Three Mental Mistakes That Keep Powerlifters from Making Progress

TAGS: Unrealistic Expectations, total pr, Mental Mistakes, program hop, david allen, program design, powerlifting

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While this article is titled for powerlifters, I believe these same mistakes are often made in many other aspects of life. These mental mistakes aren’t caused by anything other than our simple human nature. They are our psychological way of perceiving the world and ourselves within it. Therefore, the goal is to understand these mental fallacies and submit their influences on each of us to rational thought. From there, as we move forward we can more easily determine what the best course of action is, both physically and mentally. Take a look at these three mental mistakes and see how they apply to your lifting and your life.

1. Unrealistic Expectations

The beauty of training is the tangible results that it produces. We can clearly see the results of our hard work each time we put more weight on the bar. These changes occur quickly in the beginning. As a new powerlifter, it’s not unrealistic to expect to increase your total by 50% or more within the first year. However, as any experienced lifter knows, these rapid changes begin to slow down drastically as the lifter becomes more advanced. Unfortunately, as a new lifter your only perspective on progress is that from which you first began, which was drastic improvement over a short period of time. This incomplete perspective leads to unrealistic expectations.


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The truth is that your progress is going to slow down at some point. That doesn’t mean it will come to a stop; it just means that the ratio of work to increased lifts is going to be ever-increasing. It’s important to understand this in your training and in your competitions. A common mistake I see many lifters make is going after the holy grail of powerlifting at every meet. The holy grail of powerlifting is a squat PR, a bench PR, a deadlift PR, and a total PR, all in the same meet. Many lifters do experience this in their first couple meets, but to expect it every time is unrealistic. Instead, the approach I prefer is to let the gym be the place for lift PRs, and let the platform be the place for total PRs. I know many people don’t agree with this. They prefer to utilize the energy of the platform to propel them to higher numbers. This is fine, just don’t expect to do it for every lift. If you come out of a meet with a PR, it was a successful meet. If you go in with that goal, you’re less likely to make poor attempt choices and more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.

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2. Staring at the Horizon

While your expectations must be based on a realistic view of what is possible, the distance you have to travel to reach your goals can’t paralyze you. If you are stuck staring at the horizon, an impossible to reach point, you will not be able to focus on the many tiny steps it takes to reach your destination. With the spread of social media, we are all privy to the insane feats of strength that we see people from around the world do on a daily basis. When you see a lifter in your weight class lift hundreds of more pounds than you, it can be a little disheartening to think about how you’ve only been able to put on 10 pounds on a lift over the last year. This is why you can’t just stare at the horizon. You can’t just sit there in awe and think, “Man, I’m never going to get there.” Instead you have to focus on all the smaller steps that will lead you to your eventual goal. Sure, maybe you will never make it to the absolute top of powerlifting, but if you focus on the task in front of you, you’re sure to find yourself much farther along than if you only focused on how far you have to go.

3. Chasing Unicorns

The idea that there is one, sometimes secret, special formula for success has permeated American culture from financial decisions to diets, and even found it’s way into powerlifting. Powerlifters will jump from program to program, from coach to coach, from diet to diet, from equipment to equipment, and from gym to gym in the constant pursuit of “that little edge.” Now, I don’t deny that there are definitely things out there that can help propel a lifter forward, but I believe there are many roads that lead to Rome. Lifters have had success using many different programs, many different coaches, on many different diets, using many different types of equipment, and from many different gyms. Instead of trying to find the secret, search for the similarities.


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There are certain things that all good programs have in common, that all good coaches have in common, and so on and so forth. Sure, there is some degree of individuality needed, but once you find something that works, I believe you should juice it for as much as you can. A lifter who has run one program for 10 years will have a better understanding than a lifter who has run 10 programs for 10 years. A lifter who has stuck with a coach through several meets will find more success than a lifter who changes coaches every meet. A lifter who learns how to diet themselves down into the right weight class will have more confidence and success than someone that attempts a new strategy every time. If you plan on chasing unicorns, don’t hold your breath, because they don’t exist.

Each of these mental mistakes will hold you back as a lifter. Work to understand them, to understand your inclination towards them, and use that to help keep you from falling prey to them.

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