Mentality: The forgotten element!

I once read someone (I think it was Doug Furnas) saying that Powerlifting is 10% physical and 90% mental.  At the time that statement was summarily dismissed from my repertoire of training information as stupid and completely inaccurate.  Goes to show you the folly of youth and a perfect example of why I have been down so many false highways.  I will admit, with some shame, to having fallen into the trap of “a little knowledge is dangerous” type of mentality.  I thought that those Muscle Mags really were reporting the newest and greatest type of training regimens.  Well, those days are gone (thankfully!!) and I am now on the better pathways of smart training ;-).  Over the course of the last 4-5 years I have made a concerted effort to re-align my mental aspect to training.  The results have been rewarding.  I don’t think it is a highly publicized facet of training and it IS highly subjective and individualistic.  This month, since I am not getting any better ideas, I am going to touch on some of the factors that IMO can really make or break your training.
 Ego: This is your nemesis!  I have fallen into so many dead end lifting tracts that I can contribute to this one asinine trait.  This is also a mainstay in some of the bad image that has surrounded weight lifters for many years.  The solution for circumventing ego traps is really simple in theory but, extremely difficult in reality.  I know, I know, you get some upstart in the gym who is boasting about how he can squat 600# and then he knee bends them about 3-4 inches and gets his hindside licked by his cronies.  So in an effort to show this guy how a real strength athlete does a 600# squat you proceed to blast off a set.  Great, you can truly squat 600# to legal depth and do so on call.  The problem is, was it called for in your training regimen?  How much did you just tax your system showing up this guy?  Did you just throw off your peak for your next meet?  There are going to be repercussions for deviating so far from your carefully laid plans.  Granted they may be minor or not even noticeable BUT, what did you really prove by it?  Was it worth risking a strain or the energy of your current workout just to prove a point?  That scenario could be played out with a multitude of lifts but, the point is still the same.  Don’t get sucked into the gym competitions.  Even if the idiot is making some kind of subtle hints to you...the reason they do that is because they know!  They know you are stronger and in an effort to one-up the “big” guy they are trying to challenge you.  Take it as a compliment. Congratulate him on his lift and continue with YOUR training.  Are you there to prove something to some gym idiot OR, are you there to get strong as hell!  I know this is sounding a little like a rant but, this is a situation that I am confident many have either seen or participated in at some point.  The one-up game is,  simply put, a complete waste of your time and energy.  Lift for yourself and do what you can do.  Even if the above scenario has some guy who is just stronger than you and wants to rub it in your face.  So what...with that kind of attitude they will be sucking on your fumes in the near future because you now have extra motivation.  I guarantee you will make better gains if you focus your mental energy on YOUR training and not on what the other guy is doing.  Don’t play their game...the gym competition is there element and many are quite skilled at winning in this arena.  If you get a real persistent one then simple announce you will be at such and such meet and that is where you make your max attempts.  He is welcome to go and compete and show how strong he is in front of all the judges and spectators and you would be happy to engage in a friendly match there.  99% of the time they will shy away because they know the organized competition is not where they shine.  Don’t engage in their arena...move it to your home turf.  That is an age old rule of engagement. Your best bet is to just bypass the whole situation and get on with your training. 
The whole point of my above scenario is to stress the point of focusing your mental energy (and energy is a proper description) on YOUR training.  To do anything less is not giving you entire effort to your training.  That scenario is a little on the extreme but, pretty prevalent when you get a lot of egos in one room.  Okay, the second point on ego is how you self talk and what are your honest capabilities.  This is where I was a B-I-G sucker.  Be brutally honest with yourself about how much weight you should be using.  Don’t sacrifice your form for a little extra weight.  This is just your ego telling you that your strength is higher than what it is.  You WILL progress faster and more consistently when you tax your system with a proper amount of stress.  Overtaxing won’t make you stronger...on the contrary you will get weaker.  Sometimes less is better.  Err on the side of too little and don’t try to run right on the edge of your recuperative ability.  Outside factors in your life can tax your system too and if you run right on the ragged edge then you are headed for a fall.  Life throws you too many curve balls to take that chance.  Keep a little in your reserve tank for emergencies and you'll see better gains.  If you need an example of someone who does this look at Eddy Coan.  He says he leaves the gym with 1-2 reps left in him.  Eddy very rarely misses a lift and he is strong (if ya’ didn’t know ;-0) The point is work at where you are capable and not at where you want to be capable of.   This is much harder to do than to say...I am sure quite a few have fallen into this type of trap in some form or another.  As long as you can identify it and learn from it then you are going in the right direction.
Focus: This kind of goes along with the ego thing.  If your ego is getting the better of you then you aren't really focusing.  To get the maximum return on your lifting you need to be focused on what it is you are doing.  This is hard to do outside of limit attempts but, the more focused you are the better your body works in conjunction with itself (muscular interplay) and the better you can stress your musculature.  Example: Do a set of Deadlifts with 70% and try to talk to your partner.  You can probably do it but they will suck and you will work that much harder.  You focus on what you are doing and they fly.  This is an obvious principle but, I think it gets forgotten in the whole mix of socialization in the gyms and the dreaded “gympetitions.”  Ultimately you want to get yourself into the same zone you do on limit attempts.  That place that you don’t hear the crowd, your partners, your own grunts and groans, and before you realize it the lift is over and you really don’t remember the details of the motion.  That is focus...your body is shutting off your conscious thought and putting all its energy into that physical motion.  Ever heard the phrase “let your body do it.”  Your conscious thought is distracting and once you start to think about the motion you start to second guess your body.  Why train then?  Let your body do what it is you are training it to do.  Our culture has emphasized rationale and thinking as the end all answer to achievement, science if you will.  While it has its place I don’t believe it is the only answer.  Nature has instilled a powerful tool upon us in our mind and we don’t use but a portion of it.  Unlearning conscious thought is a hard thing to do but, the benefits can reward the effort.
 Now, focusing is NOT bashing your head against a locker and screaming for 10 minutes to get your adrenaline flowing.  Adrenaline is a great momentary booster but, it also exacts a pretty heavy toll on your system.  Think about times when your “fight or flight” response has been triggered.  You are going for a while but, afterwards you get real tired.  Adrenaline kind of supercharges your system but, it also burns off a lot of energy.  Point is it may help you with that immediate lift but, the next one just suffered.  In addition to taxing your system a heap of adrenaline will start to inhibit complex motor skills.  Not too deathly important for Powerlifting but, too much and fine motor skills start to go too.  Unless you are training constantly in this state you are going to throw off your timing and firing sequence your muscles have learned over the last umpteen months.  Your muscle memory dictates you play how you practice.  Utilize the same “psyche” that you do for the gym.  This insures you stay in your grooves and that you don’t have to calm a little just before a lift because you are so wound up your body is jerking all over the place.  A calm powerful focus will win out over adrenaline rushes in the long run.  A lot of the greats just walk up to the bar, get set, and lift the weight.  That is all there is to it. Why make it any more complex or give it any more thought than that?  Now I am not advocating a monk like approach either...I give a good bellow at the bar before my biggest limit attempts.  Not for a psyche factor but, it gets me ready to make my lift.  Kind of a ritual announcing to my body that it is going to be stressed to the limit and I need to go to my happy place.  Once I get a hold of the bar my mind starts to blank and I start to think again after the lift is completed.  Some guys/gals may stomp around and yell and really it is a ritual that gets their minds focused.  I couldn’t say and only the individual can really know what is going on in their heads.  Whatever it is that gets you to that powerfully focused place where it is only you and the bar is what you want to do.  If your ritual is show then you may want to reconsider so you can maximize your training and performance.
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