Don’t Shake the Weights

Picture this: You are at a small venue, a local gym or maybe a youth center typesetting and the stage is set for the squatter to approach the loaded bar in his first ever competition. He looks over at the bar and as his buddies scream and yell “Do it man, you can do it!,” the alpha-male of the group gives his buddy a good smack in the face to ensure maximum intensity. After being smacked around by his boy, who is just a pumped up as the lifter, the lifter (after smacking himself a couple of times too) heads bound in his knee wraps and squat suit toward the squat rack. He very intensely grabs the barbell and yells some unintelligible verbage and begins shaking those plates around. He gets under the bar, and squirms and yells some more, finally taking those couple or three steps back and begins his decent on his first competition squat ever. Sure enough, he sinks it waaaaay below parallel but unfortunately, down is the only direction he is going to be able to accomplish on this day. Two failed attempts later and our pumped up, slapped-up-side-the-head squatter is out of the meet.

Same day, different venue. In this case, the lifter is big multi-world champion Bill Nichols of the APF and WPC. Bill is a lifter who is full of fire and fierceness just as the novice lifter mentioned above but except for the few grunts and mutters he is as still and silent while looking at the bar as one can be. The reason for this is because Bill is not really looking “at” the bar but rather “through” the bar at the mental image of himself performing and succeeding at this lift. Bill, a member of the exclusive 1000 lb squat club is very familiar with competition, and controlling the Id which Freud believes we all possess. Bill knows that shaking the weights releases energy, yelling releases energy and that is energy he is not willing to expand, nor squander prior to the lift. Following a few moments of visualization, Bill approaches the bar, sets up under the bar, stands up with the weight and there it is…the look of intensity, the look of a champion. The judge yells “squat” and Bill, with his impeccable form, squats deep and shoots up with the weight like a Pop-Tart being shot out of the toaster. All his energy, adrenaline and hormone release was contained until the precise moment it was needed.

Bill’s psych and the psyche of so many of the great lifters is not from any external force transferring the power over to you, but you as an individual allowing the power you already possess to be accessed when desired. Ed Coan once stated in an interview that during his downtime prior to a meet he relaxes as much as possible; listening to relaxing music and thinking very little about the meet as not to trigger that rush of adrenaline we all feel when we think about a meet that is approaching.

We as lifters want to have our bodies and specifically our body’s chemistry work for us, not against us. Suppressing our Cortisol release and production by not getting all worked up prior to a meet is as key as summonsing our other powerful hormones at the right time in the meet. Just like our favorite song can pump us up, so can we bring forth the energy and power we need if we practice this release just like we practice our lifts. What do we see at the meets? Typically we see the novice pacing and the champion napping or relaxing.

If you are that novice lifter, take some time and go to a larger meet, preferably one that is sanctioned by one of the larger powerlifting federations; APF, IPF, WPO, WPC and watch the truly gifted lifters vs. the not so polished lifters. The difference in as it relates to this context is remarkable. Recently I had the opportunity to watch the great Brent Mikesell squat while I was competing at the North American Powerlifting Championships in Canada this past summer. In the warm-up area, there was no fan fair and no crazy antics around this powerlifting icon, just the power and poise of a powerlifter who as of this writing owns the heaviest squat in human history.

Getting psyched up is not only important, it is a must for the competitive powerlifter. Allowing, however, all of your precious energy to be strewn all over the place via shaking the weights, slapping yourself in the head and yelling will ultimately serve to deplete your strength and power. It is analogous to a fire hose with tiny holes in it. The water is simply erupting out of the hydrant with tremendous force and power, but because the pressure is creeping out of this and that hole when the water reaches the mouth of the hose, the fierce velocity has been compromised. Keep in mind that a powerlifting meet is a total of nine lifts, warm-ups, equipment changes, strategy, pacing, mental focus, keeping tabs on your competitors and so very much more. Remember, no champion marathon runner sprints the first mile all out 100%, and no champion powerlifter expends all his/her energy on their openers and warm-ups. Always try to stay inside of yourself and to learn where that power is stored and how to call upon it when the time comes. If the meet is a three flight meet and the warm-up room is full of competitors, keep your head. You are always competing against yourself and use that finite amount of energy when needed.

Nearly everyone starts as a “weight shaker” to some degree. It is when we learn to focus that energy more efficiently that we truly begin to use our power to its fuller potential. Become a student of the sport. Look at the commonalities of the truly great lifters. They have an internal drive and focus that allows them to train harder and push their bodies to the next level. Always keep in your mind too when watching these great lifters that as hard as it might be to imagine, Ed Coan, Lamar Gant, Nance Avigliano, Ernie Frantz, Gary Frank, etc., all had a first couple of meets too.

Ever Onward,
Eric C. Maroscher