Mental Barriers When Lifting
by Mark Wasson
Everyone’s been there when they have been stuck at a certain weight barrier and unable to surpass it. Whether it be the 1000lbs or 100lbs, for some a barrier often needs to be defeated mentally first before physically.
I’ve looked back at my own training over the years and you can realize that often I got stuck at a certain weights weight numbers that proved difficult to break through. For squat, it was first 500lbs, then 550lbs, then 575lbs, then 585, and finally 600lbs. Was it that I was physically too weak to lift any of these weights? At times, likely yes but in the end once I overcame the mental barrier in my head saying it was too heavy I was able to add 5-10 plus pounds to the lift shortly after breaking through the barrier.
My recent strategy that allowed myself to go from around 270kg to now a gym best 290 squat in my mind was simply breaking down the mental perception of the numbers. Thinking a weight is too heavy or unobtainable does nothing but put a limit on your potential. I’m not saying that because I think I can squat more than Kelly Branton just because I think I can, but realizing that your body has the ability to adapt and overcome more than you currently believe is something that can help everyone’s training.
I overcame the mental barriers I had with certain numbers by a few simple strategies. First, looking around at others in the sport that are better than you at a certain lift and understanding that likely others are able to do it so why can’t you. Watching Gibbs, or Haack on squat helped remove the barrier I placed in my head from when I first started lifting and the World Record in squat in my weight class at the time was around 275kg. Looking around now there are dozens of 83kg lifters lifting above that number. It can take one person to go first to then be quickly followed by many others.
Second, and I would not recommend this strategy to many, but it would be to just load the bar and go for it. Being a daily squatter allows me the ability to take advantage of the days where I feel good and go for new PRs when I want. This does not work for everyone’s programming however, understanding that strength can ebb and flow and taking advantage when you can help you break through PRs. For some, simply a heavy walkout or some form of overload training can help you feel the heavier weight and allow you to get more comfortable with the weight. When you get your body accustom to holding a heavier weight it can make the weight feel lighter and in your mind help normalize it.
In the end, normalizing certain weight numbers in your head and not placing doubt in your own abilities can go a long way to helping you hit a new personal record.