March 16, 2012
Gretchen Kittelberger on Mental Fitness
By Jeremy Brown


CrossFit Games competitor Gretchen Kittelberger has her routine down. Her workouts are solid, her diet is clean, she’s getting enough rest and she’s mobile. Another aspect of her fitness she does not neglect is her mental training.

Kittelberger, who placed 12th at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, says attitude and mental state should not be ignored in competition. “Being in the right frame of mind, and especially having confidence, is huge in any sport, but in CrossFit especially,” she says. “When it gets hard and your brain wants to tell you to stop and slow down you have to be able to believe you can keep going.”  

“When it gets hard and your brain wants to tell you to stop and slow down you have to be able to believe you can keep going.”

One of the techniques Kittelberger uses to get into the right frame of mind is visualization. “I like to try to visualize in my mind the movements before I do them and recreate the feeling in my mind of what it feels like to do each movement. I relied on this type of visualization a lot in gymnastics, so I think that's partly why I like using that technique.”

Another way that the former gymnast, who is the newest coach at CrossFit Reston, keeps in the proper mind frame is to occasionally work with sports psychologist Sharon Petro of Head Coaching, Inc., an athletic and business coaching company. She started seeing Petro after the 2011 Open. “I finished 8th in the Open last year and I looked at that and thought I have no shot at making the Games,” she recalls. “I need to be top 3 blah, blah, blah. And it would drain my confidence every week to see myself not ranked where I thought I should be.”

Kittelberger says the psychologist helped her build confidence back up and block out any other distractions so should could remain focused for the Mid Atlantic Regional. 

After stressing about the Open last year Kittelberger is attempting to take a more relaxed attitude in 2012. “I’m trying not to look at it as the end of the world. This is the first step to getting to Regionals; no one is going to remember in a month whether I was 1st in the Open or 5th,” she says. “Regionals is the thing that matters. So, I’m trying to look at it as, just do each workout once, put out your best effort, and whatever happens, let it go.”

She admits this isn’t always easy. “This is hard for me to do, especially when you do a workout and you feel, ‘Oh, it was good,’ and then you go and look at the scores and compare to everybody else and it’s not where you want it to be.”

But, it isn’t only mental techniques and sports psychology that help Kittelberger maintain the proper attitude. She also has the support of her family. Her parents traveled to watch her compete at Regionals in Virginia, and then the Games in California. “I think that’s part of what’s helped me accomplish as much as I have, just in the different areas of my life. It’s nice to know your parents back you up, that they really want you to do well,” she says.

Her new training method isn’t hurting matters either. Before her move to CrossFit Reston, she met up with head coaches Jeff Tincher and Maggie Dabe to discuss the possibility of joining the Reston box. “Jeff and Maggie made me feel so included and welcome from the minute I stepped foot in the door. It felt as if I had been at Reston forever.”

Kittelberger says Tincher and Dabe have been supportive of her following CrossFit Hampton Roads’ Jeremy Gordon’s programming, even offering to train with her. “I am a much happier person now training at Reston and that shows in my demeanor in the gym and in the effort I put into my WODs,” she says. “I'm getting so much support for my goals here at Reston, and I am learning a lot, both as a coach and an athlete getting to work with Maggie and Jeff on a daily basis.”