Written by Jarrod Miller
We all hear the importance of mental toughness, but what does being mentally tough actually mean?
How does one obtain mental toughness? Is it a natural ability or can it be developed?
When Greg asked me to write this article all I could think of was relating mental toughness to my sport, baseball. This is one sport where being mentally tough is equally important as physical abilities.
If you are not mentally tough then failure is imminent. Luckily for me, I have the support of teammates, coaches and if I’m lucky one day, fans.
Mental toughness in the gym is different, it is all on you. Nobody else is holding you accountable.
In early September 2014 I attended a conference on mental toughness. Spencer Wood, founder of Ice Box Athlete made an everlasting impression. Spencer stressed the 4C’s: composure, concentration, confidence, and commitment. I will explain how these principles apply to lifting.
It’s natural to be afraid of big weights. If pulling 600 lbs. off the ground isn’t a little scary your sanity is in question. But you can’t be scared your whole life. Minimize fear by having rituals when approaching big lifts. Don’t do anything on a 1RM attempt you wouldn’t warming-up at 50 percent.
With every sumo deadlift attempt I have a few things on my mind.
- Be aggressive
- Pull slack out of the bar
- Push feet through the ground
Whether it's 135 or 495 - consistency with cues will keep composure when the weights get heavy.
Above are only examples of my personal cues. Different cues work for different people. Some prefer internal cues while others will respond better to external cues.
Take the deadlift for example, a coach may find that their athlete is starting the lift with a collapsed chest causing their back to round excessively. An internal cue would be "chest up", this has the athlete focus inward, attention towards their own body. Conversely, an external cue would be "show me the logo on your shirt" this now turns their attention externally to the coach. Both are attempting to solve the same problem, but the frame can make all the difference.
Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley recently reviewed the relevant research and found that external cueing is normally better at improving performance with full-body movements, such as deadlifting. But don't take this as a rule, some will respond better to internal cues. Try them both - see what sticks.
Bryce Lewis of The Strength Athlete addressing deadlift cues.
When going for a new PR it’s easy to concentrate. You’re dialed in. But going for a PR is simply a test of strength, not building it. We build strength through sub-maximal work. Not only do we build strength, but we build habits, both good and bad.
Emphasize cues such as bracing on squats and finishing deadlifts with the glutes on every single rep. Every. Single Rep.
This way that pattern is ingrained come test time. Expecting to hit a PR without proper practice is the equivalent of acing an exam with little study time. Sure, you may get lucky once, but this is an enigma. In order to constantly succeed you must practice.
We’re always told confidence is important. Whether it’s doing well with girls, school or sports. But when does confidence bite us in the ass and become arrogance?
Is confidence overrated?
As a lifter, confidence is not about making a scene in the gym or bragging to your friends about your quarter squat. It’s internal. Truly confident people don’t feel the need to externally voice their abilities.
We can all learn this lesson from Batman.
Bruce Wayne was honored with the abilities of Batman, yet never wanted to be known. He could have been treated like a king. In 2015, this is the equivalent of being Instagram famous. Yet Bruce was confident. He knew his hard work and ability was all he needed to excel. He was intrinsically pushed, dismissing the notoriety from others.
As a lifter you can be Bruce Wayne - true confidence is quiet.
None of the above matters if you can’t commit. Every goal must begin with a vow of commitment. It is our mind that decides what our bodies are capable of. This goes for beginners learning to squat, to advanced athletes aiming to break records. Without this commitment we will run at the sight of pain. Our doubts will creep in. Soreness will defeat us. Whatever the goal, first set your mind for success.
With composure, concentration, confidence and commitment - you can't be defeated.
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