A Strong Body Starts With a Strong Mind

Strength Is a Choice

Not always an easy one, because it usually requires doing something difficult that one can’t do easily; but that is precisely the point. Strength, by definition, requires the use of force. Sometimes that is an external force, and sometimes it’s experienced internally.

In reality, it always starts internally. It starts with the mind.

“What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.”
—Napoleon Hill (paraphrased)

Training kettlebells for a strong mind

Strength, or force, is the ability to move something, or by extrapolation, create a change. I always told my sons that the most important thing in life is the ability to make yourself do that which you know you needed to, but didn’t want to — because if you could do that, you could accomplish anything. I still believe this.

Rarely are those things easy, but the more often one attempts and accomplishes them, the “easier” they get.

Your inner strength, your will, is just like the body — just like the muscles. If it is used frequently and appropriately, it gets stronger. If it rarely taken out and exercised, it dissipates and grows weak.

Training kettlebells for a strong mindWeak never feels good. Strong always feels good. But getting to strong isn’t always fun, and many can’t seem to make that leap. But it’s crucial because one is either getting stronger or getting weaker. There is no standing still.

It can look like standing still or maintaining because one is going backward slowly, but it is still in the wrong direction. Even when the body is tapped-out and the weight will not move, or when it can no longer run the distance it once could, a body can still get stronger in one way or another. One can still make the mind stronger, and through that — the body.

We Are Always Training

“The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed…The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do. Doubt and fear and the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step. He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”  —James Allen, “As a Man Thinketh”

We are always influencing the body in one way or another whether we are aware of it or not. How we eat, sleep, stand, and train — or not — creates an effect on our system and determines whether we are getting stronger or weaker, better or worse, going forward or backward.

The more we are aware of this principle (scientifically known as SAID, specific adaptation to imposed demands), the more we can control what we get from our training and our lifestyle.

If we go to the gym and train hard, but don’t let ourselves rest to adapt to the workloads, and don’t feed ourselves properly to help recovery and adaptation through nutrition, and never contemplate the goals of our training and our methods, then, invariably we don’t progress. At least not in the right direction.

Training kettlebells for a strong mindEverything affects our progress, but especially our strength of mind — as that is truly the determinate of all the other good or bad decisions we will make in accordance with our training. The hardest part is always just getting to our practice, and doing the best we can that day, especially when we are tired or “life” gets in the way.

Knowing that, and training the mind as well as the body, can make one’s progress exponentially better than just approaching it as a purely physical effort.

We Must Practice Weaknesses to Learn Strengths

All serious athletes know this — that the mind is the great limiter, and they all work diligently to focus and concentrate better. They learn how to harness the power of the mind instead of letting it control them. The most important thing is looking at, and honestly assessing, one’s weaknesses. Only if one knows where the weak links are, can one attack them and make them stronger. We are always only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and strengthening our weakest link always brings the fastest results.

Unfortunately, many are loathe to seek or acknowledge their weak points, and choose instead to enjoy working their strengths. True strength of body or mind can never come from that, in my opinion, as sooner or later, all will bump up against the weak link. It just happens later to the more talented. But it does happen.

Within the SFG, ours is an internal focus. Our focus is on deep skill and mastery through consistent and devoted practice. In our practice we are always searching for and working on our weak links, to shore them up, and better-strengthen the entire system.

Training kettlebells for a strong mindStrength is a skill, and it is a mental skill as well as a physical one. We need to practice being strong in all aspects of our lives, not just the few hours a week we are in practice and training. All our life can be a practice, with all of it devoted to making one stronger and better.

It’s not that hard, really, but it’s not for everyone. Many would prefer to be unconscious about most aspects of their lifestyle and how it affects their training. Those are the ones who are usually complaining how little progress they have made.

Through the Body to the Mind

After 41 years of training and practice, I have come to understand that one can change the mind by approaching it through the body, or vice versa. Hard training and confronting the true limits of one’s physical being have a profound effect on one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. But focusing the mind on what one wants the body to achieve can transform it quickly, as well. When both parts of oneself are optimized, then progress is usually exponential.

