Flipping the switch

When I first discovered powerlifting and training for pure strength I thought, having watched a lot of YouTube videos, that the best way to get fired up before a heavy attempt was to induce some sort of murderous rage inspired by stimulant heavy pre-workout, death metal, obscenities, ammonia and slaps to the face. I used to listen to loud music from the moment I woke up on meet day and spend the whole day amped up and pacing around. I was “in the zone”. At least that’s what I was telling myself.

As I’ve matured as a person and as a lifter I’ve come to realise that plan of attack doesn’t work for me anymore. I’ve competed in meets that have taken 6+ hours to get through everyone with at least 1hr between my squat flight and my bench flight. That’s a long time to spend pacing around with my eardrums being assaulted by gangster rap and metal music. The meet always finished in a similar fashion: I’d get through benching and the thought of deadlifting made me hate powerlifting, I’d have no energy and have a hard time getting psyched up for anything resembling a PR and I’d be absolutely wiped out by the time I got home that night.

My approach to training and meet day is a lot different now. In training I try not to get to psyched up (with a few exceptions for important, pre-meet sessions) and prefer to approach all my lifts with a calm and focussed mindset. Not only does this allow me to concentrate on form and quality repetitions but it reduces the psychological fatigue that training produces. The level of psychological arousal that you have in each training session will have an impact upon the stimulus you receive. More arousal will inevitably lead to more fatigue.

Increased fatigue through psychological arousal is obviously something you want to avoid on meet day. I learnt the lesson the hard way. I’ve missed a lot of 2nd and 3rd deadlifts because I spent the whole day in a caffeine induced rage. It always seemed like a good idea at the time and I could never figure out why I was so wrecked at the end of the day. As I learnt more about the science of psychological arousal it begin to make sense. Essentially I was burning all my energy between the lifts and not saving anything for when it actually counted. How angry and fired up you can get in the warm up room means fuck all when you can’t replicate it on the platform.

Now when I compete I have a much more relaxed approach to the day. Don’t mistake being relaxed for lacking focus. I try to stay calm for the majority of the day but I know that in those couple of precious minutes before each attempt that I can go to another place. Right before you hit the platform is the time you need to be able to flick the switch. In my opinion the ability to turn it on at the right time but also, and probably more importantly, to be able to turn it off again is one of the most important skills for success in powerlifting and the strength sports. Being able to reduce the time you spend at the peak of your arousal scale will, over the course of a day long meet, make the world of difference.

Learning to flick the switch isn’t easy. It takes time and lots of practice. Some people need 10 minutes to really turn it up, the best lifters can do it in 1 minute or less. I had the pleasure of handling my friend, coach and the guy who, in my opinion, is one of the best powerlifters in Australia at GPA Worlds in 2014. Nathan Jones came second to Dan Green and set the biggest total at 110kg in Australia with 902.5kg. Nathan is the personification of the professional lifter. Nothing fazes him. Right before his third squat the guy before him fell and the bar hit the floor. Nathan stood, knees wrapped and calfs cramping, waiting for his time to come. The time delay and the fact that he was rapidly losing blood flow to his lower leg didn’t bother him in the slightest. He still came out and crushed a 365kg squat to give him #11 on the All Time, All Federations Squat leaderboard. It was awe inspiring to watch.

One of the strongest guys at Burley Strength has recently had some trouble with mastering the ability to flip the switch. Mike (our resident elder) is insanely strong. At 54 years young he should go close to a 700kg total in 2016. Mike is one of the calmest and most pleasant people I’ve ever met, always smiling and the first to crack a joke. When it comes time to hit a heavy lift he’s been having trouble consistently finding his switch. When he gets it right it’s magical to watch. Not only do the weights look effortless but his form is almost flawless. I’ve chatted with Mike on several occasions about finding that zone. He’s definitely getting better at it over time but it’s a gradual process.

This isn’t something I can give you step by step instructions for. It’s runs far deeper then that. This is not only an experiment in physical growth but also mental and emotional development. You need to be introspective. Go inside your mind and find those triggers. They’re there, trust me. Everyone has them regardless of who you are and where you come from. They just need to be identified and exploited. You will be a better person for it. Consider it a form of meditation and mindfulness practice. It’ll have benefits that will reach far and wide through your life. After all aren’t we all just trying to be better then we were yesterday? Don’t for a second think that should be limited to the weight room. Grow as a person. Thank me later.

 

Until next time,

Stay Strong.

Sherro