5 Steps to Your Best Performance

The 2017 CrossFit Games Open begins this week.  At this point no one is going to get significantly more fit over night, but there are some concrete steps you can take on and around game day to maximize your performance.

The list of elements that go into being mentally and physically prepared to create your best performance each week is long.  I want to hone in on a specific aspect, which is your mental strategy immediately before and during the workout, in five steps.  Mindset is key not only to perform better, but to create a more meaningful and personal growth oriented experience.  

1.) Focus on Strengths

In Social Work we have a practice framework called the “Strengths Based Perspective.”  This paradigm guides us to pay particular attention to a client’s strengths, building upon strengths to ultimately address and resolve areas that are problematic in the client’s life.  The same concept can be applied to how you address a workout.  We want to maintain a positive state of mind when doing a workout, and focusing on your strengths is a tool you can use to achieve that positive mindset.

How can you apply the strengths based perspective when performing a workout?  Ask yourself questions like:

  • Which of the movements do I like?
  • Which of the movements do I perform well?
  • Where can I breathe/recover in the workout?

Your responses to these types of questions will help you identify the strengths that you can draw on when you perform the work.  Your strengths can be a life preserver or bright spot as you take on the challenge of trying to bring forth your best performance.

2.) Breathe

Feeling some stress is normal when you’re on the verge of taking on a task that’s important to you, and for which you’ve invested a lot into preparation.  Your body produces adrenaline in response to this stress thereby raising your heart rate and respiration, creating tension in your muscles- not necessarily the way you want to go into a workout.  Depending on how you respond to it, adrenaline can propel you to great performances or it can be a serious obstacle to overcome in achieving high performance.  An invaluable tool for channeling the nervous energy is intentional breathing.  It may sound like a given, but seriously, give your breathing the attention it deserves, before, during and after the workout.

Tips to put your breathing to work for you:

Before the Workout:

Using specific breathing patterns is an effective way to calm your heartrate and respiration before a workout.  There are a variety of counting patterns that can guide you in this process.  A few of my preferred counting patterns:

  • Box breathing.  Also known as four square breathing.  (4 count inhale, 4 count hold with the lungs full of air, 4 count exhale, 4 count hold with empty lungs)
  • 6 Count  breathing (coordinate a breath that is slightly longer than your normal breath, to coincide with a 6 count inhale and and 6 count exhale)
  • Cleansing Breath (6 count inhale, 2 counts holding breath in the lungs, 7 count exhale

3.) Visualization:

An advantage of the Open format is that you can have some time to consider the workout before you perform it.  This puts an invaluable tool at your disposal:  visualization.  Visualization is a performance enhancer that I absolutely adore, in that it does it’s job of training and preparing both the body and mind without having to do any more work in the gym!  In the Open you have a great deal of information about the workout, your equipment and and general surroundings.  Use this abundance of information to create the most vivid and complete visualization you can, tapping into all your senses.  Think about when you do a workout for a second time, you almost always get at least a few more reps or a little better time.  Visualizing the workout in advance can give you that same type of advantage.  

4.) Coach Yourself Kindly

Positive self-talk is a key component to any performance related mindset practice.  Everyone has an internal dialogue, and how you talk to yourself will greatly impact your performance–both in terms of production, and what the experience feels like.  Yes you want to get the most reps.  More importantly in the end is how achieving that impacts you as a person.  Beating yourself up or being judgemental or critical while you work is not on only counter productive to high performance, but it doesn’t make for a very fulfilling experience.  

How to shape positive self talk:

Affirmative Performance Cues:  This is one of my absolute favorite techniques to use in a workout.  Not only because it helps me stay positive and move efficiently, but also because it gives me something constructive to think about and helps me stay in the present moment.
In reviewing each prescribed movement, identify one or two short, specific performance points that are key to efficient execution.  These cues should be individual to you and phrased in a way that resonates with you.  This will direct your self-talk (and in turn, your movement) throughout the workout.  Commit yourself to the idea that moving better is going to make your work more productive, sustainable, and safe.  Your affirmative performance cues will help you make this happen.

Phrase these cues affirmatively.  Each cue should be a reminder of what you do want to do, as opposed to what you don’t want to do.


  • “Snappy on the turnover,” vs. “don’t be sluggish”
  • “Elbows in,” vs. “don’t let your elbows flare out”

General Mantra:  In addition to focusing your self-talk on specific movements, identify a general positive mantra that you can fall back on if your mind begins to wander to an unproductive place.  One mantra I’ve used a great deal is, “trust your body, trust your tools.” It helps me maintain faith that my body is prepared to do what I’m asking of it.  Again, the general mantra should be specific and meaningful to you.  


Key Words:  One last piece I want to touch on with self-talk is the use of keywords, or simple, single words that you can draw on as a quick reminder of how you’re trying to execute the workout, or what you’re mission is.


  • Rhythmic
  • Methodical
  • Precision
  • Discipline
  • Effort
  • Focus
  • Breathe

5.) Perspective

Remember Your Why:  Presumably you have a reason you’re competing in or completing The Open.  Consider what that is and conduct yourself in a manner that will help you reach your objective.  

Stay in the Moment:  My best performances, and most pure experiences I’ve had as an athlete came when I’ve been able to remain non-judgemental and concerned with what I’m doing in the moment as opposed to being focused on the outcome.  
Believe in yourself. You create your reality between your ears!

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • I will reread this article to upgrade myself with my fitness! Weights are my challenge they make me stron and drain years out of me!

    I’ve seen your overhead squats and boy ohhh boy ain’t they a killer maybe someday I will get there

  • This was an excellent read. Being 35 and only seriously crossfitting for 7 months with plans to compete next year I really needed this. This is my first open and I can say I am truly nervous and anxious. Thank you for the advice!!

  • I hope you do well in Crossfit Games, obviously you’ve trained for it, and you have a wonderful family, and support system.

  • I recently did the first Open workout and got into my own head way too much. I wanted to quit the entire time, I wanted to give up and cry, and I compared myself to what others were doing. I’m re-doing this workout with an entirely different mindset and these steps hit the nail on the head. It’s easy to beat yourself up over something you’re very passionate about, but positive thinking does a world of wonders for your heart and happiness! (And, of course, your score) Thank you for this 🙂

  • Thank you so much for sharing your tips! I took them to heart and they helped me to get through 17.1. I used the breathing techniques to help with the nervous energy. I was still nervous but no where near as nervous as I could have been. For an average person, I am pretty strong but not fast. Throughout the workout I focused on how strong my legs were and to keep using them to get through the snatches. With the box jumps, I just kept thinking “One more, one more”. 🙂 🙂