What if I told you that to become a better powerlifter, you should spend less time building muscle and take more time to build confidence?
If you’ve been a powerlifter for any appreciable time, you’ve likely competed and fell short of your goals. It’s also likely that at some point during that subpar meet, your confidence wavered. Thoughts of self doubt crept into your head. Where normally you’d say, “I can do this,” negative self talk manifested silently in the form of, “I can’t do this,” or, “This feels heavy,” or, “Something just doesn’t feel right today.”
Every lifter practices their lifting technique, but very few lifters take the time to build their mental approach. If your squat form sucks, you’re obviously going to use special exercises to fix it. But what if you can’t get out of your own head on meet day? Do you just brush it off and hope you’re more confident at the next meet?
The disconnect between training the physical and mental side of powerlifting is far too prevalent, especially among novice lifters. When I sat down and thought about how powerlifters can build confidence, these four things came to mind.
1. VISUALIZE SUCCESS
Visualization is one of the most powerful tools on the planet to build confidence. Many people laugh it off as a hippy-dippy method that’s not “tough” enough for powerlifters. Sounds more like something Gary Potter would say to Happy Gilmore.
But what if I told you that some of the toughest SOBs on the planet use visualization to set themselves up for success?
Former UFC champion Georges St. Pierre used to literally practice walking from the dressing room to the octagon leading up to a fight. He’d visualize the crowd and the lights, imagine the screaming fans and blaring music. He’d even anticipate the smell of the Vaseline rubbed on his face by his trainer. GSP wrote in his book, The Way of the Fight:
“The key to effective visualization is to create the most detailed, clear and vivid a picture to focus on as possible. The more vivid the visualization, the more likely, and quickly, you are to begin attracting the things that help you achieve what you want to get done.
I like lifters to create their own highlight films and watch them frequently. Everyone films their workouts and has Instagram these days, so there’s no excuse for not having a collection of your best lifts. Before a competition, sit down and re-watch some of your heaviest sets from training. Or even better, watch footage from a meet where you performed exceptionally well. That positivity will stick with you and remind you that you’re a great lifter.
2. EXAGGERATE TOUGH SITUATIONS
Powerlifting is full of rules and regulations to keep an even playing field. Sometimes, the application of these rules by the judges can be unpredictable. But rather than get caught off guard by tough judging, prepare for it by exaggerating every rule in the book during your training.
Worried about getting called on squat depth? Squat as deep as possible in training – it’s a lot easier to cut depth at a meet than try to get lower than normal. Add in paused reps at the bottom position so you don’t lose any power by getting extra deep.
Worried about having to pause the bar on your chest for what seems like an eternity during the bench press? Practice long duration pauses (3-5 seconds) to go with all the paused reps you’re already doing (you ARE pausing ALL your reps on the bench, right?). Do plenty of variations to build strength off the chest like dead presses, wide-grip presses and benching with your feet on the bench.
You can take this even further by preparing for all kinds of tough situations:
- Take big weight jumps between sets (30+ pounds) in case the warm-up room chaos results in having to scrap some of your warm-ups.
- Limit the length of your rest periods between heavy singles (under 3 minutes) in case the lifting order gets shaken up and you have to take attempts faster than you anticipated.
- Train multiple big lifts on the same day so you’re used to the unavoidable fatigue.
The list goes on. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
3. TAKE AWAY SUPPORTIVE GEAR
Supportive gear may be the biggest mental crutch that powerlifters lean on. Everyone’s gotta have the perfect belt, shoes, wraps, knee sleeves, head band and crappy Olde English tattoos if they hope to perform at their best.
Newsflash: nobody gets WORSE when they put more gear on. So if you train with minimal gear as often as possible, you’ll build confidence knowing that you’ll be stronger when you’re dressed to the nines.
Aim to build your beltless squat and deadlift as much as possible during the off-season (i.e. beyond 12 weeks out from a meet). Squat without knee wraps as much as possible. Avoid using supportive gear that’s NOT allowed in competition (such as squat briefs if you’re raw or elbow sleeves on the bench press).
Don’t play your ace of spades if you can win with a 10 of hearts. Save your tricks for when you really need them and train as raw as possible when meet day is still far away.
4. SLOW THINGS DOWN
Powerlifters rarely excel at time management. Walk into the warm-up room at any meet and you’ll see multiple people running around like decapitated chickens, freaking out because there’s too much to do and too little time to do it. The best powerlifters are able to slow things down, avoid rushing and compete at their own pace.
But how can I slow things down, you ask? When my name is called, I gotta go lift the weight.
I don’t mean waiting til there’s 5 seconds left on your 60-second clock to walk onto the platform. I mean that careful preparation – from packing your bag the night before, to mapping out plan A and plan B attempts, to bringing a second pair of underwear (trust me on this one) – can mean less rushing around on meet day so you can focus on the task at hand.
The reality is that powerlifting is a slow sport. Most meets take at least four hours. I’ve even competed in one that look 16 hours. There’s rarely a reason to rush, especially if you’re prepared. Be organized on your training day (have pre-planned workouts, don’t forget equipment, get your daily nutrition dialed in, etc.) and you’ll have no reason to feel rushed on the day of the meet.
And when worse comes to worst, take a deep breath. Your heart rate will slow down, your head will clear and you’ll build the confidence needed to do the only thing that matters: lift the weight.
BUILD CONFIDENCE, GET STRONGER
Sometimes more lifting isn’t the answer. Taking even just a little time to train the muscle between your ears can unlock the potential you’ve been fighting to reach. Use the above tactics to build confidence to perform your best when it matters most.