Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Correct Mental Approach - Charles A. Smith

The Correct Mental Approach
by Charles A. Smith (1954)

That great champion and strength athlete, Tommy Kono, world record holder in several divisions, is responsible for a story that is now part of weightlifting history. When asked how he managed to lift such enormous poundages at his comparatively low bodyweight, instead of pointing to his muscles, or attributing his success to some magic formula, exercise, or training program or technique, Tommy tapped his forehead and said . . . “It’s all in the mind.” The majority of the people in the crowd standing around him lost the significance of the remark entirely, but the few who did grasp it were more than fully aware of what Tommy meant and how right he was.

It is possible for a man to possess every physical lifting requirement . . . strength . . . speed . . . good technique, yet fail utterly to progress as a lifter simple because he lacks some essential mental quality. For a man must not only be suited physically to lifting, he must also be of a certain disposition.

There’s no real need for me to give you any examples. You’ve all seen men who can make a first attempt with ridiculous ease, then fail to negotiate an increase of ten pounds. Whose lifting is erratic; good form one day, falling to pieces on another for no apparent reason.

You’ve met scores of athletes who can lift far greater poundages in training than they’ve ever accomplished in competition. There are others who are so full of confidence before an attempt who then go all haywire when the actual moment arrives. There are men who reach championship form and poundages in a local contest, yet fail to come anywhere near these performances when they have to compete against tough opponents.

I personally know a heavyweight who could have been the greatest lifter in his class the world has ever seen. Long ago, if it wasn’t for his temperament, he could have gone way beyond a 1050 total in the three Olympic lifts and easily reached the fabulous 1100 aggregate. But his habit of indulging in self-pity, of sinking into the depths of despair, of regarding himself as a total failure each time he had an off day in training, but paid to his career.

On the other hand, there have been scores of lifters, and not all of them necessarily world champions, who have made the grade when on the surface they had hardly any of the attributes people associate with a successful weightlifter. Thin, weak when they began lifting, they still managed to rise to their best because of an indefinable mental factor.

Some people call it the will to win. Others say it is determination. Some say it is keeping cool, calm and collected, while others maintain it is knowing what you want and letting nothing get in your way, subordinating everything to the task of reaching your goal. But no matter by what names these mental requirements of lifting are known, it is possible to develop them if they are lacking, and increase them if they are present.

The time to start is now, not in a day’s time, or a week, or a month, but now, right now as you are reading these words. That the thin edge of the wedge of your determination to be a better lifter, thrusting itself under the doubts that are preventing you from making the most of your physical qualities. Repeat these words to yourself when you get up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, before and after you take a workout . . . “There’s nothing that will stop me from becoming a good lifter.” Don’t let any doubts enter your mind. You are going to succeed. You ARE going to make good progress. You WILL reach your goals. And you realize that there will be obstacles to overcome, that there will be setbacks, times when your progress will level, halt for a while. But despite it all you will rise and succeed.

There’s one rule you must follow in your training and here it is. Set a definite day once a month, when you will make limit attempts. On that day and at no other times, try yourself out. Here’s why. Just as certain physical aspects of lifting are influenced by mental attitude and approach to problems, so the mind can also be influenced by habitual action of the body.

If you constantly try 200 lbs. in the clean and never succeed, you will build up a pattern of failure as normal. The wisest course for you to follow is to stay comfortably below your limit, while handling the necessary heavy weights to build combined power and technique. Don’t let your friends kid you into making fruitless efforts to lift a weight which you know is above your strength. Keep to a once-a-month tryout, and then if you fail to lift the weight you made the previous month, you will not be disturbed by this and you will not build up and bad habit patterns. You will simply tell yourself that you know you have made the weight before, but tonight you’re just a little off form, going through a stale period.

