The world of powerlifting is a small enclave overshadowed by the field of bodybuilding. It’s a peculiar coalition that is both feared and simultaneously admired. Feared due to the unnatural weight totals being lifted yet admired based on the intrinsic human value in becoming fast, strong, and powerful.

Although powerlifting isn’t well known or understood by the general public, it has most frequently been confused with bodybuilding due to Hollywood’s accentuation of professional bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. When referring to someone as strong or to the process of attaining strength, people immediately think of a bodybuilder and his routine method. What we’re reluctantly left with is a pile of misinformation and myth that has become extremely difficult to discard. It’s then hard to make the distinction between powerlifting and bodybuilding clear so that we can popularize within our social network.

So the question remains—what is and makes someone a powerlifter? Is it the genetic strength that one has attained at birth or simply the ability to lift more than the common weight being lifted within any commercial gym?

What makes a powerlifter isn’t simply lifting heavy weights, respective to body weight, or having a particular physique. The true powerlifter is anyone who has attained the basic seven mindsets that lay the foundation for a powerlifting career, regardless of the amount he presently lifts or has lifted in pursuit of pure strength within the three major lifts. To the competitive powerlifter, a true powerlifter is one who has stood on the platform of competition. Although this may be true, the phase of having to stand on a competitive platform is simply the result of what makes a true powerlifter. The competitive platform is simply a “means to an end,” not an “end” in itself. But of course, there are always exceptions, which I won’t discuss.

So this being said, the seven principles that one must have to create the mindset of a true powerlifter are as follows:

1.  Commitment
Acquiring a high level of commitment is a mandatory fundamental for any powerlifter. There must be a serious dedication toward one’s goals, plans, and powerlifting principles to become effective within this field. One must establish clear and realistic goals to be met within a set timeframe and assert a plan to meet these objectives within that time period. This in and of itself requires planning that contains both short- and long-term goals in nature—short term in the sense that you are committed to your training schedule regardless of what holiday is around the corner and long-term in the sense of continuing to lift regardless of injury and/or multiple sets of failures that you may encounter. Sustained injuries require immediate recuperation if possible to continue gaining strength. If, on the other hand, you have failed to meet your short-term goals, evaluate what needs to be improved and continue forward.

This high level of commitment is fundamental to the mindset of a powerlifter. It is a life long journey that requires time, patience, and the desire to lift twice your body weight or more. If you have never been under or over a barbell twice your body weight, you will immediately understand the “willpower” it takes to lift such amounts. But where there is commitment, there are also dreams that come to reality.

2.  Focus
A secondary and crucial principle within powerlifting is developing the ability to remain focused. To become focused on your goals and plans is one thing, but to remain focused on these short- and long-term objectives is another. The ability to focus may appear easy, but when faced with an abundant amount of information, styles of training, methods, and routines via the internet and magazines, what appeared simple is now a struggle to maintain. If your long-term goals are to increase your totals in the three lifts, create a plan that will do exactly that. Jumping from program to program will yield nothing worthwhile. It takes time to see if any one program really works and allows you time to become familiar in knowing your weaknesses and which movement will yield the best results for you.

Remaining focused is no easy task. For many, the beginning journey of powerlifting may be confusing. It will require time spent deciphering what principles belong to bodybuilding and what belongs to powerlifting. Many will start with the former and show improvement, but as you advance and start to stall in strength gained, that’s where powerlifting principles begin. That is when you must decide either to train for bodybuilding or become a powerlifter. Bodybuilding and powerlifting are like apples and oranges in their approaches, and with due rights, for each has a different objective for reaching a different goal but utilizing the same tool—a loaded barbell.

3.  Planning
The venue of powerlifting requires continuous and careful planning. The planning can be as simple as knowing your short- and long-term objectives and even more importantly knowing the how and why of your executable plan in getting there. Simply said, he who desires to become a powerlifter must have a plan. Irregardless to anything else mentioned, if you have no plan, you have nothing.

The first step in planning is knowing your level in powerlifting. Are you a beginner wanting to become an intermediate or an intermediate wanting to become a high intermediate or advanced? Each stage in strength gaining has its own requirements that must be met before moving on to the next level. What works well for a beginner will not work for an intermediate lifter and what works well for an intermediate lifter may not be optimal for an advanced lifter. The idea is acknowledging that each level of lifting performance carries a series of requirements to advance you to the next stage. Somewhere along the transition between stages, the management of volume, intensity, and frequency has to be manipulated to meet the level of each individual lifter.

