Use Pre/Intra/Post workout routines to help clients and athletes dominate their training sessions with maximum focus

by Brian Cain, MPM

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On July 4th in Boston, Massachusetts I walked into a Barnes & Noble and my life changed forever. 

I had never read a book start-to-finish at this point in my life—despite being just one year from graduating college. And I definitely had NOT planned on buying one that day. 

But I did love baseball. So while the friend I was with looked at postcards, I poked my head into the baseball section. 

What happened next is something I’ll never forget. 

Staring at the rows of books in front of me, one grabbed my attention and drew me in. 

Call it fate. Destiny. God. 

However you want to coin it, I was pulled to this particular book by an indescribable force. 

It was called Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time. After browsing through the book, I knew I had to have it. 

I asked my buddy from Alaska to drive the 4 hours from Boston, MA back home to Burlington, VT so I could crush the book in the car. He looked at me and said “Cainer, I didn’t know you could read.” 

As I poured over the new book, I started learning about a world of performance I knew nothing about. Thinking back now, I can’t help but smile. I don’t think I even knew what the word “mental performance” meant. 

Little did I know that book would change the trajectory of my life forever, igniting a passion that burns stronger than ever twenty years later. 

Which brings us to today. 

I’d like to share a lesson from that book.  

A lesson that is just as powerful today as it was 20 years ago. 

A lesson I believe serves as the foundation of mental performance mastery—and something you can use to increase the impact of one of the most crucial aspects of health, fitness, and performance. 

The foundation of Mental Performance Mastery: Compete one play, set, and rep at a time. 

“Focus on opportunities not setbacks. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Focus on the present moment, not the past or the future.
―Akiroq Brost

As I poured over that book by legendary mental performance coach Ken Ravizza two decades ago, this is the #1 lesson that stood out to me: The goal is to focus on winning the pitch rather than trying to win the game. 

And that’s a metaphor that can be extrapolated out to numerous scenarios…

  • Win THIS rep, not the workout.
  • OWN this exercise, not the entire workout program.
  • Make the most of THIS moment… instead of worrying about what happened before or what might happen later. 

… and so on. 

The idea here is simple: While we like to entertain ourselves into thinking we have a bunch of control over future outcomes, the reality is—we DON’T. 

All we really have control over is THIS moment. 

The goal then, is to maximize focus on the task at hand, knowing that as long as it lines up with your bigger goals, dominating this moment with full energy and intention is the most important step you can take to reach the ultimate outcome you’re after. 

That’s why developing specific routines before, during, and after workouts can significantly improve energy, focus, and performance during this crucial time of training. 

The goal here is simply to help those you’re coaching—whether that’s general fitness clients or athletes—get the absolute most out of each training session. 

As you know, when it comes to bringing maximum intensity and focus to workouts, there is a huge obstacle standing in the way: Distraction. 

Clients are worried about what’s going on at work, how they’re going to pay that bill, or thinking about everything they have to do when they get home. 

Athletes are sidetracked by the demands of their sport, their life as a student, and all of the other social demands at play. 

And make no mistake about, when they step into the weight room to train, all of those distractions ARE negatively impacting the energy and focus they bring. 

That’s where pre/intra/post workout routines come in. 

The three stages of a workout (and how to use mental performance mastery to maximize impact). 

As Al Picino famously said in the movie Any Given Sunday, “Life is a game of inches!” 

Your clients and athletes need every edge they can get.

… Whether your health and fitness clients reach their goals or lose that weight comes down to their ability to bring energy and focus to their workouts. 

… Whether an athlete is at their best—physically and mentally—when the game is on the line comes back to the physical and mental training they did in preparation. 

The workouts we put clients and athletes through have a direct correlation with the results they will experience. And it’s our job as their coach to help them maximize the impact. 

THAT’S exactly what well designed and executed pre/intra/post workout routines can deliver. 

Below, I’m going to outline strategies you can implement during these three distinct phases of workouts to help clients and athletes dominate every training session with maximum focus.  

Pre-Workout Routines 

The purpose of the pre-workout routine is to:

  1. Provide a “cue” to help the client/athlete transition from their “real self” (student, work, parent, etc.) into their competitive self. 
  2. Remove distractions so as much focus as possible can be directed toward the workout they’re about to perform. 

Not to keep things too open-ended, but anything that accomplishes those goals can be included in a pre-workout routine, including:

  • Listening to a particular song or playlist
  • Putting on workout apparel in a particular order
  • Doing a certain set of stretches
  • Eating a pre-workout snack or supplement that sends the cue “it’s GO time!”
  • Doing a few minutes of mental imagery (picturing what a successful workout looks like and visualizing success in as much detail as possible).