Using little things throughout the day to strengthen one’s resolve or will can add up quickly in the gym when it’s time to lift something you have never lifted before and all systems are telling you to back off and play it safe. In maximal efforts of either strength or endurance, the smallest hesitation can result in failure. Keeping your purpose clear and your mind tight is critical.

Pundits call athletes who can’t do this “chokers.” Training the mind in small but deliberate ways throughout the day carries over to the gym way more than most would imagine, as well as to the rest of your life.

The little things include things like getting to the gym on time, getting your meals ready so you eat the right things that you know you need, doing the small stuff like correctives and mobility and stretching that aren’t much fun but are crucial to keeping the machine going, or just keeping the goal and the purpose in your mind’s eye on a regular basis. Doing what you say you would do when you really don’t want to. Being strong of character, as well as physique. Keeping one’s eye on the prize.

Training kettlebells for a strong mindStrength Has a Greater Purpose

And the prize is greater strength. Greater strength of body yes, but also of mind, of will, of spirit. I’ve never met a strong man or woman with a weak mind, and I don’t believe I ever will.

Bernarr McFadden, a physical culturist and health food enthusiast of the early 20th century grew up as a weak and sickly child, but transformed himself into a vibrant and strong man. He wrote that “weakness is a crime.” It very well may be, against oneself and the culture.

I like to say that “strong fixes almost everything,” and I believe it. Practice strength in all its forms, and grow older with pride.


Mark Reifkind
Mark has been traversing the physical culture world for the last 44 years. He has been an elite gymnast, bodybuilder, and powerlifter. He has also trained and raced for ultramarathons and triathlons. Mark found the kettlebell in 1998, was certified in 2005, and has been teaching others around the globe since. Mark opened the first ever kettlebell-centric gym, Girya, The Art of Strength in 2003.

As a coach, he has worked with Olympic gymnasts and was the Head Coach for Women's Team USA in 1995 and the first ever Pan American Powerlifting Chanpionships in 2000. He was the personal coach for one of the most successful American female powerlifters Catherine Kelii. He was also personal coach and training partner for Pro Mr. America and bodybuilding legend Scott Wilson.

Mark has been writing in the field since 1979 and has been published by IronMan Magazine, Muscle Mag International, Milo, Runners World, and Velo. He has also written numerous articles for StrongFirst. He has authored Mastering the Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing, Lats, the Supermuscles, and BodyMaintenance, the Users Guide, and Restoring Lost Physical Function.

His blog was the first ever kettlebell blog. His website is Girya Strength, and he can also be found on Facebook. Mark's current project is co-authoring a book with Dr. Ken Ford on delaying sarcopenia (muscle wasting).

16 thoughts on “A Strong Body Starts With a Strong Mind

  • I know I’m quite late to the party, but I came in here to say I think this is a great post. The mind and body are inherently connected – a lot of New Age funky weirdos will say that – and I believe it, but rarely is this extremely important idea communicated inside the gym. Most trainers are all about pushing your body, strengthening your body, “loving” your body, without mentioning how your mind plays into all this.

    I think for one to start seeing substantial gains, it is important to train the mind in conjunction to training the body as well. And this isn’t even just limited to strength gains as well. It inevitably shows up in all areas of life too – business, relationships, creative endeavors, etc. it is crucial to have a strong mind to develop strength in everything else.

  • The mind, body, and spirit are intertwined and can not be separated, they form the basis of our character. And just like good judgement, they are synergistic, one builds the other. As an analogy, very few people have good judgement in just one part of their life, just as very few people have a great mind without the other two components being equally trained. Training the body is not a metaphor for life, it is an integral part of life. The goal of training the mind, body and spirit is the confrontation of perceived limitations; which leads to a richer life. There are many things that impossible, but most of the things we think are impossible are very achievable. One can first approach these perceived limitations by beginning to train the body; the mind and spirit will follow. And a persons character is forged.

  • Well said, and even more well timed.

    I just really needed that RIGHT NOW!

    Thanks so much

  • What an amzing article, I was truly inspired to know that there role model out there who was experianced, knowledgable and emotionally aware of strength and will. It is of great relief with such profound conviction and understanding of what strrength means as a whole. I am proud to be part of SFG and to know that the leaders practice and give back what they have learned and experienced..
    Thank you for writing this, our industry is now Stronger for it.

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.