My journey has seen many changes since starting to lift weights around 12 years old, spanning as one of the strongest powerlifters of all time to now training in my 50s. These changes included everything from programming to my mentality towards lifting. It has been a mental journey every bit as much as a physical one. It has strengthened my body, mind, and my state of being. Through all of this, I have found there is one factor all the greatest athletes have, and it is the one most likely to say if a lifter will be successful in reaching their goals: mental strength.

Once I finally reached the biggest stage in powerlifting, I had what turned out to be one of my worst ideas. First, I thought, "Finally, this is where I am supposed to be!" That might sound arrogant, but in my mind, it was never a matter of if I would reach it but rather a question of when. Shortly after that, I came up with the idea of picking these guys' brains and compiling the greatest training program of all time. As I began to look and talk to guys, I quickly realized that my idea was completely wrong. Everyone I was talking to was doing completely different training. I found some small similarities between some athletes but not much overall. Considering that I have a high level of intelligence and am definitely not a quitter, I decided I needed to approach programming from a different angle.  

The Common Denominator in Success

Back at the drawing board, I thought maybe I needed to step away from programming and broaden my view. What were any common factors I could see between the top lifters? Later, this expanded to all athletes. Eventually, I thought about whether successful people achieve their goals. I found more than a few similarities between all of these people, but one thing continued to show up repeatedly. In fact, it showed up in just about everyone I looked at. These people all believed in themselves. They wholeheartedly believed they could achieve the goals they were going after.    

This may seem like a simple thing, and my guess is a lot of people reading this will immediately think, "Well, I believe in myself." Let me say it is simple in principle but not so simple in execution. I think it is almost a gut reaction to claim you believe in yourself, but who wants to admit that they do not? Really believing in yourself is a challenging thing to do. For instance, I kind of enjoy standing at the edge of a platform and looking into lifter's eyes as they come up. You can see in their eyes, posture, and mannerisms if they will make the lift. They all talk and act like a good game, but you can see if they truly believe they will make the lift or not. I am even willing to admit that I did not fully believe in myself at the beginning of my powerlifting career. At that time, I was at the start of the process of believing in myself. I just kind of believed in myself.

I got serious about powerlifting because I thought I could be good, so I just focused on it. There were no set numbers, no world championships, and no world records mentioned. It was simply that I thought I could be pretty good at this, and I wanted to see if I was right. As my journey began and as I continued to improve, my goals became more specific, and my belief in myself grew. My belief in myself grew so that after I hit my first 700-pound squat, I announced I would break the 1,000-pound barrier drug-free. I did not know how I was going to do this, and I did not know how long it was going to take. But I just knew I would do it, and I had no issues announcing it.

I watched myself climb the top 100 list in Powerlifting USA magazine and eventually set my sites in the top 10. From there, I wanted world records and the all-time total. I have had plenty of world records and put up some of the highest lifts in history, but I fell short of the all-time total. There was a lot going on at this time, and I am lucky to have gotten out with my life, literally. The point is that I started with a low level of belief in myself, but as I trained my body, I also trained my mind. I did things no one had done at the time, and this was only possible because I believed in myself completely.

Learn From The Past

After competing at the highest levels of a sport, I find it interesting that there is still little talk or education about believing in oneself. It seems to me this is where most people fail at their goals, no matter how big or how small they are. Honestly, I feel like too many people carry feelings of the past with them, both consciously and subconsciously. I got into powerlifting later in life, but I had a background in high school football and college throwing. I never really had much genetic talent. Yes, I was good, but I was never a stand-out athlete. I put in more work than most, and that really helped me. Still, I never had any great success on a large scale. I took none of these experiences into powerlifting. I was a different person, and it was a different time. Nothing from my past had any effect on my future in powerlifting. As I said, I just knew I could be good, but how good was to be determined.

I carried this into competing as well. I would see a lifter miss one or even two lifts, and they would just cave on any further attempts. It was as if the lift before had the power to dictate what the outcome of the next lift was. This never made sense to me. If I missed a lift, I would analyze it to see what I could learn. Then, it was the past. The next lift was my future, but it did not matter till it was the present. The past is simply for educational purposes, and there is no need to carry the feelings of it with us.  

Set Your Goals

Training the mind is a bit different than training the body because the body must recover to grow stronger. The mind is more resilient than that; it recovers quickly. This means we can train it almost nonstop. In fact, I believe we can train it every minute of every day if we choose. One way to do this is with affirmations and notes. After my first seminar with elitefts, I told Dave Tate that I now knew what he knew and I was going to beat his total. The balls on this guy! Keep in mind, I had totaled 1700 pounds, and he totaled over 2100 pounds, I believe. A few days later, he sent me a card thanking me for attending and said good luck training for 2100.

For years, this card was pinned at eye level right next to my bedroom door. Every time I walked out of my room, I saw it, and it was that little reminder of what I was working for. I would keep post-it notes on my bathroom mirror of goals I was working towards. These can be put in your car, on your fridge, the dishwasher, the front door, or wherever you would see them often. These all remind you of your goal and help you stay focused on that goal. You can have affirmations to say to yourself. Even simple things such as, "I am getting stronger every day." Something like, "I will squat 1100 pounds." These little things are all reminding you that you can achieve your goals.

Visualize Your Success

I am also a believer in visualization and used it a lot in my powerlifting. I was fortunate that my father taught me this as a kid, and for some reason, it stuck in my ADD head. In the gym, I often took a pause before lifts to visualize the perfect technique in my head. Early in my powerlifting, I even scheduled visualization sessions. I would set a timer in a dark, quiet room, then sit against the wall and run through whole meets, seeing myself execute perfect lifts. I do this by seeing it through my eyes and again as if I was watching myself. One of the biggest factors I think people forget is to feel it and feel the emotions of hitting that goal. Do not just stop at the lift, but see and feel the celebration after the lift.

I am a fan of daydreaming, which I see as a form of visualization. I would do this a lot on the day of heavy training or when I knew I would go for a big lift in the gym that day. See it in your mind's eye to achieve it in reality.

Mental Strength

The biggest lowest piece of hanging fruit is mentality. That mindset to believe in yourself and that you can achieve your goals. Like everything else, you do not need to start at the top, but you do need to focus on this and train it like you're training your physical strength. I think of it as making the subconscious conscious. Use sticky notes and visualization to bring this training to the surface of your consciousness as much as possible. You are being successful in the mind's eye as much as possible so you can be successful in the physical world. By the time you physically touch the bar, you should have done the lift thousands of times in your head. Believe in yourself!   

Chad Aichs is a world-class and elite powerlifter in the SHW division. He began training seriously for powerlifting in 1999 in Sparks, Nevada, where he currently trains at American Iron Gym. In the ten years since he started, Chad has proven to be one of the strongest lifters in the world. His best lifts are an 1173 squat, 821 bench press, and a 755 pull. Aichs' best total is 2733, which makes him one of the top lifters of all time.