Zen and the Art of Powerlifting

Weight trainers, and particularly power lifters, combine the concentration and cooperation of all three kinds of being- mental, physical and spiritual, to achieve something approaching ‘mind over matter’.


Being a big fan of Eastern philosophy has it’s advantages…. because, in weight lifting, you often find yourself faced with questions that could easily qualify as Koans….

…………… and like everything in life,
powerlifting is all in the way you look at it….

First, here’s a classic Koan:

A monk was asked to discard everything. “But I have nothing,” he exclaimed. “Discard that too!” ordered his master.

Now, the powerlifter’s Koan:

A powerlifter complained that he was working too hard. “Add more weight”, demanded his trainer.

A very helpful concept in Eastern Philosophy is the concept of mind over matter…..

Let’s say you got 500 pounds loaded up on a machine or implement, pick any one you like…..

You can look at that 500 pounds and run each one of those pounds over in your mind…..
and equate them to “real world” weight – 500 bags of sugar for instance….

Now, if you piled 500 one pound bags of sugar up in front of someone and said “Lift that” ,
they’d tell you to take a long flying jump off a short dry dock….

….. because part of the function of the conscious mind is to KEEP YOU FROM DOING SUCH STUPID STUFF.

The trick to powerlifting is not to think of the weight as work – as real weight – as 500 units of anything – but as weightlessmeaninglessresistanceless.

You pick it up because you know you can – because you’ve already visualized yourself doing it – because your mind has told your body you can do it…. and so, your body complies.

Sure, you can over do it – and you’ve got to build up to it –
after all, your mind ain’t STOOOPID, and your body isn’t made of steel….
– the mental conditioning is a PART of the package – not the package itself –
without physical training, your body’s not gonna cash those checks your mind is writing……

When faced with a particularly heavy weight, I like to imagine big helium balloons attached to them….. I know that probably sounds crazy, but it really does work – your subconscious mind can be a help or a hindrance – I like to have it working for me and not against me – so I use any tool I can to keep the edge.

The same goes for visualization – if you imagine yourself being successful doing a task ahead of time, you will be invariably more successful performing that task. It works for baseball, it works for football, it works for bowling, it works for lifting, it works for sex, it works for ANYTHING.

Commitment to a task – what Zen calls acceptance – is nothing more than putting your whole essence into it – anybody who has ever deadlifted at max weight will tell you what this is about – you have to have complete focus, and be willing to use everything at your disposal to get it done.

Once it’s done, you look back and see why it worked – because you were totally IN the moment.

And the techniques of mediation are also extremely helpful – especially during that rest phase between sets …. controlled breathing, set focus, clear mind – these are essential for rapid recovery and repair … and for pain management during and after.

So, what can someone who is not well versed in Eastern Philosophy take away from all this?

Why not try these simple ideas for yourself, in whatever activity YOU like…

1: Adjustment of mental values – It’s not how heavy it is, but how LIGHT. Not how hard, but how EASY.

2: Set your mind on your goal – See your goal as already accomplished in all but the final act.

3: Visualize doing it as well as it’s ever been done before. Or better.

4: Acceptance – it IS, what it IS – the only variable you can change is yourself.

5: Commitment – In the gym, you will hear me say this over and over and over —-
YOU MUST COMMIT TO THE LIFT – before, during and after.
Give it everything you got – don’t hold back – this is the one that counts.

6: Use what God gave you to the best advantage – relax, breathe, concentrate, live in the moment.

Let me know how they work for you. OK?



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