptions of others. Take influence from top athletes. Their confidence is there forte. It can be your forte too.

5 tips to overcome mental roadblocks

“If you have a clear picture in your head that something is going to happen and a clear belief that it will happen no matter what, then nothing can stop it”.

2. Verbal Motivation

This is a method that has been adopted and glorified by the army and has used to great effect. Verbal Motivation is meant to trigger a person. This can be done intrinsically through the most commons cause of verbal practice, music. You may find yourself timing your lift with a drop or a chord progression and feel that it is you being a dope but there is a science behind this little phenomena. R Douglas Fields wrote within ‘The Power of Music: Mind control by Rhythmic Sound’’,

“Data recording of brain activity  (from emitted alpha and beta waves) shows that neuron activity become synchronised with auditory rhythm”.

For those who don’t understand the technicalities like me, it simply concludes that rhythmic sound synchronizes with brain waves. Verbal motivation does not need to be conveyed only through music. Verbal Motivation is best communicated by someone who is with you during a workout . A personal motivator if you will.  You see these motivators in retro gym videos and you begin to cringe. You don’t have to fit the stereotype but a helping hand when being spotted and some words of motivation go a long way.

3. Focus on the Process

Breaking down the steps of a power lift or a bicep curl may seem elementary to some of you but it is important in maintaining your body. Just like when you are told at those opaque health and safety seminars on how to lift a box; posture and form are of the upmost importance. By sighting the process you can also get a rhythm and we know how pathologically important rhythm is.  Break down your set’s into increments of a rounded number or lucky number.  You can use breathing as your own personal metronome and by focusing on your breathing you will become more aligned with your form. You can also break down a process into five steps or create your own circuit that will appease to your tastes and limitations. Maintain your form and focus on each detail till it becomes second nature. Maintaining an understanding of your physicality is important. You will begin to see results and enjoy your workouts even more.

5 tips to overcome mental roadblocks

So wise, these Chinese Proverbs are.

4. Motivation

In 1993, Frederick & Ryan wrote a report entitled ‘The Motivation for Physical Activity Measure’.  This self reported questionnaire was designed to assess motives for participation in sport, exercise or physical activity. The researchers defined that there are five different types of intrinsic motivators.  These include,

  • Appearance Motivator – They are there to improve their body shape or to gain muscle.
  • Social Motivator – They are there to meet new people in a group or in fitness class’s.
  • Fitness Motivator – They are there to increase their physicality, endurance or condition.
  • Competence Motivator – They are there to improve or learn a specific skill.
  • Interest/enjoyment – They are there to have some fun.

This study is interesting because it allows you to understand your own motivations and this will help us keep you build a routine and work closer towards your end goal. I’m pretty sure that most of you will believe you are more than one of the five motivators and that is fine as long as you understand your own motivation, no matter the number. This is a pre-requisite for any committed gym-goer because once you understand your motivation you can use it to your advantage and stay on your own track. The report also says how to get out the best from each motivation type. They outline the intrinsic triggers for each kind of motivation. A further read will benefit your mentality when working out as well as your mentality outside of the gym.

5 tips to overcome mental roadblocks

Motivation comes as a result of first taking action.

5. Learn as you go

You cannot develop a skill until you have experienced using it and make no mistake about it, developing you body is a skill and that is why your mind is just as important. You have to fall before you fly and you will fall many times. The more you workout the more you become accustomed to your strengths and your weaknesses. You may begin with a plan that you printed based on a friends recommendation and then baby-step along at first. However, consistent gym goers understand that more comfortable you become the more open you are to attempting new workouts and routines. You will evolve to fit your body and your mind will keep track at this. Wing it but be aware of what you are learning. Personal trainers see waves of people come and go each day. Personal trainer Justin Grinnell said that,

“Each client comes with a different amount of mobility and you have to adapt to each client accordingly. I enjoy speaking with them and knowing what they enjoy doing. You don’t want to make them visible”.

Different motivations, different body types and different limitations. The gym is made to adapt to these differences but it is up to you on how you educate yourself. It is also up to you to understand what best suits you. I recommend that if you have a passion for exercise then you should study it. Learn aspects of the anatomy, nutrition and equipment. Learn as you go and you will become a rounded practitioner.

These five steps show that your mental ingenuity is just as important as your physical attributes. Using your brain is important because it will increase your own vigilance within the gym. You will learn quicker and reap the benefits because of this. This is a very important aspect for aspiring PT’s who need to market themselves efficiently while being the source of knowledge for their clients. You will also be more aware of your body and this will help you maintain your body for longer.

Long gone are the days of building weight at alarming rates and removing it in a short amount of time because this has a negative impact upon your internal anatomy. If you have a better understanding of your body you will be able to carry on at a consistent rate and see the true gratifications of physical exercise. The oscillation between mind and body is one that will be studied forever and while research is generalised it is important for you to understand your own mind and body and how to best use them together.

About the Author

luke-hughesLuke is a qualified personal traininer who runs a stable of gyms in the UK, as well as a fitness & health education company. As a former bodybuilder, and all around fitness lover, his passion is now serving and helping people through his gyms and educational offerings.