Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Talking yourself out of lifts

This is a topic I am going to expound on more in the Base Building Manual (which by the way, is slowly coming along) but I wanted to write about it now because everyone goes through this in regards to certain lifts throughout their training life.

When the training bug first took with me, I knew more than anything that I wanted to bench a plate.  A big wheel.  That meant something.  Getting a god damn big wheel on the bar cemented my place in this world as a lifter.  I could put a big wheel on, do it, BAM!  I'm a lifter.

Some will laugh or think I'm being facetious, however I'm really not.  Goals are goals, and they are very individualistic and fulfilling regardless of what someone else's goals are.  I've talked about this plenty.  Be proud of attaining your goals, no matter what they are.

To me as a young man, a young lifter, getting a wheel on the bench meant I had a real "place" in the weight room.  I wasn't just relegated to loading up the baby plates to lift.

I think I missed 135 on 4 or 5 occasions before I finally ever lifted it.  That seems to be the case more often than not throughout training.  It's like that shark "test bite".  He wants to feel out what it is he's about to take a big bite of, and see if that is something he really wants to take on.

Lifting is a lot like that.  When we get to a lift we've had in our minds, that we so badly want to hit, it can be a heart racing experience before we take that first bite of it.  And many times, we miss that weight quite a few times before we finally make it.

When I was at Quads, this whole mindset was never more prevalent than when Pete Rubish and I were pulling deficit deadlifts.  I had just ripped 635 from a 4" deficit like it was a warm up, and Pete said we should pull 660.

"You definitely should." Brandon Lilly told me.  "I'm not saying 635 was speed work, but it was damn fast."

Pete pulled it for a very difficult double.  I took my time, got psyched up, walked around and thought evil thoughts about myself....shuffled my feet........thought about how much I hated the Macarena, Limp Bizkit, Battlefield Earth, and of course how much I hated failing a pull.

After getting thoroughly psyched up, I stepped up on the 4" box, grabbed the bar, took the slack out of it, dropped my hips....and it flew off the floor.  Then completely stopped at my knees.

I missed it.

I was completely dumbfounded.  So was everyone else.

The next day, Ed Coan told me I should be upset about that miss because "you missed it badly.  And you know why you missed it?  Because you talked yourself out of it.  Before that, you just walked up and ripped it off the floor.  For that one, you took way too much time and thought way too much about that lift."

That conversation has played out in my head over and over and over again.  The reason why, is because I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I've talked myself out of lifts many, many times in my life.  So has anyone reading this that has trained long enough.  So will anyone that sticks it out for a long enough period.  You will inevitably find weights that end up with a mental block on, rather than a physical one, in regards as to why you can't get past it.

You know that feeling you have before you start your approach to the bar.  It's one of doubt, disbelief...the preparation that this is not going to happen.  It WILL feel heavy.  It's not going to really happen.  You may not think these things consciously, but there is an underlying tone of it in your mind.  That there is a lot of uncertainty about it.  The feeling before attempting this weight is not the same feeling you had 50, 100, 150 pounds ago.

You miss.

You expected to miss, really.  That, or you were not supremely confident that you would in fact make it.

I've read before that the deadlift is an emotional lift.  Yet at the last meet I attended, every guy that got overly psyched before his last pull, missed.  I mean every single time.  100%.  So apparently it's not.

For every time I've seen a guy go crazy before a lift and make it, I've seen at least 10 other instances of where a guy did that and missed his lift.

After the meet I talked to Marshall Johnson, who also missed his third pull, and I said to him "you took too long before you pulled that last one didn't you?"  He smiled and said he thought he did.  I relayed to him the conversation that Coan had with me and I could tell it totally resonated with him.  That he in fact did the very same thing before his last deadlift.  Took too long, thought about it way too much, then went out and missed it because of that.

Ernie Lilliebridge Sr. told me after "yup, people talk themselves out of lifts all the time."

Ernie is always great for some wisdom, let me tell you.

I've always tried to internalize more before a big lift, however I do realize now that there are plenty of times where I still "thought" too much about it.

Last night I got it right.

I've been after a 455 close grip for a long time.  I knew with 365x8 all paused that it had to be there.  This time, even on a bad night, I didn't talk myself out of it.  I went through my normal routine, set up, and pressed it.  It was even easier than expected.  I suspect that may have been due to NOT spending so much time before the lifting thinking about it.

I won't lie, however.  For a second, I almost went into that mode of self doubt.  Instead of continuing to "psyche" myself up, I just went for it.  I approached it as if it were just another warm up.

I've read before where people say that X weight for X reps doesn't guarantee you a certain max.  Certainly it does not.  But not because the strength isn't there.  Mainly, because the mental approach can be severely lacking in order to make that lift.  Simply put, the confidence isn't there yet.  And often times, even after we make a lift, we still aren't confident to continue hitting it again.  Thus my "just because you squat 650 doesn't mean you're a 650 squatter" i.e. you don't program with 650 as an every day max because well, you can't hit that every day (but some people are too fucking stupid to grasp this concept).

Pay attention to how you approach the weights you know that you must mentally prepare for.  The ones you know you still have to get "ready" for, but that you still have great confidence in moving.  Try to mimic that approach over and over even when you get to weights you feel unsure about.  Conserve your energy for the lift itself.  Unload on the lift and not on the air around you.  Acting like a crazed gorilla just makes you look fairly ridiculous if you then go and miss the lift.

A great deal of the misses we have are do to the mental and emotional approach we have to a certain weight, rather than the strength that is in our bodies at the time.  Hone this approach and fine tune it so that regardless of the weight on the bar you're still approaching it with the same demeanor that you do on all of your successes.


  1. Good article that most of us can relate to for sure. That little voice inside whispering, "I don't know about this..."

  2. I second all that. Hit an easy 9 RPE 535-lb dead in training as a 165-lb lifter because it was "playing around" but it not only was a 100% max in a comp but 550-lb dead was absolutely stapled! This was with professional coaching on a Sheiko routine! Sad.

  3. Amen! I love this because when I tend to think too much about the lift, I too miss it. Bravo!

  4. For me it's squatting. I get so concerned about getting stuck in the hole and having to dump onto the bars that I end up doing 3/4 squats (who am I kidding, if they're half squats I'd be shocked) and stopping one short. Maybe I should just go into the hole and dump it for shits and giggles to get it out of my system

  5. hey paul i have a few ?'s on your new big-15 on one part it says 77-70 for upper body and 73 to 65 for lower body staples, but on the next sentence it says 80 to 73 for upper and 77 to 70 for lower body staples. I wanted to ask you which one do you want us to go with? and how long does the new big-15 cycle last? is it a certain number of weeks or months or until we can hit the destined percentages or reps? thanks paul!

    1. That's not what it reads.

      77% for upperbody and 73% for lower body.

      Your goal is to make that 77% look more like 70%, and that 73% look more like 65%. That's it.

  6. Another reason why always training to failure or too much chronic stress can be detrimental.

    If you're just too fatigued everyday, or if you become accustomed to missing lifts (especially singles), its much harder to get into that "I got this" zone inside your mind and hit the lift.

    I like to psyche up, but when I do it's very natural. I don't psyche myself up.....I just become psyched.

  7. Thanks for the article, need to give it a try. I always give a huge importance to the mental preparation, and getting fired up.

    But to me, it also allows me to clear things out. Lots of things pissed me off in life, and when I think about it before a big lift, I think about it as hard as I can, I go under the bar with rage, then guess what, it's gone.

    ps : sorry for my english I'm from europe