by Robert Maxwell
For someone extremely interested in getting strong, it’s often hard seeing the huge number of people on the internet and in real life much stronger than yourself. This is certainly true for me, although I’ve now learned to turn my envy into motivation. Still, I’ve long been in the awkward position of being much stronger than the average, untrained man, but not necessarily stronger than the dedicated lifelong lifting expert. After many years, I’m now finally starting to get to the point where I’m moving respectable numbers in the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press, even by dedicated lifter standards. If someone had told me before I started training the amount of time and dedication it would take to become legitimately strong as a natural athlete, I probably would’ve thought twice about starting the journey. Thought twice, but still done it of course. There are still a great number of athletes much stronger than myself, but now that my 1 rep max squat, bench, and deadlift total, added together, is over 1200 pounds, I feel I’m strong enough to write this article on how to get strong using more than your body. If you’re interested in getting strong, it’s vital to realize the power wielded by your mind. Here are 3 strategies I’ve found highly effective for harnessing this power.
Visualize Workouts Ahead of Time
When your goal is to get stronger through barbell based training, the main thing you must do is keep adding weight to the barbell. When you’re a novice, this is relatively easy. It gets harder after a few years of training, and some significant strength gains. Still, if you’re eating enough, lifting properly, and genuinely want to get stronger, you can continue to do so for years to come. Wanting to get stronger is a surprisingly important part of the equation. It’s not enough to want to get stronger only when you’re in the gym, either. Performing your workouts successfully in your mind before you ever set foot in the gym becomes increasingly important the longer you’ve been training. You won’t get any stronger if you don’t add weight to the bar, and the more strength you’ve gained already, the harder this is to continue. That’s why it’s important you clearly visualize your workouts ahead of time, planning out each set and rep before you ever unrack a weight. Imagine yourself performing all your working sets successfully, and you’re far more likely to do so in real life. Formulate particular goals about the weight you want to lift and the number of repetitions you’d like to achieve. Think about these numeric goals for as long as possible prior to your workout. Will yourself to achieve them. This might sound like psychobabble, but I can tell you from experience, these mental visualization techniques really work. The first time I squatted over 400 pounds, I imagined myself doing it for a full week before my workout. I pictured every aspect of the training session: warmup sets, incrementally heavier working sets, and finally, the 400 pound squat. I was so strongly tuned in to the idea of squatting this weight successfully, there was no way I could fail. Workout day came, and I squatted 405 for 2 reps. Had I not been so prepared mentally, I’m sure that weight never would have left the rack.
Develop Unshakable Self-Belief
It might seem strange just how much your thoughts affect your abilities in the gym. Most novices think of a heavy barbell workout as nothing more than a physical act, albeit a difficult one. It’s more than that. Once you’ve advanced beyond the easy and fast progress that comes with being a novice, self-belief becomes absolutely critical. You can picture yourself successfully lifting the weight you have in mind until you’re blue in the face, but unless you genuinely believe you can and will do it, chances are the barbell won’t come up when you want it to. If you’ve done all the training required to lift a particular weight, the determining factor will be your self-belief. Again, this might sound like psychological fluff, but experienced lifters will know what I’m talking about. If you allow yourself to doubt, even for a moment, that you’re capable of lifting a particularly challenging weight which you’ve set as your goal, your chances of failure increase dramatically. On the other hand, imagining yourself lifting the weight, straining and struggling, and defying gravity to the point where all the reps you set out to complete our completed in your mind vastly increases your chances of making it happen in real life. Supreme self-confidence is a trait shared by many strength athletes, and the reason is simple. In order to lift monstrously heavy weights, these men and women have no option but to develop an unshakeable self-belief. If you want to get strong, do the same.
Commit to the Lift No Matter What
Planning out a challenging workout is all well and good, but if you don’t have ironclad resolve to stick with your plan, the plan is worthless. How do I know? Because I’ve spent plenty of time straining under a heavy barbell. When you’re putting everything you have into a workout, your mind will most definitely tell you that you’ve reached your limit before you actually have. This is particularly true in higher reps sets when you’re training to failure. Doing a heavy set of 8, 10, or 12 repetitions on the squat can feel like running a marathon with weights tied around your ankles. This is where a solid commitment to completing the set comes in. Without this commitment, you’ll almost certainly listen to your mind telling you you’ve reached your limit at rep 8, when in reality, you could’ve ground out reps 9 to 12. There is a vast, although sometimes difficult to discern difference between a hard, painful task, and an impossible one. If you’re training intelligently, 9 times out of 10, The weights, reps, and sets you prescribe yourself will not be beyond your physical capabilities. Your mind will most likely lie to you, and tell you they are. Don’t listen. Particularly heavy or voluminous sets will cause you to feel this affect more strongly. You may even have to make a mid-rep decision on whether you will continue grinding, or allow the weight to win and crush you down. Decide ahead of time that option 2 is never an option.