… to name just a few ideas. 

As long as it’s a ritual/routine that the person who’s doing it enjoys and finds useful, there’s not a “wrong” way to do it.

The key is that whatever “ritual” or “routine” a client/athlete chooses is something that helps them LOCK IN and pour every ounce of their being into the work they’re about to do. 

Consistency is the key. 

Intra-Workout Routines

During workouts, routines can be used to separate sets and exercises (or any other key transition), providing increased focus and performance. 

The primary goals of the intra-workout routine is to:

  1. Help clients/athletes focus on the exercise, rep, etc. in front of them while removing outside distractions. 
  2. Help clients/athletes bounce back from “mistakes” or lapses in performance and get back into focus as quickly as possible. 

There are a handful of strategies I use and recommend during the “intra-workout” time period.

Below, I’ll outline three of the most practical intra-workout routines I’ve used with myself and the thousands of athletes I’ve worked with (and link to resources where you can explore each strategy more in depth).  

Strategy #1: The 30-second drill. Anyone can focus toward a task for 30 seconds. Use this cue to prepare for any set of an exercise that you want a client/athlete to approach with MAXIMUM focus. 

Read more about this strategy here: My #1 strategy for building unshakeable focus during competition.

Strategy #2: Deep breath. The intent here is straightforward: Train those you coach to pause and take a deep breath any time they’re about to do something important.

Used consistently, the deep breath can help override the tendency to let fear, nerves, or distraction keep our clients/athletes from performing their best when they need it most.

Read more about this strategy here: 3 strategies for forging unstoppable focus.

Strategy #3: Circle of focus. The circle of focus is an imaginary circle that you step into and engage in a present-moment focus with your energy and attention going out towards the action taking place. 

Think of it as a “reset.” 

When things are going well, you step into your circle of focus to ensure you stay on the top of your game. 

When things aren’t going so well, you step into the circle of focus to refocus, let go of whatever distractions or negativity is holding you back so you can move forward in a posture that’s conducive to success.

Read more about this strategy here: High-Performance Routines: Help athletes perform their best when it matters most.

Post-Workout Routines

Most people are in such a rush all the time and they end up blasting through key transitions—like the post-workout time period—without a second thought.

They end their workout and rush off to practice. Or they rush home to their families and get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

And in doing so, they completely miss out on an opportunity for reflection that can have a profound positive effect on performance if utilized over time. 

The primary goals of post-workout routines are to:

  1. Allow the client/athlete to decompress after competition and shift back into “recovery” mode. 
  2. Reflect on performance to determine what was done well and what improvements can be made for next time. 
  3. Transition out of “competition mode” and be ready to focus on the next task at hand with maximum intention and energy. 

Again, there is an endless amount of options here. Below are a few options:

  • Having a client/athlete write down three things they did well/accomplishments and one thing they could improve based on their performance during the workout (and then review this before the next workout). 
  • Having a client/athlete complete a few minutes of journaling where they simply jot down notes about their workout. Where they had successes, where they encountered obstacles, etc. 
  • 5-10 minutes of meditation (this has psychological and physiological benefits following intense exercise).

Again, the best coaching is always individualized. 

Working with your clients or athletes to discern what “practices” will be most useful during the post-workout time will create the greatest opportunity for impact. 


Helping clients and athletes develop routines before, during, and after their workouts provides a powerful cue that it’s time to transition from their “real self” (work/parent/student, etc.) into their “performing” or competitive self. 

This translates into more focus and energy during workout sessions—something that’s a real challenge for many of the people you work with.

Similarly, the post-workout time period is a great opportunity to leverage a natural “habit trigger” (the end of a workout) to build in positive actions/habits.

When practiced consistency, utilizing pre/intra/post workout routines can have a BIG payoff on clients’ results and athletes’ performance. 

Want to learn more coaching strategies to master the mental side of performance? Take this FREE 3-day course…

If you found today’s article helpful, and you’re interested in more cutting-edge mental performance coaching strategies, I’ve put together a free 3-day course for you. 

In this course, you will learn how to:

  • Get your athlete’s to perform their best when it means the most by using a SYSTEM to create an elite mindset. 
  • Compete at a higher level, more consistently—while managing distractions and adversity—by establishing the right routines. 
  • Create the championship culture you need in your program to develop elite athletic leaders and cultivate a clear vision that keeps motivated and juiced up. 

Drop your info below to learn the systems and secrets I use to help the top coaches in the world compete at an elite level—year after year.