In my previous column, I wrote about how I think everyone has mental toughness and that it is a trait that can be trained. I also mentioned killer mentality but did not really write about what I think it means. This has been bugging me, so in this column, I want to go into more depth about what killer mentality is and what it means.

Powerlifting and all the sports I have competed in were about the day of competition. I have always found enjoyment in the discipline of training, but at the same time, I trained to compete. Training was what I had to do in order to compete at the level I wanted. It was preparation for the field of battle. No matter how much I try to mentally put myself in a competition during training, there is nothing like actually being there. There are no do-overs and there is no way to make excuses by saying, “Well, it was just training anyway.” Competition is all or none — either you meet your goals or you don’t. Competition, meets, games, or whatever you want to call them have a poetic beauty to me. It is about heroism or tragedy, but there is no middle ground or gray area to blur its beauty. This is what I truly love about competing. Without a doubt, powerlifting was the most fun I ever had competing, and I think part of that is because it is where I really tapped into the deepest killer mentality of competing that I've ever had.

RECENT: Genetically Mental

This what my killer mentality looked like starting right after my last training session for a meet. Once that session ended I knew it was all about recovering and relaxing. It was about being mentally strong enough to focus on those things alone. Now, it was not always this way. There was a time I did not have the mental strength to do this. I would not stop thinking about the meet and was amped up the whole time. This was just a huge waste of energy and interfered with my recovery and rest.

I learned to look at it like the elite military: When going into an intense operation, they do not spend the night before worrying or getting worked up about it. They know their rest is crucial and they have trained themselves to stay calm. So the weeks before, I would get progressively calmer. The day and night before the meet were almost euphoric. The night before the meet would usually end up being one of my best nights of sleep — still shit, but better for me. So leading up to game day, it is pretty boring, but it is essential to learn this kind of control and mentality. Killer mentality is doing whatever it takes to do your best, even when that means making yourself relax and be calm.

meet day platform aichs

When game day arrives it is still very similar to the week or weeks before. I do not jump out of bed like a crazed animal. I get up very calmly and go about my usual routine. I do some stretching and warm-ups. I do this to hopefully help me wake up better since mornings are never my favorite times. I don’t need to be pumped up yet, but I don’t want to feel like crap either. I will usually take a few minutes to do a bit of visualization while staying calm. I get to the meet early because I do not want to have to rush or waste any energy. Once I get there, it usually feels like a medieval battlefield the morning before a huge battle. There is the calm of nature while knowing there will be so much carnage in this very same place by the afternoon. We slowly find our spot in the warm-up room and I find a quiet place to stretch. I run through my stretches very slowly while now taking more time to think about the meet, still keeping myself completely calm. I have never done drugs but I imagine they give people an effect similar to how this feels to me. It is like everything is in slow motion.

As I start my warm-ups, I am again staying calm and not over-exerting myself with them. I want to get my muscles warm with light weights and then do some heavy reps just to feel the weight. Still, I am very calm and not getting worked up. I have in the past gone too far with this, almost missing or struggling with some of my last warm-ups. Even when this happened, it had no effect on me because I was there for the platform. How warm-ups feel is nice but really it is unimportant. My whole mentality to this point has been about staying calm to conserve energy. The only build-up has been in focusing on the task on the platform. This takes a great deal of mental strength and is part of a killer mentality.

When the knee wraps start to go on, everything changes. Keep in mind I never wear wraps until I am on the platform. I flip the switch and all the dark, demented, horrible things inside me become free to play. I am getting ready for battle and each lift is life or death to me. There are no thoughts about training before, lifts before, or what lifts come after. There is just that one lift. Everything else in the world has melted away. There is no family, girlfriend, bills, job, or anything else. This is me against this bar and we are trying to kill each other. The world at that moment is the platform and that bar. I'm going to destroy that bar with no mercy. There are no rules of conduct or honor in a battle like that. I will do whatever it takes to destroy it, even if it means destroying myself in the process.

Once my wraps are on and I get up, I start yelling and pulling everything out of myself. There is no room for even the smallest negativity. This is all positive energy blazing from my soul. I am yelling and butting heads with my training partner preparing myself for this fight. I am drawing out all the adrenaline and energy I can. I end up shoving my partner to the side and heading to the bar with all the hate in my heart. I will be victorious in angry splendor. Once I grab the bar, I take a moment to pull all this rage back just enough to quickly visualize the lift and remember one or two things I currently need to work on. One more yell and I get set under the bar. That is when the battle truly begins.

Some of these battles I lost and some I won, but I always gave it everything I had.

meet day squat aichs

Once the lift starts, you have to believe with every molecule in your body that you will be successful. You have to know you will fight to the very end and never give up. At the 2007 Arnold Classic WPO Finals, I had torn my hamstring six weeks or so before the competition. On my opening attempt, I tore it really bad. Did I quit or play it safe? No way — it was the WPO Finals at the Arnold Classic. I came to compete and only death was going stop me.

I ended up with an 1173-pound squat done on a severely torn hamstring. Did I realize the damage I could do to what was left of my hamstring or how bad it could have been to crash with that weight? Yes, in deciding to take more attempts I did. But once I made the decision and was on the platform, there was none of that negativity in my mind or heart. I was making that lift no matter what. It then took me three tries to get my opening bench of 805 pounds because I could not get any leg drive, but I never quit. On that third attempt, all I was thinking about was being successful with it. I was not thinking about my hamstring or that I just missed two attempts with that weight. I had adjusted and learned from both of them, but other than that they were the past. I then ended the meet with a 755-pound deadlift, which I had to shift to mostly one leg.

Did I win? Nope, I took second place, but never quit or gave up even when things looked dark and gloomy. The negativity was never let in. I did not hit the numbers I planned but still did a PR squat, deadlift, and total because of my killer mentality.

MORE: Speed Work — Are You Doing It Correctly?

That is kind of what I am talking about with killer competition mentality. It is extremely draining to the body and the mind. For this reason, killer mentality in training is a bit different. It is a cross between pre-meet killer mentality and meet killer mentality. We train to be better competitors and meet our goals on the platform. It is about working technique and weak points. You can’t work technique if you're all jacked to the hilt and full of adrenaline. You don’t need to be that way to work weak points either. That would just be a waste of energy that could go towards recovery.

Then again, you need to practice that meet mentality somewhere. The killer mentality in training is going to vary depending on where you are in your training. If you have a max effort day it may be calm warm-ups, then going into being very focused on technique, and finishing with one or two big full-out meet mentality lifts. Some sessions may just focus on technique. Some will be strictly recovery, so killer mentality means simply getting the work done. It will vary depending on many factors, but it is always focused and intense.

Killer mentality can be boiled down to doing whatever it takes to be our very best and being willing to put it all on the line when the time comes. That means blocking out all negativity and drawing in all positivity. It means giving everything you have inside you, physically and mentally. Now, this may look different in different athletes, and everyone has to find what works for them. I tend to let my rage show when I compete, but other great athletes look very calm. Even the ones that look calm still have that rage, but let it out differently.

On the flip side, I have seen some athletes get all worked up and look like rage but it is not to the bone — it is superficial. I have seen lifters look calm and in control but you can see in their eyes they are not going to make the lift. It doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside. It needs to be felt and believed in the heart and the will. It is about believing in yourself and what you can do with no doubt. This can take time to find within yourself and it can take even more time to master, but I truly believe it is in all of us somewhere. Do you have the discipline to find it, train it, and master it?