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Unlock Your Inner Strength: The Psychology of Strength

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Unlock Your Inner Strength: The Psychology of Strength

by: Robbie Durand

There is an enormous psychological component to lifting weights. Many powerlifters and Olympic lifters will tell you that if you can’t vision yourself doing the lift, you will never be able to do it physically. Visualization is a fundamental component of many successful weightlifter’s regimens just as important as the physical component. For example, when attempting to set a new PR on the squat, many powerlifters will do “walkouts: with a new weight just to feel the weight on their back before they attempt the lift. Walkouts build confidence and supporting strength in the squat. A lifter with load up the bar about 10-15% above your squat 1RM and simple un-rack it and walk back. They would hold the position for 8-10 seconds while staying tight and bracing your core and upper back.

The same can be said with partial presses; a lifter can try a new weight that’s heavier than normal but only use a partial rep to feel the new weight on their chest. Many lifters spend a significant part of their workout “psyching up.” They try to generate enough adrenaline to override the psychological barriers of not being able to do the weight. In the latest study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that not knowing how much weight is on the bar results in greater power output and rate of force development.

Researchers wanted to examine explosive force when they told lifters how much weight was on the bar and in the other condition, they were not told. Fifteen strength-trained individuals performed six sets of 6 maximal explosive repetitions in a single test session after extensive familiarization.

-In three of these sets, the subjects were given knowledge about the load before each repetition (known condition),
-Whereas in the other three sets, they were given no information (unknown condition).

In both conditions, the loads were 30, 50 and 70 % of maximum, but condition and load orders were randomized. Rate of Force Development (24–50 %) and power output (20–39 %) were significantly higher in the unknown condition in the early time intervals from movement onset. Also, the unknown condition elicited greater EMG amplitudes in anterior deltoid both before movement onset and in the early time intervals after movement onset, and in pectoralis major after movement onset.

The unknown condition or not knowing how much weight was about to be lifted resulted in a greater initial activation of the muscles and both a higher rate of force development and mechanical power output in the early phase of the movement under all loading conditions (30–70 % of maximum). The unknown condition appears to offer a novel neuromuscular stimulus, and further research on the effects of continued exposure is warranted.

Key Points: The mind plays an incredible role in power production, the study documents that when lifters were able to exert more force when they did not know the weight. It’s possible that the lifters could have been “psyched out” by the weight.

Load knowledge reduces rapid force production and muscle activation during maximal-effort concentric lifts, by Hernández-Davó, Sabido, Moya-Ramón & Blazevich, in European Journal of Applied Physiology (2015)

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