How one can Get That Elusive Spark Used to Push Limits

The first gym I trained in looked like a set from an action movie from the 80s, From the outside, it looked like an old stone mill. Each member received a key that allowed them to get in and train at any time of the day or night. At the entrance there was a table with a boombox, CD covers and a clipboard to which the date and time were logged.

The gym had little light and the floor looked like an old, dirty garage. The dumbbell rack was a mixture of old cement dumbbells, some of which were broken or rusted and weighing nearly two hundred pounds. There were machines for bodybuilding that remained untouched since the release of these action films. At the back of the ground floor was a metal spiral staircase that led you up to the boxing area. It was a floor full of punching bags of all kinds, pads and gloves and a large ring of bloodstains on the canvas.

In this gym, I struggled with weights. My father had introduced me as a small child with the slight lifting in our basement, but It was not until I started boxing in this gym that I started building muscle and strength, Here I trained for the first time with a barbell lift. That was almost twenty years ago. Since then, I have exhausted many lifts in various gyms and many types of barbell competitions, both small and large.

The wall against which we all run

Walls in education are the imaginary barriers we create and oppose and that keep us from our potential and goal.

We are not discussing what keeps us from doing the work, but what keeps us from reaching the limits of our power capacity. These walls can appear in a competition or during a training session in which you intended to raise to a new maximum. It makes little difference.

The wall is made of subtle influences that inhibit our workt. You have everything maxed out. You said aloud – and you know you can lift a bigger weight – but you did not show them that you can. What happened?

Why do we limit ourselves?

There are times when, from a physiological point of view, you are fully prepared to reach a new maximum.

You have reached a physical climax. The diet is good, the sleep too. They recover as desired and do everything they can to support it. The training program was well designed and planned properly. The training went as planned and every session was done just right. They have raised their weights during all training sessions and have recovered and felt ready between training days.

And yet you have not raised the weight that you had calculated in the competition or at the maximum planned performance.

Physically you were prepared. You can not do anything anymore. Instead, they failed because of a restrictive way of thinking or a spiritually limited agreement that you made with yourself to borrow phrases from author Don Miguel Ruiz.

To consciously control your maximum available physical abilities, you must learn to connect, but also to control your mental and emotional states, That's not easy, especially not at the beginning. It's hard not to let yourself get carried away by emotions or a mental hurricane and let yourself be controlled instead of using your energy for a unique effort.

This verbal integration is essential for many to find a place where they can legitimately recognize the limit of their strength that they have developed in their ongoing training. They can see the achievements of this training, for which they have estimated their peak performance,

Feel, but do not let yourself be controlled

This level of arousal required to reach our true limit is not only physiological or mental, but emotional as well. All this feedback needs to be harmonized to produce a strong, unique effort.

Barbell exercises attract different personality types. It can attract those who are wild, outwardly passionate people. But it also appeals to calculated, analytical types who regard training as merely process-oriented.

But to be successful in weightlifting or barbell, even the most methodical minds have to learn to push their limits with a kind of inner heat, The outwardly calm lifters that succeed may not show it, but they have that spark and aggression in them. Sometimes it may be more appropriate for this type of personality to keep everything in it than to reveal it in a loud public ad.

Ed Coan, probably the best powerlifter of all time, looked cold, calm and calculated on the platform. But when asked about it, he said that every time he lifted a storm raged in his head. He called it his controlled aggression.

Slide not too far

There is undoubtedly a turning point when you cross a threshold and reach a point of over-stimulation. It's too much to use, and it's becoming an ineffective, almost hysterical energy.

When I started powerlifting in my early twenties, I attended a meeting that took place in the weight room of the college where I worked as a strength coach. It was my home, and I wanted to show up. I was into a frenzy just before the competition and consumed too much caffeine because at the time I was just trying to push myself.

I felt pretty warmed up, but when I tried to open my opening attempt, I was getting too nervous and too excited, almost to the point where I felt upset. My energy level and excitement went through the roof, but none of it was useful,

I'm bombed out in this competition. I think that was my first time. I could not concentrate, could not use aggression, could not be attentive, present and fixated on this single task. It was an impotent intensity.

It never reached a climax, but remained only a low humming. I had so much energy after the competition that I immediately went for a dumbbell workout to see what I thought was the reason why I failed. But looking back, I probably only did it to punish myself.