All plans will eventually change over time to accommodate our physical needs, but the smaller the change the better. Even more important is knowing why the changes were implemented.

4.  Evaluation
Another crucial element in the mindset of a powerlifter is developing the patience and willingness to analyze your own planned program. Program evaluation and the identification of weak points that have caused you to fall short of your planned objectives are quite central. The purpose of program analysis is simply to evaluate your training approach by asking yourself a series of questions such as: Are my goals realistic? Do I have enough volume for my present level of training as a beginner? Do I have enough intensity as an intermediate? Do I have too much junk volume and not enough intensity?

If your short-term goal is to increase your major lift by over 20–30 percent of your present max in six weeks, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re overzealous, you won’t be attentive to setting realistic goals. Every movement in your plan should be geared to improving some sort of weakness that you have identified during your lifts. In fact, we should have a solid answer for everything we’re doing and be one hundred percent convinced as to why we’re doing it.

A secondary enemy in powerlifting is haphazard training that stems from becoming overzealous. This is when you becomes so hyped in powerlifting that you start maxing out on all your lifts on a weekly basis. Lifting above ninety percent too frequently will burn your central nervous system down and leave you wondering why you aren’t getting any stronger.

5. Creativity
One unique characteristic in becoming a powerlifter is to have the courage to be creative. If you look around most commercial gyms, you’ll notice that most equipment is geared toward cardio, general health, toning, and bodybuilding. It’s very rare to find any equipment that caters to Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting or to improve any specific style of sport where speed, strength, and explosive power are required.

When was the last time you walked into a gym and saw more than one power rack or rubber plates, a glute/ham machine, a reverse hyper, or an assortment of barbells to meet a variety of lifting needs? In order to improve certain weaknesses, you have to be creative in utilizing certain machines in ways they were never intended to be used. Some examples are using the triceps push-down machine to do pull thrus and using the lat pull machine for standing abdominal crunches. This isn’t to exclude the utilization of additional resources such as chains, bands, and boards in more ways than one.

Being creative will be your best resource in meeting your individual needs, and by doing so, you’ll realize that you aren’t alone on this venture. The idea here is to not allow the available resources to limit you on what you can and can’t do to strengthen your weak areas.

6.  Curiosity
Powerlifters must become seekers if they wish to make continuous progress. They must seek better methods, training ideas, and methodologies that would help them understand the science aspect of strength gains. What worked well in the past may have been improved with new methods. To ignore these new methodologies would be the equivalent of ignoring a newly discovered cure for the common flu or bacteria.

Powerlifting isn’t any world for the loner. We all need extra eyes to improve our techniques and see where our weaknesses are while performing lifts at ninety percent or above our one rep max. Don’t confuse your 135-lb squat form with your 315-lb squat form. The heavier the weight, the poorer your form becomes. Not only do we need others to keep us on track with techniques and addressing weaknesses, but we also need others to challenge us to take on more weight than we can handle while remaining safe through the attempt.

I’m sure people are more than willing to try a 5–10-lb increase in their squat had they had someone they trusted spotting them for the “just in case” scenario. Now try the same weight alone in your basement or maybe in a public gym where total embarrassment is your reward for failure. It seems a little too high of a price to pay. Now don’t get me wrong. In powerlifting, failed attempts aren’t only a good thing but almost a requirement once in a while. But a lonesome dove under a barbell above one hundred percent isn’t a good idea.

7.  Motivation
Finally the most important of all ingredients to becoming a powerlifter is self-motivation. If you aren’t self-motivated, I guarantee that once the weights start getting heavier so will your desire to get to the gym to push that weight. The fact is it takes a lot more than just desire and purpose to lift a weight that is well above your body weight. It takes motivation and a whole lot of it when gravity seems to double its pull. Your mind will be the first to give you an excuse as to why you shouldn’t even try to lift a weight that’s beyond normal. Having these thoughts may be normal to some but giving in to them is another story.

Powerlifting requires desire, motivation, purpose, guts, and lots of craziness. As someone once said, which seemed kind of funny at the time, “the more mentally insane you are, the stronger you will become because you are just not aware of how lifting two or three times your body weight is plain senseless.” But crazy or not, here we come for the love of this game.

So there you have the ingredients for what it takes to become a powerlifter. I just hope I’ve encouraged you to attain the right mindset toward powerlifting and that I’ve opened your eyes to the behind the scenes of a powerlifter’s mindset. If you can do it, we’ll be waiting.

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