How Meditation Makes You a Better Athlete

Written by: Kevin Cann

I tell Precision Powerlifting Systems that they should be meditating a minimum of 10 minutes every single day.  I will admit that some do it and some do not do it.  That does not discourage me from telling them consistently how important that meditation is to their success as athletes as well as people.

Meditation has many health benefits like increased mood, decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, and many others.  I want to explain how meditation makes you a better athlete.

I posted a video on the Precision Powerlifting YouTube titled, “Developing Awareness Under the Bar.”  I explained what we need our mindset to be like under the bar.  This is how skill is developed.

First, we start out not knowing anything.  The next step is become aware of what we do not know.  The third step is trying to improve upon what we do not know, but we need to do think about every step of the process.  The final stage is just doing it.

Let me explain further.  When we first begin lifting, we probably had to think about every action we were doing underneath the bar.  We would think about one thing, and lose another, and vice versa over and over again.  Over time we begin to feel more comfortable and think much less about every little thing happening in the lift, or do we?

On a more recent episode of Boston’s Strongcast, Justin Holly said that after the first year there is nothing for a coach to say.  The coach needs to observe and guide.  This really made me think and made a light bulb go off in my head.

I think as coaches we try to justify our worth by letting lifters know everything that breaks down in their lifts.  I have told them not to overthink these things, but how can they not if I am giving them this feedback constantly?  

I also began to compare my lifting to other sports performances in my life.  I have been fortunate enough to be participating in sports for over 30 years now.  26 of those years were practicing sports outside of lifting weights.  I reflected on my mindset as I was executing the required tasks of those sports.

I wasn’t thinking about anything, I was just doing.  In lifting it gets easy to get in our heads and think of an active cue like “Push my knees out.”  However, this type of thought never entered my mind in the later stages of my athletic development.

Earlier on when I was learning a new skill, I would slow it down and consciously think about it.  However, even then I was just really paying attention to what it FEELS like to execute.  Through repetitions I would eventually have the ability to speed it up and then to utilize it in high duress situations like in a game.

That observing while learning is a skill is the mindset that we want when lifting.  We need to quiet the ego (thinking brain) and allow our bodies to learn how they were built to learn, through experiencing the environment and receiving feedback.  We were not designed to get this feedback from our phone or a coach.  Our bodies are designed to receive it through experiencing it, but only if we quiet our ego and allow our brain to observe the information.

The lifter can then relay these observations to the coach.  If the knees are coming in, I want to know if the lifter observed their feet throughout the entirety of the lift and what their thoughts are at specific times.  We often find that as the lifter hits the hole they “black out” in an effort to move fast coming up.  They lose awareness of their body and then they react to the breakdown that happens.

This past week with a lifter our cue then became “Same pace down and up.”  She observed her feet to bring her to the present moment and focused on maintaining pace throughout the whole lift.  This cleared up the technical breakdown and actually made the lift faster.  This is because the distance traveled was less, but also the weight on the bar will dictate the force required to keep pace on the way up.

Sheiko would say to me “powerful and smooth” and that weightlifting was fast power, but powerlifting is slow power.  This makes a lot more sense to me these days than it did to me back then.  Just moving fast with light weights may have benefit in terms of motor unit recruitment, but in complex systems there is always a tradeoff, and that comes with mechanics.  There is a speed to accuracy tradeoff with movement.

Lifters will speed up time in their heads during the difficult parts of the lift.  That is the nerves kicking in.  This is why having something to observe is important as it can help keep us in the present moment.  When we speed up time our mind is racing into the future.

Meditation is a way to practice and strengthen this mindset.  It teaches us how to focus and refocus our thoughts in a judgment free way.  No judgment is critical here.  The thoughts of “This feels heavy or easy” are judgmental, we do not want that.  We want nothing more than judgment free observations.

Meditation enhances recovery while helping us build a skill.  It actually increases cognition and our ability to learn.  This is what we are attempting to do when we are building a skill, in powerlifting this means getting stronger.  We are developing cognitive intelligence and learning.  Meditation actually improves those areas of our brain. 

If you truly want to enhance your skills while getting some health benefits, all it takes is 10 minutes per day.  There are plenty of apps out there that are very affordable for this as well.  Many will laugh at the idea that this daily habit will make them stronger, but that is fine because you aren’t part of PPS and it gives us an edge.

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