Psyching Up for Strength Sports

By: Josh Bryant

Doug Young, Master of Psyche

A strength athlete cannot have his mind occupied with  balancing individual liberties and individual dignity in the whole dwarf tossing debate, or how to tell his parents about the exotic dancer he met on the side of the road near the snake farm, if he plans on putting forth maximal effort into the barbell and peak performance.

Cock strong son of a bucks know that the best performances are nearly always those that are executed just below consciousness. Psychology-prepared strength athletes retreat to their own inner minds, where there is no pain or discomfort, a place where only positive forces loom.

Overachieving strength athletes (some great ones vastly under achieve), get to a point where they are so involved in the task at hand, nothing else matters.  The ego dies and every movement and action synchronously flows from the previous one, like playing jazz.  It’s not just the physical—the whole being is involved and all skills perform in fusion and the outcome exceeds the on paper sum.

I am talking about the zone.

With the right psyche, you can get in the zone and, the more often this happens, the more repeatable the process is.

Mobilization readiness, in gym jargon, is known as “psyching up” at the right time, and this is just before stepping onto the platform. Some stress is impossible to avoid and is, in fact, desirable.

 Smart strength athletes throw in the competition towel when they no longer get the “butterflies” in their stomach. There is a fine line between having the useful amount of anxiety and having excessive anxiety that becomes immobilizing. The objective is to mobilize the right mental forces at the right time! This is the zone, where Jungian Synchronicities take place.

Long-term tension (weeks or months before the competition), prestart tension (days before the competition), and start tension (immediately prior to the competition) are all important in maximizing performance. Each necessitates a different management strategy, nonetheless. Be aware of the following when preparing for a strength contest or meet:

  1. Be careful not to peak too soon—Peaking at the right time masters momentum and synergistic fusion of psychology and physiology.  There is no worse feeling than digging yourself out of a hole in contest prep.  
  2. Be wary of activation during the prestart period—This is time to relax, training has ceased.  Focus on mental movies, hypnosis, mediation (without working yourself into a psychotic frenzy), sleep is of paramount importance, cut out caffeine and stimulants.
  3. Avoid emotional confrontation with other athletes during the start period—Strength sports are objective measurements, it is not useful to focus on someone else prior to a contest commencing.  Your talking is done on the platform.  Even if rancor revs your competitive engine, save it for when you are actually getting ready to lift on the platform.  
  4. Deal with past meet emotions, as they could affect the next meet performance—Reflecting on your mental state and how it affected performance will help you articulate and codify what you’ve learned so you can improve your performance.  Hone what was useful, discard what was useless and you will get better.

Psyching refers to intense mental preparation immediately before the contest begins. Psyching an hour before, or even 15 minutes before, extinguishes your strength. Tremendous tension can build to the point of escalating fatigue, which needs to be avoided at all costs, especially in an all-day powerlifting meet or a strongman contest consisting of multiple events that require a great deal of stamina. A good way to avoid start tension is to leave the immediate competition site (go to a locker room, or step outside) and play mental movies, self-hypnotize, mediate BUT stay off social media and avoid other energy drainers.  

Immediately before you lift—within the last 2–5 minutes—start psyching up. As you step on the platform, psyching should be at a maximum,  this is something I picked up from Dr. Sal Arria at a Santa Barbara, CA, USPF meet in 2000. Great strength athletes have unique ways of doing this. The important thing is to access an appropriate amount of arousal to lift maximum weights. Your way will be perfected overtime with practice and reflection.

The more advanced the lifter, the more arousal can be harnessed and directed into the barbell.

Too much psyche can be detrimental to beginners who have not yet perfected technique. “Calming down” procedures during the start period may better serve a beginner’s performance. Notice I say “can be”, some beginners “get it” right off the bat.

An advanced lifter should be operating at the unconscious competence level.  This is what Vince Anello is saying when he talks about suspending thought.  The psyche, the feelings and intuition all team up for masterful execution of the competitive tasks at hand.  This is why over cueing has dire consequences!

It is though total abandon—ultimate aggressiveness—that a maximal performance will be achieved.

Among cream of the crop strength athletes, psyching is almost always coupled with outward calm, exceptions being within seconds of the weight being lifted. No jumping, face slapping, or growling until seconds before commencement of the lift. Ed Coan always appeared calm, but inside a raging storm was taking place. Within the subconscious, trickles of primordial instinct metamorphosize into raging streams, flowing into the conscious. 

Beautiful and intense are the ensuing emotions and there is no room for any other thoughts—surrounding noise, other people, and even pain becomes  shadow of reality, and the single-minded effort of movement prevails.

Final Thoughts

A strength  athlete’s  ability to psyche strongly dictates performance in relation to potential performance. Learn to master psyche and you will master performance!

Gratitude is an elevated emotion that is the base of your mindset. Get Grounded in Gratitude HERE.