Zen and the Art of Zone Powerlifting

By: Josh Bryant

Vince Anello has mastered the zone; here he is post 804 deadlift.

Have you ever been to a powerlifting meet and heard a lifter pitch himself a tent as he brags about massive training lifts? 

Very frequently, this harden exterior becomes flaccid with stage fright and accompanying poor performance.

These lifters on the platform are overrun with feelings of anxiety rather than operating in the performance-enhancing zone.

These physical giants, coupled with their mental dwarfism,  will never graduate beyond the potential realm.

I always hit my best lifts in meets, and this is true of all of the best lifters I coach. 


By operating in the zone.

Defining the Zone

The zone, or flow, was brought to the forefront in 1975 by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi’s original research was on how artists and painters become so immersed in what they are doing, so focused on the  present moment, that they forget to eat and drink. 

This concept is the difference between good and great performances in the boardroom, the barroom or the field of play.  

There are at least nine dimensions to the zone, according to Csikszentmihalyi’s research; I have adapted them specifically for powerlifting. They are as follows, here:

  1. Challenge-skill balance – Powerlifters must feel challenged while at the same time feeling capable of completing or overcoming the challenge. Needing to deadlift 705 on a third attempt to hit a 1900-pound total goal, when your best in training is 660 fits the bill but hail Mary attempt of 900 pounds or a sandbagging 500 won’t cut the mustard.
  • Clear goals – The powerlifter’s goal must be clearly defined, and they should know exactly how to accomplish whatever they’re expecting to accomplish.  It doesn’t get any easier here than powerlifting, your metrics are clearly defined as you walk up to the platform.  
  • Sense of control – The powerlifter must feel in control of their success. That is, your success should depend on you, not external factors.
  • Unambiguous feedback – The powerlifter must receive clear feedback as they perform. Feedback can be bodily kinesthetic, or external from a coach or crowd.
  • Autotelic experience – The powerlifter must be performing the task for internal rewards rather than social media likes or some other internal reward.
  • Total concentration on the task at hand – The task must require the powerlifter’s complete concentration.  Don’t think about the blonde in the front row and put your phone on air plane mode.
  • Loss of self-consciousness – The powerlifter must feel so concentrated on the task that they lose their sense of self, becoming nobody; no time, no space, you are not a powerlifter squatting, you are the squat.
  • Action-awareness merging – The powerlifters must be so absorbed in the task that all awareness is limited to the task at hand.
  •  Transformation of time – The powerlifter will experience a distorted sense of time where time seems to speed up or slow down, as the subconscious deems beneficial.

This is the zone.  I am going to share two ways that personally helped me get here in powerlifting.

Conscious Preparation

When I competed in powerlifting meets, I would survey where the platform is, if I was wearing knee wraps then what was the most efficient  way to get the platform.  Is the platform wobbly, what type of bar will be used on the platform, does the bench sink in, is the platform slick?

I took  a full mental inventory of what’s going on.

This sets my mental rehearsal in motion.  I consciously piece together the steps I need to make happen to have my best day on the platform.  As I consciously  do this, my suggestible subconscious mind automatically takes notes. 


At this point, because of the notes my subconscious mind has made and the physical training I have put in leading up to the meet,  I suspend all thought. 

In my conscious preparation, I have integrated the necessary information into an almost mathematical-like formula to create the outcome I want, so now it’s time to surrender to my subconscious and let my body do the work.

The  mental rehearsals  have primed my brain, ahead of the actual experience.

This is where I enter the zone.

I have already reminded myself of everything that I need to know so I am not analyzing, second guessing or rethinking.  I am a heat-seeking missile at this point, I have decided on my target, and because the conscious preparation and hard physical training, I am set to execute my mental movie.  

When the conscious preparation and mental  surrender form a singular union, the intention is so powerful that my internal world unfolds into my external one. My attention is absorbed into the present and the only objective is to execute my lifts successfully.

Final Thoughts

This process also works well off the platform.  

Anything important I set my mind to, I review why I have this intention and why I am going to put in the work.  Once this happens, the how will then appear, and I will get there, in the zone.

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