There is a balancing act that you flirt with when you integrate body and mind. You need to learn how to work your way to that red line without thinking about it.

A connection

Using the energy that you need for your best does not end with learning how to control your thoughts and control your emotions.

Achieving the desired state of encountering a groove is almost esoteric, and almost any weight put on the pole for the day can be raised. While there are certain techniques we can discuss, in-depth exploration is deeply personal and will go to extraordinary lengths to find your specific triggers.


If you want to read a practical guide to understanding and practicing visualization, I recommend the book Mind Gym. It's the only resource I've come across that gives you practical, realistic ways to improve physical performance through imagination.

My biggest insight from the book was how imaginative your visualization should be. The author instructs the athletes to first determine their best performance so far. Think of the following elements of this experience:

How did you feel. What you could smell. What were the shapes and colors of everything around you? Can you remember how the barbell felt in your hand or on your back? Can you remember the quality of your state of mind? What was the feeling of being so absorbed in your efforts that you instinctively responded physically?

After creating a vivid picture of your memory, the author recommends that you consider not just the visual, but also the emotions, as well as the state of mind and mood, to envision a future contest in which you want to perform well.

The idea is to take the same emotional state that you just remembered out of your memory and introduce yourself in this future and take the same spirit with you. Imagine with this feeling, how things feel, look and smell. Then you see how you achieve what you aspire to, both with your own eyes and with the eyes of a third person.

Definitive faith

I use this kind of visualization and see the potential benefits in it, but it never really matched my particular temperament. What has always improved my performance was a clear belief. This is different from a general belief and qualitatively very abstract. It is a manifestation of the reality that you want, It is an assumption that it will come true and remember your living presence.

Much of the belief that you can work at the highest level is based on confidence in the success so far. If you succeeded, you can rebuild it and of course you can do better if you train in competition or get the most out of it. Yet, some seem to have a tendency to self-confidence, even if they are inexperienced in practice. And some do not seem to really understand it despite their constant education and experience.

Those who fail to gain faith have limiting beliefs from a crucial developmental period in their youth. They may have been deprived of positive, healthy encouragement from their parents and other adults. They could have grown up without knowing that it is possible to change the physical reality around them with purposeful efforts, But I'm not an expert talking about it.

The belief to which I refer, however, is not to repress or ignore any doubt. I know that was never the case with me. Even the best competitors will admit that, at least temporarily, they have slight doubts during the downs in training and even during moments during the competition. It's not about dispelling all doubts; It's about accepting them as part of the whole and making room for them,

Accept and make room

This is something that I could incorporate into my meditation practice to make me a more introspective person, and then, in turn, to report back on how I approached my lifting.

Negative, distracting thoughts arise. Limiting and closing them limits your growth and your ability to stay conscious. We all need to learn to recognize fear, doubt and pessimism. Then we have to understand that these are just feelings and thoughts and are not necessarily part of you and not all of you, Just because we have an idea does not mean it's us.

Believe it or not, the story of Buddha's enlightenment speaks for how important it is to recognize the limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our physical goals. I'm talking about history, not religion – and it's all a story.

The story goes that as Siddhartha (the Buddha) sat down to meditate and he stood on the edge of his enlightened state, the God of all things, the lousy, Mara, approaching him, tempting him and then sending demons to attack him. But none of this hurt Siddhartha, and he achieved his enlightenment.

After the Buddha taught others, Mara kept popping up and the Buddha saw him. The wizards of the Buddha would be scared and overwhelmed that Mara had appeared. But the Buddha would acknowledge his presence and even call to say: I see you, Mara. And according to history, the Buddha also invited him to sit with him and drink tea.

And that's it – that's the immaterial quality we need to expand our borders. We see the doubt, the fear and the stone that we must push up the mountain, and then we accept it for what it is. We recognize that it is there and only part of everything, part of the whole.

But we can have the presence of mind to know we do not have to act differently. We do not have to think that these random thoughts that emerge are a part of us. They are just there. And we can give space to these thoughts and feelings and yet act decisively towards our goalse.

If you need more self-confidence in those big moments when you're squatting and feeling like you do not have the tools, read our free guide to the principles of squatting. It's a free video that will help you build a solid foundation for yourself.

Jesse is active in the Olympic weightlifting and used to be a competitive athlete. He was featured in the most important publications on strength and fitness. You can read more about his work on his website.

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