How to Gain Physical and Mental Strength
Posted on April 26 2020
As powerlifters, gaining strength is a big part of why we participate in this sport but we also find that by participating in this sport we must be mentally strong too. We have all been there: attempting to complete a lift but our minds getting the best of us and negative thoughts infiltrating our minds, making it difficult to complete the lift. What I’m going to tell you is that that is completely normal and it’s not just in powerlifting this happens. The mind can make anything seem impossible even though you fully believe in your abilities. On the other hand, for some obtaining physical strength might come naturally while others may find they have to work harder. Either way you can become a strong person wit hard work.
For me my mental strength game was extremely hard to get mostly due to past traumas, insecurities, lack of confidence, societal pressures, and systemic oppression that I have faced. The things I’ve done to strengthen my mental game are:
1. Learning to be “in the moment”
As someone with anxiety this can be hard for me. I’m constantly running through so many things through in my head so focusing on that moment can be difficult. I just close my eyes and take a deep calming breath and find something encouraging or just anything to get me refocused in that moment and JUST GO. This has helped me immensely.
2. Realizing that what you see as failure is an opportunity for growth
Failing lifts just feels awful at that time and once negative thoughts enter your mind you can start to fall apart and have thoughts about giving up. Don’t listen to that voice though! I allow myself time to be upset and feel sorry for myself because you are allowed to be upset. But I don’t allow it to last long… I give myself a short amount of time and then I tell myself… LET’S GO QUEEN!! It gives me time to resettle my mind and either retry the lift (if in training) or build on it for future gains for later. Don’t give up though… pick yourself up and dust yourself off and go!
3. Addressing negative self talk and negative thought patterns
The things we tell ourselves and how we talk to and about ourselves can become a self -fulfilling prophecy. If you talk about yourself in a super negative way, eventually, you’ll start to believe it. It works the same as someone else speaking to your in a negative manner. Don’t be a bully to yourself! Pour love, compassion, understanding, and hope into yourself DAILY. Be kind to yourself, just like you would to anyone else, and you will see things turn around. Don’t leave those things unaddressed, though, because I promise you those things will show back up to bite you. Figure out where it’s coming from and work on changing it. You deserve it!
4. Remember why you love powerlifting
Sometimes when we are chasing PRs or gains from previous competitions we forget why we even love this sport. It becomes all about that chase and this impacts your mind a lot. And for some it can get to the point that they don’t even love it anymore
because they forgot why they started. I have to remind myself all the time “I am doing this for me!” because social media can truly change the way we view ourselves and even change our “why”. Be careful of that because once all that social media stuff is gone what you will have? Focus on what you love about the sport and why you want to do it and that will open up your mental strength immensely.
For physical strength this will be different for every person and everyone’s body so take this with a grain of salt and what I do that works for me and apply what you find helpful and bypass the rest.
1. Listen to my coach and follow my training plan
I’m one of those lifters that follow my plan and I ask questions and get modifications if I need them from my coach and then I follow it. I rarely if ever go off plan mostly because I want longevity and to stay safe and injury free in this sport so this is why I do this. Plus I am paying a coach and I trust him so I’m going to listen to him and this has served me pretty well. If you don’t have a coach that’s okay and if you have a rough plan to work from that is fine too.
2. Get your rest/enough sleep and have your rest days/active recovery days
One of the best ways to gain strength is oddly through sleep, rest days, and active recovery days. If you do not get enough sleep it can impact your gains and training and also this is how your body heals too. I highly believe in utilizing rest days and active recovery. For me active recovery includes stretching and mobility exercises and prior to COVID19 walking the dogs or going hiking. Now this has to be done with more thoughts to social distancing and different guidelines by state according to if you are sheltering in place.
3. Warm up
Warming up is so important. I take a good amount of time to get warmed up and when I don’t my body or I pay for it does. For example some warm up exercises I utilize for squats are with my empty barbell and I do back squats and good mornings. For bench I use push-ups, banded pull-aparts, and work with the empty barbell. And so on… again these are just options for you. You can do them in supersets of exercises if you want, that’s what I do. I try to warm up for 10-15 minutes at least but more if I need it. And my body thanks me a lot of that too.
Powerlifting is a sport we all do because we love it. We love getting strong and enjoy our community. But to successfully do anything you have to prepare: And in this sport I’ve found it vital to prepare my mind as well as my body so I cannot just be physically strong but mentally strong.