At work the other day a colleague of mine came up to me and said:
"Chris, how can I teach my mind to be as strong as my body?"
What did she mean?
Essentially this person accidentally loaded the leg press to DOUBLE the intended additional weight compared to any other time she had used this machine and the weight was still more-than manageable.
She then thought about all the other exercises she has been doing over the last 18 months or so and decided that she was mentally not pushing her boundaries prompting her to ask me the question above.
The Concept Of 'Heaviness'
I don't think this person is mentally weak as she trains in one of the most intimidating gyms I've ever worked in.
No-one that has to deal with loads of Personal Trainers can be mentally weak as we are a terrible bunch of individuals all bound for the hottest circle of hell.
18 months isn't a long time in lifting.
Often with individuals who have been training around this time experience every single weight beyond the bar as equally heavy.
So weights that are fairly similar (say 35kg and 40kg) feel about the same.
This general feeling of 'heaviness' doesn't often inspire confidence and can result in the effect of staying at the same weight for longer than necessary because it feels heavy any more on the bar would completely crush you right?
So it often takes mistakes like misloading a bar or a machine to make someone think about adding more weight to the bar.
This is something that happens to everyone eventually if you consistently lift.
Strategies To Become Mentally Stronger
Do a Strength Training Block
Megsquats showing thousands of people what can be achieved through years of consistent strength training
Often the people who fall into the category of always lifting the same weight because it all feels heavy have often never performed a programme specifically designed to make you stronger so have never had the real necessity to up the weight on any exercise.
So if you need or want to get used to more weight on the bar then it's time to follow some kind of strength training programme to add more weight to the bar!
So lower your reps down to around 5 reps for your first 1-3 exercises in either some or all of your sessions for a few weeks and gradually add a little bit of weight each week and try to move through the same distance (or range of motion) for somewhere between 4-16 weeks. It's really up to you how long you progress with a strength block unless you are working with a coach.
If you need help structuring a strength training block please feel free to drop us a message and we can point you in the right direction or you can get on-board with our online or in-person coaching.
Perform Heavy Holds
In order to get used to heavier weights you have to get used to holding heavier weights! A way to do this is by performing various heavy holds using exercises you usually do, add more weight than you would usually perform and hold it for something like 10-30 seconds.
To use front squats an example. Say you usually front squat 40kg. Put 50kg on there. Walk out as if you are about to squat with great form and hold it for a set amount of time.
Perform this as your front squat warm up and drop back to your working weight. Suddenly it can feel much much lighter and take some of the fear away.
With some people this can quickly prompt them to start pushing out of their comfort zone and adding more weight to the bar.
Give it a try and see if it works for you.
You can use pretty much any exercise which involves you supporting the weight with your body like squats, bench press, leg press or similar.
Performing loaded carries is a great way to start adding weight to your body to prepare it for more load in the various other movements you'll do each week.
The beauty of loaded carries lies within their simplicity.
Pick up something and carry it safely for a set distance or time.
My favourite carries include farmers walks and heavy medicine ball carries with as much weight as possible over 10-20 metres for 3-7 sets at a time.
Prepare your hands and lungs for pain.
Prepare your body for progress.
Add them to 1-3 of your sessions each week and just see how much your body increases in strength.
Simple Progressive Overload
We can simplify your approach even further than using the above.
Take the training plan you are currently doing and force yourself to add some weight to at least 50% of your exercises every week for 4-8 weeks.
Magically you've added about 20kg to most of your lifts.
Some will progress faster than others but the most important point is that you have begun to explore further out of your comfort zone and you are beginning to see where your true limits are.
This helps you grow as a person and as a lifter!
Get A Coach
Everyone needs pushing. A coach will know when to increase the load on the bar. When to add weight and not tell you. When to add weight and keep you in the loop at all times and more importantly will know when to hold you back when it isn't appropriate to add more weight to the bar.
Whether online or in-person, please please please get a coach at least for a short period of time to get the basics down to earn your training wheels so you are confident in what you are doing in the gym.
The most important lesson that comes from this is that mental strength in the weight room comes first and foremost from the experience over multiple years of adding weight to the bar.
So if you are a lifter who feels like they aren't mentallY strong enough KEEP GOING! Ask for help when needed and if you need that additional push you can implement some of the strategies we have spoken about above.
You've got this!
By Chris Kershaw
Chris is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, Writer and man of small stature and reader of The Discworld Series with a decade in the industry. He trains everyone from beginners to high level athletes. His favourite clients are people getting into the gym for the first time because they can make the biggest changes in their life
You can reach me through the email address Chris@kershawstrength.com
My Instagram is Chris_Kershaw_Strength.
Thank you for reading!