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Old 07-12-2012, 09:50 AM   #1
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Default Importance of Mental Strength

Most of us know the importance of mental strength, but I thought it would make a good topic for conversation. We talk endlessly about programming, but rarely discuss the component of training that is even more important - mental strength.

--What defines mental strength? What does mental strength mean to you?
--Were you always mentally strong?
--How did you cultivate mental strength?
--What role does mental strength play in your success?
--What percentage of people fail to reach their goals because they lack mental strength?
--Are there ways to approach training that allow lifters to build mental strength and toughness?
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Old 07-12-2012, 10:12 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BendtheBar View Post
Most of us know the importance of mental strength, but I thought it would make a good topic for conversation. We talk endlessly about programming, but rarely discuss the component of training that is even more important - mental strength.

--What defines mental strength? What does mental strength mean to you?
--Were you always mentally strong?
--How did you cultivate mental strength?
--What role does mental strength play in your success?
--What percentage of people fail to reach their goals because they lack mental strength?
--Are there ways to approach training that allow lifters to build mental strength and toughness?


Mental strength is about being able to focus and channel your mind when you need to. Its about blocking out the cardio bunnies and grumpy gym employees yelling at you right before you squat. Its about letting everything but the iron fall away from your awareness. Its about pulling your head out of your ass and hitting those reps even though you don't feel like it.

However, it shouldn't be confused with bullheadedness and bloodymindedness. This is what I'm usually guilty of, ignoring the obvious signs that I'm about to damage myself. There's a difference between pushing through the pain and doubt and just being stupid. I'm not always that great at getting it right.

I wasn't always mentally strong, and I'm still not always mentally strong. Some days just suck and I'm a pansy. Some days I'm able to pull through and find the zone, and others I walk in the king of my own little squat rack and its no trouble at all. Its the days that I make the switch that I focus on, and being able to do that more often.

It all falls into mental discipline, which I was trained in for a long time as a kid. Memorization played a large part in it, critical thought , deductive/inductive reasoning, mathematics, physics, mechanics, the scientific method, and lots and lots of reading. This was all outside of school, beginning when I was around 2. At that point, it focused only on memorization, but it kept going from there. A sharp mind is vital to controlling your body.

Mental strength plays a large part in my success. From committing to losing weight when I was diabetic and 360 pounds to blocking out the voices that tell me "this is a really bad idea" as I walk up to the deadlift bar, its all in the mind. The brain (and spinal cord) are the CNS. Controlling the CNS is controlling your fate.

I think 90% of people who fail to meet their goals fail because of lack of mental strength. Bulks and cuts fail, routines fail, results fail because people give in, don't take it seriously enough. This pizza won't hurt. Or more frequently ,"I'm full, and don't want to eat this pizza". I'll just do some leg extensions, squats feel too hard today. Man up, belly up to the bar, and make it happen.

The only way to build mental strength is to push yourself past where you thought you could go. It helps to have a partner to push you, they can see your physical limits and harangue you until you push past your mental barriers and begin to push your body. Mental training including solving puzzles, memorization, and creative writing are also helpful.
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Last edited by bruteforce; 07-12-2012 at 10:14 AM.
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Old 07-12-2012, 11:50 AM   #3
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Good thoughts so far Brute.

I think 'Mental Strength' has a very interesting relationship with 'Goal Setting'. They are a very synergistic pair of factors.

1) With a high degree of mental strength but no actual direction or concrete goal even the most mentally strongest trainee may well flounder. One can often see this with trainees who have never or never recently been taken out of their comfort zone. I hope BtB doesn't mind me saying that although I believe he has a good degree of mental strength, his mindset prior to our training experiment was not one of pushing himself for certain goals. He has become much more goal orientated and as a result that has had a synergistically positive effect on his mental strength and has benefited greatly his results.

2) Just as unproductive can be a high degree of goal setting but without the necessary mental strength to execute through the plan. This is often categorised by people who set goals but 'lack follow through'. I think this is probably more common that the above scenario but both are equally unproductive.

