The Mindset of a Powerlifter Part I

The world of powerlifting is a small enclave overshadowed by the field of body building. It is a peculiar coalition that is both feared and simultaneously admired; Feared due to the unnatural weight totals being lifted yet admired based on the intrinsic human value in becoming fast, strong and powerful.

Although powerlifting is not well known or understood by the general public, it has most frequently been confused with body building due to Hollywood’s accentuation of professional body builders like Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno. When referring to someone as strong and the process of attaining strength, people immediately think of a body builder and his routine method.  What we are reluctantly left with, is a pile of misinformation and myth that has become extremely difficult to excavate threw and make its distinction clear and popularize within our social network.

So the question remains what is and makes someone a powerlifter? Is it the genetic strength that one has attained at birth or simply the ability to lift more then the common weight being lifted within any commercial gym? Joe has been attending gym X for 6 months and now benches 375 lbs while Jimmy at the same gym only lift 275 lbs after 1 year and does crazy things with machines in ways it was never intended to be used. So who among the two is the powerlifter? The answer is simply neither or both.

What makes a powerlifter is not simply lifting heavy weights, respective to body weight, or having a particular physique. The true power lifter is anyone that has attained the basic seven mindset that lays the foundation for a powerlifting career, regardless of the amount he/she presently lift or have lifted in pursuit of pure strength within the three major lifts. To the competitive powerlifter, a true powerlifter is one that has stood on the platform of competition. Although this may be true, the phase of having to stand on a competitive platform is simply the result of what makes a true powerlifter. The competitive platform is simply a “means to an end” and not an “end” in itself but of course there are always exceptions which I bear not to discuss.

So this being said, the seven principles that must be laid to create the mindset of a true powerlifter are as follows:

1.  Committed

Acquiring a high level of commitment is a mandatory fundamental for any powerlifter. There must be a serious dedication toward one’s goals, plans and powerlifting principles to become effective within this field. One must establish clear and realistic goals to be met within a set time frame and assert a plan to meet these objectives within that time period.  This in itself requires planning that contain both short and long term goals in nature. Short term in the sense that you are committed to your training schedule regardless to what holiday is around the corner and long term to the point of continuing to lift regardless of injury and/or multiple sets of failures encountered. Sustained injuries require immediate recuperation if possible, so as to continue the strength gaining progress.  It is said that for every two weeks off in performing a specific movement, 10% of strength gained is lost but of course it is not permanent and easier to recuperate once gained. If, on the other hand, you have failed to meet your short term goals, then evaluate what needs to be improved and continue forward.

This high level of commitment is fundamental to the mindset of a powerlifter. It is a life long journey that requires time, patience and the desire to lift twice your body weight or more. If you have been under or over a barbell twice your body weight, you will immediately understand the “will power” it takes to lift such amount but where there is commitment, there are also dreams that come to reality. 

2.  Focused

A secondary and crucial principle within powerlifting is developing the ability to remain focused. The ability to become focused on your goals and plans is one thing but to remain focused on these short and long term objectives is another. The ability to focus may appear easy but when faced with an abundant amount of information, styles of training, methods, routines and quick fix workout schedules via internet, magazines and television, what appeared simple is now a struggle to maintain. If your long term goals are to increase your totals in the three lifts combined then create a plan that will do exactly that. Your long term goals are affected by what you do and don’t do within your short term plans. Jumping from program to program will yield nothing worth while. It takes time to see if any one program really works and allows you time to become familiar in knowing what your weakness are and which movement will produced the best results for you.

In the world of weight lifting, there are countless number of methods, programs and routines but not all are created equal. How many times have we reach for a health magazine and scan over a sea-shore of great workout plans for health or aesthetic values? How many more times can we find body building and powerlifting methods and routine on men’s magazine with professional lifters on the front cover? Upon implementing theses magazine methods, one will realize that these routine were never tested by the individual prescribing it due to its rigorous demand on the body or that it will not work well for the general public because it was tailored for the individual on the cover at the professional level only.

Although for many the beginning journey of powerlifting may be confusing, it will requires time spent deciphering what principles belongs to body building and what belongs to powerlifting. Many beginners will start with the former and show improvement but as you advance and start to stall in strength gained, that’s where powerlifting principles begin. Here is when you are at a cross road and must decide either to train for body building or become a powerlifter. If you decide on the latter, then learn the art and science behind pure strength gain and be committed to those principles. The question is can you train as a body builder and powerlifting simultaneously? You can do whatever you like but somewhere along the line you will learn that the objectives and requirements are different from those of powerlifting. Too much time spend on hyper trophy will tax your strength gain while the other does not give you enough volume for muscular hyper trophy or definition as required for body building. Body building and powerlifting are like apples and oranges on their approach and with due rights, for each have a different objective in reaching a different goal but utilizing the same tool; a loaded barbell.

So when committed to attaining powerlifting totals, seek a plan that will get you there and remain focused on your goals. The key thing in remaining focused is learning the art and science of strength gaining and always looking for the similarities between all powerlifting methods and styles.

3.  Planner

The venue of powerlifting requires continuous and careful planning. The planning here can be as simple as knowing your long and short term objectives and even more important knowing the how and why of your executable plan in getting there.  Simply said, he who desires to become a powerlifter must have a plan. Regardless to anything else mentioned if you have no plan then you have nothing. You could have all the desire and commitment in the world but without a plan, you will never get there.

The first step in planning is knowing your level in powerlifting. Are you a beginner wanting to become an intermediate or an intermediate wanting to become a high intermediate or advance? Each stage in strength gaining has its own requirements that must be met before moving on to the next level. What works well for a beginner will not work for an intermediate lifter and what works well for an intermediate may not be optimal for an advance lifter. The idea here is acknowledging that each level of lifting performance carries a series of requirements to advance you to the next stage. What is required in lifting 315 lbs is different, in form and approach, from lifting 500 lbs or even 600 lbs. Not only does the technique changes to some degree but the training method and approach changes as well. Some where along this transition between stages, the management  of volume, intensity and frequency has to be manipulated to meet the level of each individual lifter; Planning around these principles make a big difference in the progress you make within a certain time frame.

To add to this stew of stage requirements, your body structure must be taken into consideration as well. Are you long legged with a short torso or short legged with a long torso? Long legged individuals will have a greater difficulty in performing squats oppose to a short legged individual. In addition, a short torso individual may be better at performing Good Mornings then a long torso individual due to the ability of remaining closer to the center of gravity. Knowing your body structure and what your strengths and weakness are due to that structure can only help when establish your short term plans. Over looking these facts will cause you to spend more time changing your routine to improve a specific movement when all that was necessary was changing your technique to accommodate your body structure. Once technique has been addressed then all else can be modified.

Planning around your strengths, weaknesses, body structure and level of performance is an essential aspect in planning to continue seeing progress within your powerlifting venture. This is not to say that we will always be correct in our planning strategies. All plans will eventually change over time to accommodate our physical needs and mistakes but the smaller the change the better but even more important is knowing why the changes were implemented.

On the next article, The Mindset of a Powerlifter, Part II, I will continue to focus on the remaining four ingredients of a Powerlifter’s mindset. It will explore essential ingredients such as the ability to analyze your program for effectiveness, becoming creative in strength gaining, the importance of seeking help to improve your lifts and how motivation plays a major factor to achieving success.  

Hope to have caught your interest in reading further.