Are You Mental?

Mel Siff inspired this blog during my first foray into Supertraining. I enjoyed the shit out of his points. However I’d like to elaborate on some specific points. That is the purpose of this article.

I’m going to be referring to strength in terms of general lifting, not necessarily competing in powerlifting or other strength sports. I’ll probably be flip-flopping between different strengths sports to make points. Just realize even if you don’t compete you should find some things that you can work on to improve your performance in whatever sport you do.

According to Siff sporting performance depends heavily on psychological factors such as:

  • Motivation
  • Aggression
  • Concentration
  • Focus or attention
  • The ability to tolerate pain or to sustain effort
  • The perception of sensations and events in training and competition
  • The placebo effect
  • Communicative skills
  • The ability to cope with anxiety or stress
  • Attitudes towards events and participants in sport
  • Attitudes towards winning and losing
  • Learning ability
  • Attitude
  • Mood state
  • Personality
  • Alertness and vigilance
  • The ability to manage distractions
  • The ability to relax

A lot of points…

I won’t be spending time on all of these, just the ones I have found to be the most important for my athletes and myself (the highlighted ones).

Let’s get started.

Focus Or Attention

This is a huge one. In order to truly make gains, whether that be building muscle, or putting up a bigger total you must be focused.

No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes.

This is a huge reason you see people making little to no progress. They’re in the gym focusing on their smartphone or TV more than their damn training. It’s easy to spot these people. They spend 75%+ of their gym time doing everything besides lifting.

If you have a goal, the gym is your primary (along with nutrition) tool to accomplish that result. If you go into the gym and spend the whole time bullshitting about where you’re going to get wasted on the weekend then you won’t make progress.

The people who make the best progress at the gym are usually the ones who keep to themselves and are always working.

If you aren’t working then why are you in the gym?

Attention basically goes hand-in-hand with focus. Pay attention to your surroundings. If there is someone who talks your ear off, make your talk brief, put your headphones on and lift.

Be attentive to your goal in the gym. The rest is white noise you need to try and avoid or minimize.


The Ability To Tolerate Pain or To Sustain Effort

This is a point that I feel separates the “good from the great” (stupid cliché, I know, but it really stands true here). When it comes to the average gym goer, the ability to tolerate pain can be a pretty good predictor of how successful they will be. If they cringe when their muscles start burning and give up, they aren’t going to really get much out of lifting. Try pottery.

The sick and twisted man or woman who can push through that pain threshold is the one who will go places. The ability to put the pain away and push hard will cause them to grow and get stronger.

Please make sure you understand I’m not talking specifically about joint pain. This pain is something you need to address when you’re on the topic of lifting weights. I’m talking about the pain that comes with knowing you have a grueling training session coming up. Can you make it through that session knowing you gave as much effort as possible?

If you know you cut some reps, sets, or the weight short, then you might need to reflect on this and figure out how to motivate yourself to get the job done. Excuse free.


The Ability To Cope With Anxiety Or Stress

An athlete’s ability to cope with anxiety or stress is a HUGE factor in terms of limiting your strength potential. IMO there are a few key factors involved here:

What range of events cause anxiety or stress in an athlete?

I know you have that friend who always is stressed out about something. Literally always stressed. It could even be the most insignificant thing, but you can tell it eats them up inside. These are the people who are seemingly stressed out all the time.

On the other hand, you have people who are cool as cucumber all the time. They rarely get stressed or anxious, and when they do, you can tell it’s for a good reason (not because they’re disappointed with how the Joker looks in Suicide Squad).

So you have people who are easily stressed, and others who are quite robust to stress. This still doesn’t answer the question of how they react to stress, but it can give you some key information on whether or not you will need to concentrate on how you react to stress.

Does the athlete have a positive or negative response to anxiety or stress?

Here is the important thing. Like we discussed above, a highly stressed individual can still be successful. Just like a highly unstressed person can be very unsuccessful.

In terms of powerlifting, being stressed can be a positive or a negative depending on the your disposition. Are you so anxious for your opening attempt that you get red lit because you are so hyped you forget your commands? Or are you the guy in the back who looks like they are about to snap, yet goes onto the platform and looks calm and collected then WRECKS the weight?

If you were negatively affected by stress, then taking measures to reduce your stress would improve your performance (obviously). If stress makes you perform poorly in training and competition then simply finding methods to reduce or circumvent stress may improve performance.

On the other hand you can find people who are highly stressed and can troubleshoot methods to harness that stress into strength. From what I’ve seen it’s pretty rare for someone who is usually negatively affected by stress to all of a sudden be positively affected by it. Usually, the negative stresses of competition become less and less stressful over time and that leads to success.

I’d like to go over an example of how I allowed this to negatively affect me at my last meet. I was on the second flight and a few of the lifters I knew on the first flight mentioned how there was a judge who has judging incredibly strict. My opener was easy, I nailed it.  For my second attempt, I was a little nervous. I was anxious and afraid that my depth (which had only been an issue one other time in my entire competition career) wasn’t going to be good enough.

I got under the bar and absolutely buried my squat… To a falt. It was too deep and I ended up failing the lift. My training partner/coach for the day told me I went way too deep. On the third attempt I had the right amount of depth, but just didn’t have the strength left in me. This is an example of how a competitor can react negatively to stress.

Attitude Towards Events and Participants In Sports

I’m not sure this is one of the most important ones, but it’s something I wanted to discuss. This is one of the psychological issues that’s most expressed over social media. You’ll notice a lot of powerlifters who go on social media and bitch and complain about organizations and other competitors.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I completely support that. However, you won’t see too many of the top guys bitching and complaining about stuff on the Internet. They’re actually training, and learning, and getting better.

People who are negative towards their sport all the time are usually the ones who aren’t successful. Keep that in mind.

For me personally, I try and keep to myself when it comes to powerlifting. Sure there are things I may disagree with but I just tend to keep my head down and just go out there and compete. I’m not an “excuses guy.” I’ve been red lit before for squat depth, I’ve had some questionable deadlift calls, but I don’t dwell on these and go on social media and bitch about judging.

It’s the lifters responsibility to leave no doubt in the judges’ eyes that you perfectly executed a lift.

Powerlifting is a solo sport. What other people are doing has zero impact on you. Which is why I don’t understand why lifters are constantly getting butt hurt and sticking their noses in other peoples bidness.


Mood State

Mood state encompasses many of the points I’ve already covered. Are you positive or negative? Do you let things bother you easily? How do you respond to adversity, or pain? Are you happy, or sad?

Just like everyone else athletes are human beings; they have families and social lives that can drastically affect performance. A high level athlete can be in tip top physical shape, but if his mood straight up sucks because his wife is divorcing him or his kids won’t talk to him, that’ll mess you up. Look at Tiger Woods.

Mood state is something that is largely out of your hands. You will find when you are preparing for a meet for instance, everything in life is going well, you aren’t stressed, you have a lot of support and you are generally very happy. This is when you know you are probably dialed in and ready to break some PR’s come meet day.

Other times, you might go through a rough break up, your training partner moved to a new country, and your motivation to train is wavering. In this case, you can still have a good cycle, but it depends on how you recover. Can you recover quickly? Can you separate your need to win from a psychologically draining mood state?

Some people can, I think many cannot.


This is just a sample of many psychological factors that can affect performance. Hopefully you were able to identify something that might be holding you back and you can address the issue going forward.

























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