Just a few thoughts, I think this is one area which is massively important but actually pinning it down and categorising what it actually is, is quite difficult. Something like 'having heart' or 'commitment' or 'how bad d'ya want it' are probably all true to some degree but not necessarily accurate and mean different things to different people. I'll write more later.
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Old 07-12-2012, 02:38 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Fazc
I hope BtB doesn't mind me saying that although I believe he has a good degree of mental strength, his mindset prior to our training experiment was not one of pushing himself for certain goals.
No, not at all.

I had worked progression to death using the only methods I knew, and stagnated for several years. I kept trying new things, but they were the wrong types of new things.

I will add that I was not "converted" or sold on being a powerlifter until about 18 months ago, so I never spent any real time studying the strength training side of the iron game.

2 years ago I didn't know what to do. My muscle mass hadn't improved in 10 years, and my strength gains truly hit a plateau, meaning my current method and efforts had not yielded results in months. (longer than that, really)

My "reborn" mental strength came from a refinement of my goals. I got off the fence and committed to powerlifting. My mental strength was always there, but without defined goals, or the ability/knowledge to reach these goals, I was just "working out."

Though I would have considered myself mentally strong 2 years ago, I was mentally weak in a relative sense. We all are. There is always a next level of mental strength, and we need to be aware of it. We have to prepare ourselves.

Putting 540+ pounds on your back 3x a week is mentally challenging. Putting 600+ pounds on my back 3x a week next year will be more challenging. You need 100% focus. You need the ability to stop thinking about "how" the weight feels, and only focus on the things you can control - form, eccentrics, mechanics.

This is one aspect of mental strength that is required to be successful. You have to ignore fear and trust in what you've practiced.

Each extra pound entices you to pull your mind off the things you can control, and calls for you to live in a place of fear. Your can't live in that place. If you are thinking about fear, you aren't focused on the things you can control.

600 pounds on your back might come up and it might not. You can't focus on the possibility of failure; you have to focus on proper mechanics and let fate decide if it comes up. You have to focus only on the things you can control.

Will you hit a home run? Who cares. Crush the damn ball. Do what you can. Success will come to those who work on mastering the mechanics,
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Old 07-12-2012, 03:11 PM   #5
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True mental strength shows through when things are on top of people, when they are snowed under not just by the normal things in daily life but by mental extreme pressure which they have to withstand and not necessarily overcome or even "recover from" but that they have to endure; without that, most of what we may consider to be seen in terms of mental strength is just more a matter of annoying stuff that we block out or get around.

Just my opinion. Mental strength is enduring what has to be endured even though it tests us to our absolute limit.
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Old 07-12-2012, 07:50 PM   #6
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@BendTheBar, you were Diabetic? Type 2?

(Sorry to stray away from the topic, good replys!)
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Old 07-13-2012, 07:21 AM   #7
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--What defines mental strength? What does mental strength mean to you?
Your ability to overcome a given situation / task. For me mental strength is more important than physical strength.

--Were you always mentally strong?
Sort of. But not as strong as I'm today.

--How did you cultivate mental strength?
It's a gradual process. I don't even know how it started or whether I'm strong enough to handle, so I can't comment. But I think situations around you does help made you mentally tough.

--What role does mental strength play in your success?
What I'm doing today, is entirely because I was mentally tough.

--What percentage of people fail to reach their goals because they lack mental strength?
A lot. It's all in the mind.

--Are there ways to approach training that allow lifters to build mental strength and toughness?
You can't toughen a person by training alone. Effect of training may not be permanent. The person himself / herself need to develop mental toughness. One can only help, but I doubt that you can develop someone mentally tough if he / she doesn't want to ...
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:27 AM   #8
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Just my opinion. Mental strength is enduring what has to be endured even though it tests us to our absolute limit.
Very true.

It's easy to appear strong when things are going smoothly. But flip that around and you get a clearer picture.
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:32 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by WilldBill'88 View Post
@BendTheBar, you were Diabetic? Type 2?

(Sorry to stray away from the topic, good replys!)
Me, no.

Brute, yes
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Old 07-13-2012, 09:25 AM   #10
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--How did you cultivate mental strength?

I have found mental strength to be an action. I do not believe you are born with it, but that you must do the things necessary to build mental strength.

One cannot think one's self into mental strength, you must act.
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