2020 kicked us hard. We know it has been tough for everyone – physically and mentally. This is why we asked our friend Sam from Shape Training to give us some monthly motivation so we can all thrive together in the ‘Burgh!

Sometimes mental toughness is nothing more than that. How bad do you want it? How much are you able to ignore the devil on your shoulder telling you to quit? How big is your why?

We can look to instances where individuals have endured terribly difficult situations. A seemingly strong, healthy young woman battling through cancer. Or a widowed mother raising her children during recent civil unrest and turbulence. Or Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Each of these individuals has been pushed to their limits – yet they endure.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor Frankl

Unfortunately, the grit and perseverance displayed by Frankl and many, many others came in response to suffering. More often than not, we do not understand our own capabilities until we have a true test. And these types of tests are not typically ones that we choose. Nor are they necessarily ones that we would choose if a choice was given.

Fortunately, many professions have recognized the need for performance under pressure and their techniques have broad applications. Think of a brain surgeon’s preparation for a long, complex procedure. Or a firefighter running into a flaming building. Or even Tom Brady competing in his 10th Super Bowl! Even the most die-hard Steeler’s fan has to recognize his greatness as an NFL quarterback.

What they all have in common is an elite ability to perform under pressure and to endure what most would consider grueling. The resilience and toughness these individuals display can be trained and developed through physical fitness. At the core of these positive characteristics lies an ability to respond rather than react, not to do too much, and to restore themselves to calm quickly.

Let’s look at 3 ways to utilize physical training to become tougher and more resilient.


When it comes to learning a new skill or tackling one that has always left you feeling stressed or defeated, perhaps the most important step is to lay the visual groundwork. There are many names for this: visualization, imagery, mental rehearsal, conceptualization, a walk-through, etc.

Each of these techniques requires you to spend time practicing your ability to focus on a task and breaking down the complex steps into simpler ones that you can begin to understand more easily. This is an important step to lay a solid foundation if only for your improved ability to maintain attentional focus with distractions.

By seeing yourself perform the movement, let’s use a single clap pushup as an example, you bring attention to your own perceived desire, ability, and readiness to complete that pushup. Often during this process, we also find where we have gaps in our understanding of how to properly complete the move. Walking through ahead of time allows us to “chunk” pieces of the skill in our minds and seek help to fill in the holes.

In the example of the pushup – maybe you become stressed at the thought of doing a clap pushup because each time you have tried to do more than a few regular pushups you collapse. This is where taking time to calm yourself will pay off in the long run. The clap pushup has not done anything to you. It is your reaction that has you stressed. Take a breath through your nose and return to your practice.


And sometimes there’s nothing to it but to do it! The actual performance cannot be visualized into existence. At some point you are going to have to get down and give yourself some pushups.

It may be stressful.

It may be challenging.

You might want to quit – DON’T!

But this is where the magic happens. All of the focused conceptualizing will pay dividends in this phase of your training as you begin to manifest those rehearsals. The key in this part of the puzzle is to be somewhat realistic about your current ability level and work within your “Goldilocks Zone”. This is where you are performing the task perhaps just outside of your comfort zone and finding what is just right. If you are able to do 3 quality pushups to begin, you will set yourself up for failure if on day one you attempt 10 clap pushups. Rather, work within yourself and incrementally build up to your goal. Perhaps day one consists of doing 3 sets of 2 pushups. You will have already doubled your total number of pushups while avoiding “failure.”


By seeing yourself performing a challenging task and then doing it you build confidence. Confidence because you did what you set out to. And because that does not happen easily. The process of pushing your limits mentally and physically through physical training bears a multitude of benefits. The ability to remain focused when your mind and body are screaming at you. The discipline needed to remain consistent. And perhaps most importantly, you will know what kind of stuff you are made of. These benefits result from the fact that through your journey, you learned to deal with stress.

Death, taxes, and stress. We can’t avoid them. So we may as well train ourselves to be tough and resilient top performers.

If you want to hear more from Sam, follow him on IG. Check out Shape’s 12-week program, The Complex, to help start your journey to physical and mental toughness!

This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.
Sam Arnold

Sam Arnold is Co-Owner and Training Development Director at SHAPE Training. He is always curious and eager to learn; especially when it comes to human well-being, movement, and performance. You can most likely find Sam in the gym, out riding his motorcycle, or his favorite coffee shops reading or discussing life. Having lived in Australia and Asia, the travel bug is ever-present. Sam loves to combine his experiences to help others live happier, less stressful lives.

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