“Stronger, faster, harder to kill”, is the mantra of my condition gym, Atomic Athlete. It is often repeated during a session and painted on the wall near the timer so whenever we have to check our time we see those words.
The meaning is simple: push your body and mind to be stronger. The physical part is easy. It is the mental aspect that I struggle with.
I started strength conditioning because I needed an edge over the women I competed again. Everyone was so strong and although I considered myself a “strong” person, I felt I plateaued with my own strength training. At the time, I felt this was my handicap and was determined to overcome it.
For the first 4 to 6 weeks, my body felt weak and I had no cardio. I gassed between and during rounds as I by body adjusted Atomic’s strength and condition cycle. I felt so weak there were times I couldn’t hold a collar, or had the energy to move. With words of encouragement from a friend and a recommendation to add more protein and fiber to my diet, my body started to re-act.
The strength. The energy. At first, I felt as if I wasn’t working hard enough. I would look around the room after 45 minutes of training rounds and see how exhausted everyone was but I wasn’t. I was a sweaty mess and my arms were a little sore but I felt like I could train another 30 minutes. It wasn’t until one of the guys said, “Man Rebecca, you are getting strong. What are you doing?” I smiled. I was training with guys at least 30-40 pounds heavier than me and sometime at least 20 years my junior and was holding my own.
Last year, when I went to the BJJ World Championships I felt stronger than ever. I had increased training at Atomic to three times a week during work-cap and stamina to prepare. I felt that even though I would be out-weighed and out-aged I still had an advantage over these girls. But as soon as our hands slapped something happened. At the time, I didn’t know what it was but now I realized that even though physically I was strong, mentally I was broke.
I compete regularly and train with guys who put as much if not more pressure on me than that girl did. But, at that moment I felt frozen. The whole time I was beating myself up for not moving my hips or getting an under hook. I sat there and let her beat me. Scared, sad and embarrassed
Over the past 6 months, I’ve worked very hard on the mental fitness aspect of my training. As an athlete I could tell you the importance of a positive mental attitude for training and competing but it wasn’t until I came face to face with my own self-doubt that I realized what was really holding me back was me. Trust me, when you realize it is you who is sabotaging your training and competition success – it is horrific. The person standing across the mat from you isn’t another girl it is that little voice that tells you, “It is okay to quit. You’re tried, she is stronger and bigger. Besides, no one really expects you to win.” Pretty sad, huh?
I fought against this voice for months. Pushing myself not to give up whether it was at Atomic or on the mats. And then two things happened. First was during the Movember Challenged. I had encouraged my partner to move up the moderate weight: 60 pound sandbag and 20kg kettlebell. (for those who don’t know me I weigh 95 pounds) I’m not going to lie, I was nervous but I was determined to do the 60 pound sandbag. When I lifted the bag and placed it on my shoulder I felt as if I shrunk two inches. I knew if I didn’t start moving I would never be able to finish. It was more weight than I except and my get-ups were slow but not unsteady. With words of encouragement not only from my coaches and friends but from the little voice that often is too quiet to be heard, “You got this, girl. Don’t give up now you’ve come too far to quit. You’re almost done. You CAN do this.” And I did.
The second happened a few weeks ago. I was training with two different guys who were using a lot of strength completely overpowering me. The more I tried to control and protect myself the worse it got. I was about to break but then I said, “Rebecca, take a deep breath and focus.” I had never done that before. I would after or before a round but never during. The following day, the same thing happened and I was able to keep focused and concentrate on my technique. The more my training partner tried to overpower me the calmer I stayed and I felt him slowly grow weaker during the roll.
As a combative athlete there is no better emotional high when you physically feel your opponent surrender. The best way I can explain this is blow-up a balloon holding it close so the air doesn’t escape but don’t tie it. Then while squeezing it slowly let the air out.
Have I overcome my self-doubt beast? Somewhat and I’ve learned to harass it and use it toward my advantage. I hear time and time again, the importance of physical strength needed in sports and keeping a positive mental attitude equals success. Both need to be exercised, trained and rested.
You are never going to get strong either physically or mentally until you step outside your comfort zone. You know that I’m talking about, that place that is warm and cozy: filled with fuzzy socks, warm blankets, wine and books. Hey those are great after training but in the meantime throw off the blanket and rip off the socks and train. Championships aren’t handed out. Ask anyone who has won a major IBJJF tournament, like Pans or Worlds. In many cases there are 8-10 gals fighting for the top position. Is it going to be the person who is stronger or more technical? Anything is possible but if you only have one over the other it is going to be the one who doesn’t give up. The one who pushes through the pain. The one who refuses to give up. The one who when they get into a bad positions says, “Just wait until I get out of this….”.
About the Author
Rebecca Lee Varady is a blue belt at Gracie Humaitá Austin under Donald Park and Paulo Brandao. She has been training for 8 years and is a constant competitor in local and national Jiu Jitsu tournaments. She stays mentally and physically strong by conditioning twice a week at Atomic Athlete. Outside of BJJ, she enjoys relaxing at home with her books and DVDs.