An Athlete’s Most Powerful Weapon

The most powerful tool you have in your body sculpting and training toolbox is your mind.  Think about how you feel when you have a “bad day” at the gym. You feel slow, sluggish, your body feels heavy, the weights feel heavy, and your joints ache.  Sometimes these feelings are mainly physiological (of the body) but more than not, it’s psychological (of the mind). Is the bar really any heavier than normal? Or do you simply think the bar feels heavier?

Every day that you train your body, you are training your mind. Your mind is learning what weight is considered “heavy,” it is learning how many reps its body can produce, and it is learning the top speed its body can move. Your mind is learning body movement patterns, the patterns we call “technique.” Your mind is essentially learning the limitations of its body. Many times athletes allow their mind to place a limit on their body. In most cases this mentally perceived limit is drastically lower than the actual physical limitations of the athlete. Truly great athletes are able to unleash the power of their mind. For these athletes, their mind has achieved total control over their body. Their mind, not their body, is in the driver’s seat. This ultimately means that great athletes are able to achieve tremendous feats of strength that others can’t even imagine; this is key! It is specifically because these other people can’t imagine themselves performing a particular lift, that they will never achieve it. Remember, as athletes, as people, we are constantly living in a residual of our past. When an athlete shows up for a contest, his performance is most determined by that athletes past preparation. This preparation is mental as well as physical.

If you do not think you can do something, you will not do it. This is because you will not take the necessary steps to achieve that goal. If one truly believes she is able to achieve something, she will likely achieve it. In this case, the believing individual takes the necessary steps to make her aspirations become a reality. She prepares her body for success and she trains her brain to imagine success. It is only in this imagination that present dreams become a future reality.

Photo by Jody Rael Photography

Techniques for Training you Brain

Visualization:  The power of visualization is immense.  Visualizing your lift is like your mind getting the answers to the test before its proctored. Visualization allows your mind to accept and anticipate the success of the lift. It also allows you mind to practice correct technique in a less pressurized environment. This rehearsal is important because often when a lifter feels the weight, she may be unable to think about technique in the moment the lift is physically performed. This is when that immediate pre-lift visualization kicks in and pays off.

Goals: Goal setting is critically important. If you do not have lifting goals, you’re throwing away the power of your mind. Goals can be rep oriented or technique oriented. When making goals I suggest focusing on technique cues first, as opposed to focusing on hard to measure facets like time.

Bad goal: “I will sprint 60 yard in under 5 seconds.”

Good goal: “Minimize the time feet have surface contact with the ground.”

Better goal: “I will pick up my feet as fast as possible from start to the finish line.” Your mind has very little concept of time when performing a task. Generally the body understands, “fast as possible,” “fast,” “pace yourself,” and “slow.” But your mind is hard pressed to function as a stopwatch. Instead make you goals action oriented. Figure out what it is you what your mind to tell your body to do. The second example is good because it does this. However, the goal can be improved by making it apply to the athlete, “I,” and simplifying verbiage. Your goals should be clear, concise and easy to understand. Generally, the easier it is to understand a goal the easier it is to produce the goal.

Treat every lift like a max: Many lifters train lazily. These lifters warm up haphazardly, not caring about form. It might take working up to 80% or more of their max before they get “serious” and really focus on what they are doing. Do not do this. Every rep should be done with the intent of warming up your mind as well as your body. Warm ups are a great opportunity to drill into you mind certain technique cues such as “squeeze the bar apart” on bench. If you warm up your mind on the warm up reps it will be better prepared to perform and control your body exactly as it should on the working reps.

Photo by Jody Rael Photography

Avoid missed reps: Attempt a rep only if you know you will get it. If you do not believe you will get a rep there is no point to attempting it. To achieve a new PR you must will your body to perform. Something could go wrong, technique wise however; you must believe it is possible that your body can achieve the attempted rep. This is most applicable to your main lifts, not accessory movements. You want to avoid the memory of missing a rep. You do not want your mind to think a missed rep is acceptable. At the same token, if you do miss a rep (and inevitably you will) one must have the proper mental discipline to recover. Some athletes miss a rep and completely lose it for the rest of that session. That is counterproductive. You missed a rep, so what? Identify the source of the problem, correct it, and move on. A disciplined mind is able to sort through experiences and give weight to the ones it sees fit. After you’ve identified the issue, take the memory of the missed rep and throw it away. Focus only on what helps you and makes you better.

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