Saturday, June 21, 2014

Training the mental game for maximum effort

The past couple weeks I have hit some big personal records (PR) in the gym. At my gym we follow the Westside Conjugate programming style so we are performing various max lefts almost every week. After a few of my friends said “What are you doing?” or “I need to start working out with you.” I realized I had found something.

Back in April a couple weeks before my powerlifting meet I got this idea and toyed with a little. It wasn't as clear then on what it would turn into but I knew I might have landed on something. Lifting weights is just as much mental as it is physical. After my meet I knew for 30 days my strength would be crap so I didn't bring the idea back up to test it because it would just be a useless test with false results.

Now about mid May I decided that I would try playing this mental game again. I say play because in a lift that requires constant time under tension (the squat, bench press, or deadlift) you have to learn where your black hole is. The black hole is that point where you are about to black out but still have strength to keep pressing on. Basically the lights go out but you are still in full control. About 2 weeks of playing with my blackout threshold I learned something that completely changed my thinking on lifting maximum weight. 1 of 3 things is going to happen when lifting maximum weight.
  1. You are going to make the lift.
  2. You are going to do a maximum effort isometric hold and then fail.
  3. You are going to black out.
I know now you are probably saying “Josh you are crazy”. Well you are probably right. When you approach a lift you can’t think “This weight is heavy and I may fail”. You have to walk up to that bar and tell yourself “I am going to make this lift no matter what. I am going to stay with the weight even if it takes me 20 seconds of constant pain wrenching tension to complete this lift.” You have 3 types of muscles in your body: fast acting, medium acting, and slow acting. Why do I tell you this? Well when you are in a grinding squat most people dump the weight after 1 or 2 seconds because they think “Oh this is heavy and I’m not going to get it so I'll just dump it”. You can't do this because in 1 to 2 seconds only your fast acting muscles have activated. You haven't given enough time for the brain to signal to fire more neurons to activate more muscles. Now let’s say you are in a slow grinder on the way up and you've told yourself you are going to stay with this lift, one of two things are going to happen. You are going to do a maximum effort isometric hold and then dump the weight or you are slowly going to wait for the brain to fire enough neurons to activate the medium acting muscles and then the slow acting muscles and slowly inch this weight up making the lift. While grinding this weight out you may be circling the black hole and you may even enter the black hole. This is why it’s good to know where your black out threshold is or just say screw it, blackout and hope for the best on the way down. If you are like me and don’t care then you may want to lift in a power rack or with safety chains so you don't hurt yourself.

I know I was a little confusing but lifting is as much psychological as it is physical. You must train yourself to know I am going to stick with the weight because 1 of the 3 things I listed above are going to happen. The worst thing that can happen is blacking out but really you are more than likely just going to do an isometric hold. Hold that weight for 10 or even 20 seconds if you have to but know that I'm not going to give up on this fight until I've given my brain every second it has to activate every muscle I have to get this bar up. Then if your body is physically strong enough you will persevere and make a good lift. This mentality has scored me multiple 20 and 30 pound PRs on lifts in the past 2 weeks. Keep in mind that you aren't going to be able to master this overnight or in a week. It's going to take some practice.