Don’t discount the value of Basic Power exercises since these have as deep a mental influence as they have physical. Here’s one experiment you can try to provide this. Take a weight 10 lbs. below your press or jerk limit. Hold it at the shoulders for a short period, then place it on the ground. Then take a barbell 50-100 lbs. above your press or jerk, and hold it across the shoulders for as long as possible. Put it down and take up the first weight again. Notice how light it feels now, as if you could perform rep after rep with it. After working on your regular lifts, use basic power exercises such as heavy, high deadlifts, high pull ups, partial bench presses, etc., etc. These will accustom the muscles to handle the heaviest weights, strengthen the tendons and ligaments, and give a feeling of “lightness” to your press, clean, etc. All great lifters use or have used these movements and all obtain great benefit from them . . . mental as well as physical.

In the gym or in a contest, never allow the reputation of other lifters to scare you. Go in knowing just what you are capable of and just what you intend to lift. If there are other men who can outlift you, recognize this fact but be determined to do your best and more if possible. You may not be the strongest man in the gym, or win first place in a contest, but tell yourself that your turn is surely coming.

Don’t get nervous about the outcome when lifting. Just picture in your mind exceeding yourself, of giving a sterling performance, of letting the other men see that you are a man to be reckoned with in the future. Do all you can to make yourself acceptable as a lifter, by behaving in a sportsmanlike manner at all times.

Remember that physical performance and nervous energy, are both stimulated by the mind. I have seen Pete George pacing up and down at the back of the platform whipping himself into a frenzy with his intense concentration, his driving will to succeed at a lift. Tommy Kono goes through the same process, as does Dave Shephard, Stan Stanczyk and Norbert Schemansky.

What does the “working up” accomplish? It produces tremendous bursts of explosive energy, which are quite beyond the athlete normally, and because of these energy bursts and stimulation the lifter is capable of making poundages that were previously impossible for him. It means that the adrenal glands work overtime, as they always do in times of great excitement, danger, or when great muscular output is required, and the outpouring of the marvel hormone, adrenalin, into the blood stream makes a greater muscular effort possible . . . but possible only because of the prior mental stimulation. Don’t take too long over an attempt. The more you hang around the longer you have to imagine how heavy the weight is. Whatever you do, don’t start thinking about how hard you’ll have to pull, how much weigh is on the bar, how heavy the last attempt felt, and how difficult this one’s gonna be. That will encourage a negative approach and lead to certain failure, because you will be concerned more with the possibility of failing than succeeding.

Here’s what you have to do to combat this. Before you make the attempt, picture in your mind exactly how you are going to tear that barbell off the ground and overhead to arms’ length, how you are certain to rise from a squat without hesitation, how that bar will fly from your chest to lockout. Convince yourself that there’s absolutely nothing to prevent you from making a perfect lift and a new personal record.

When your turn comes to make an attempt, stand over the bar. Say something to yourself like “Here’s where I show them what a real snatch is.” Go over the pull from both feet, the flight of the bar straight up the body, the fast split off the platform, both feet at the same time, the lightning-like drop of the body under the bar, the easy, sure recovery and then . . . tear that weight to arms’ length! Follow the same mental pattern when attempting any lift. Positive. Confident. Flawless performance.

The only way you can become a good lifter is to make yourself the master of your muscles. Rule your lifting actions, know what you are going to do and then go right ahead and do it. Some years ago, a young man joined the Bronx Union YMCA, where I was instructing at the time. He joined for the purpose of having me teach him Olympic lifting style, he told me. He was tall, slender, not particularly powerful, a run-of-the-mill lifter but for one thing . . . his incredible will to win.

That man was so filled with determination to succeed, was so certain that he had the potentials to be a great lifter that others often thought he was kidding himself. But he knew what he wanted. He ruled his training with an iron will. He never considered the possibility of failure and he went from triumph to triumph. Today, Herbie Schiff, late of the Bronx and now living in California, is one of the greatest heavyweights in the world, totaling 980 lbs. and all because he thought only of succeeding and never of failing!

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