It has been said that around 80 per cent of weight lifting is mental, not physical. While physical strength certainly plays a hand in how heavy you can lift, the real battle is controlling what goes on between your ears.
Any form of exercise is much more than the movement itself. Whether you are preparing to do a maximal lift, sprint as fast as you possibly can or defeat your opponent in a competition, you need to have your mind under control or you will not succeed.
Before each and every workout, I like to mentally run through the session and visualise myself succeeding. My rest periods are not just for resting. I spend them psyching myself up to load on an extra plate or grab the heavier set of dumbbells, or at the very least preparing myself to push out more repetitions than in the previous set.
If I’m attempting a max effort lift, I will usually sit down on a bench in the middle of the gym and close my eyes. I will imagine my set-up, the struggle at the bottom of the lift, and the squeeze at the top. I will picture my form, the strain on my face and even the sweat flying off me. I then stand up and aim to keep all those elements as close to what I imagined as possible.
How do I know if I’m lifting heavy enough?
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as me telling you to lift X amount of kilograms. Everyone has different starting points genetically, and everyone is at varying stages on their lifting journeys. As a general guide, I would recommend using what is available on exrx.net here.
It is important to record the weights you’re lifting each week to make sure you’re equalling – if not beating – the previous number consistently. I have previously talked about knowing whether you are at muscle failure here.
However, that doesn’t mean I necessarily think you need to look back at your notebook every five seconds. Over time, as you become increasingly familiar with certain exercises, you generally have a good idea of how many repetitions you can move a particular weight for.
Now, with experience, I tend to not write down my weights until after I have finished all my sets of that exercise. I usually tend to overestimate rather than underestimate myself when it comes to strength, which has led to a number of accidental personal bests.
If you don’t believe me, try this experiment. Find a training partner and make sure they are familiar with the weights you normally use. Complete three to four sets, and get them to load up the barbell for you, or hand you a set of weights – but without them telling you what the weights is. Make sure at least one of those sets is heavier than what you would normally lift.
I can almost guarantee you that you will be able to lift that heavier weight. When you take your mind out of the equation, you would be amazed at what your body can do.
People, particularly women, tend to doubt themselves when it comes to strength. It is drilled into women’s heads that it is unfeminine to lift weights and that we should stick to the barbie weights to “lengthen and tone”. How many times have you said “I can’t” when presented with a heavy weight?
Rob gets so frustrated with me when we train together and he wants me to go heavier. Even I doubt myself frequently, when I know I just need to tell my brain to shut up and push.
You will never know what your body is truly capable of unless you try. You must believe that you can do it, and picture yourself being successful to make it. You must push yourself to the limit if you are truly committed to training hard and changing your physique.
Do you visualise your lifts beforehand? Do you struggle to think positive in the gym?