Written by: Kevin Cann
I made a post discussing this topic, but the character limitations of Instagram do not do it justice. I also feel that the internet is overly focused on programming concepts, and after a particular sufficiency in programming there is diminishing returns there. This is true for both how one engages with the sport as well as performance.
Most sports are built with a foundation of fun at a young age and over time the seriousness of play increases. Most sports require 15 to 20 years of participation to be playing at an elite level. At 5 years old it is fun and one you hit high school it begins to get more and more competitive. At this point the athlete has adopted the discipline and the necessary skills to stick with it and even enjoy it as it may not be as focused on fun. I would say that fulfillment is reached here.
Powerlifting is not really built like that. As beginners we get rewarded with PRs that come whether we are building the necessary discipline and skills for long-term success or not. Some are built for the sport enough that they are very competitive right away. In fact, most competitive lifters are competitive in their earlier years of competing.
Then when PRs begin to slow and eventually become much rarer, lifters are not equipped to deal with it. This is where they blame a program or a coach and eventually quit. In many cases, this sport was not what the person was interested in doing for a long time, but in other cases it may be, but the pressure of constantly trying to get better gets to them.
With the external rewards of PRs and the external rewards of likes on posts where we hit PRs and are doing well, we run into a situation where we lose the internal motivation that is necessary for long-term engagement, enjoyment, and eventually fulfillment. With such an objective sport that takes place on the internet where we can compare ourselves to others, it becomes even more important to engage with the internal work to keep our focus where it needs to be to succeed. This is me giving examples of what that process looks like for me.
In my post I was discussing how in these last few months how it is the first time in 8 years that I do not have a crew to lift with. I am not one that struggles with self-regulation and effort. I do not need a group of peers to push myself. This is most likely engrained in me from having to push myself since the time I was a young child. It is just built into my DNA at this point.
I do tend to live in my head during the day. There is an endless conversation that I have with myself while I am awake, and with the dreams at night, my mind is constantly going. There does need to be a balance between the conscious and the unconscious. I am always in my conscious brain, and the dreaming is perhaps a balancing act. It is most likely why I dream so vividly almost every single night. I also really enjoy reading because it focuses my inner dialogue on something else.
When I am lifting, I am not in my head. My internal voices are very quiet and say very little. I am more feeling my way through training by focusing on my breath to slow my heart rate and focus my attention. This “feeling” my way through training is an engagement with the unconscious mind. This is where peak performance lies. I am not an elite powerlifter, but I have been the top 1% in other sports. I am sure some of this is a trained skill from 35 years of competitive sports.
The talk that I do have with myself in training is very aggressive. I am mostly telling myself to kill or murder the weights and unleashing my full force on every single repetition. This is why I like a conjugate program so much. Max effort is self-explanatory, but dynamic effort comes with just as much force being applied to the barbell, but over and over and over again for 50 reps. A max effort day there are probably 3 hard reps like that total.
The heavy breathing from the short rests on dynamic day reminds me of a hard soccer or wrestling practice. This further drives out that aggressive personality within myself. The personality that led me to get into trouble for violent crimes. The personality that has led a chunk of the powerlifting world to try to cancel me.
Runners speak of the runner’s high, and yogis speak of the mind-body and present moment awareness of yoga, but those activities are not for me. The dark side of my personality was formed in the darkness of a violent household. It is not something that you can just get over, or something that you move on from. It is a part of you that you carry everywhere.
Lifting, especially in a conjugate program, offers me the opportunity to accept that dark side of myself, and give it its time in the world in a productive and socially acceptable way. Having to push it down deep to try to make my way in society will only lead to it manifesting itself in other ways. You can’t run from it, I know that because I have been trying to run from it for the last 20 years, and actually probably since I was 3 or 4 years old.
Without this type of outlet I may be a drug addict or alcoholic, at risk of suicide, or any other behavior with negative outcomes. When I lost the outlet at 20 years old, I ended up getting arrested a few times. I found the outlet, but it was not socially acceptable.
Powerlifting allows my SELF to be whole and it allows for the other aspects of my recovery to stack on top as wins. The reflecting and the journaling, and the therapy would not be as successful if I just tried to ignore this darker side of myself. Powerlifting is part of my recovery and that is a strong intrinsic motivator.