I began seriously bodybuilding in 2004, but 7 years prior to that I set off in my study of the power of the mind. I've had many teachers; internal martial arts sifus, Chan Buddhist monks, hermetic adepts and psychologists. I consider myself very lucky to have been exposed to such information at a young age. I've applied this knowledge to my martial arts and personal growth. It wasn't until recently I had an epiphany, to try and test these same practices towards improving my weight training.
It was the winter of 2010, and my bench press had once again stalled. I had options to fix this- change my routine up, increase calories, various supplements. My lifting partner had witnessed my "mind over muscle" techniques before through demonstrations of my martial arts. For example, having 3-4 guys lean on my chest while my back was against the wall, and despite their weight being 3x my ability to bench press, sending them flying off with ease. He joked regaring my plateau, "Why don't you use your mind magic?" That's exactly what I did. Two weeks of applying these exercises to my bench, it increased by 8lbs. You could say this was coincidence, but I've used it on a number of lifts over the last 2 years. Only now do I choose to share this, in hopes that open-minded individuals will utilize it to their benefit.
This is not magic trcks or new age hokery. This has been researched and studied by big names in their respective fields. Runners who are attached to electrodes run their race laying on a bed, and the same parts of their brain fire off as when they physically run. Their mind is sending messages to the muscles, strengthening the connection. It's not an overnight fix. On the contrary, it is VERY demanding in it's own way. If your willing to put in the hard work, you may be surprised at the results.
Step 1: Riding the Alpha Wave - Meditation and Self Hypnosis
Hypnosis has been used in sports for a long time, albeit in relative darkness from the mainstream spotlight. Usually this is done with a professional hypnotist. This is something you can do by yourself.
In a basic outline, the goal of hypnosis is this:
- Slow your brainwaves to an alpha state for a period of time, which is a brainwave reached prior to sleep. They say the thing you think about / see in the momets before sleep is the information you retain most. This is why.
- Once alpha is reached, your subconcious is open to suggestions. There are ways to induce this state on your own. Regular meditation could do it, but requires a great deal of time and effort. My preferred technique for beginners is to use self-help hypnosis mp3s, or phone apps. These will give slow music, binaural beats or sounds of nature, usually with something called an "induction" spoken over it. This is the stereotype you see on television, "your getting sleepy" only on a large scale. You listen to the voice, telling you to relax, and wallah- you actually do. Download a stop-smoking hyponosis mp3, and listen to the first 20 minutes. This is the "induction", prior to the voice convincing you not to have the next cigarette.
- This induction, usually 15-30 minutes long, creates an alpha state quite effectively. The next step is to move onto the actual exercises.
Step 2: The Work
1. Pure Relaxation - Most basic.
This is acheiving an extreme state of relaxation, with no hypnotic suggestions or visualizations. This will aid in healing, similar to sleep. It will also clear your mind of stress and unwanted thoughts, so that you are able to function on a higher level. It's good to drink some protein or aminos prior to this, in order to maximize recovery potential. It's also very enjoyable, and a bit freaky at first; people in our day and age are used to being on overdrive for 8-16 hours a day.
2. Hypnotic Suggestion
This is the part where you tell yourself, "I am stronger now. I can reach my goals." Whatever your goals are, whatever you want to change for yourself. It could be a one line mantra, or a paragraph. You can read it from a peice of paper, or record yourself saying such things. I have found that it's better to be simple in your approach. In this alpha state, your subconcious is in an EXTREMELY open and susceptable state. What you hear will sink it, not on a concious level, but a subconcious level. The human mind has infinite power, much of which we are unaware of. But your subconcious plays a bigger role than you think. One main rule to follow is to avoid negative suggestions. Even, "I don't want to fail" should be avoided. Despite this line being positive, the word "fail" you don't even want in your subconcious. This isn't like the movies: you can't perform this exercise and the next day be more motivated. But if you spend 30 days of performing this once per day, you will be extremely surprised at the change that occurs.
This is the hardest of the three exercises, but the most rewarding. This is a major part in martial arts practice, especially internal kung fu which I have practiced. The idea is to have INTENTION, to visualize what is happening so vividly (which can be achieved once you have quieted your mind through the induction) that it affects your physical. I've found while performing this exercise, I will sweat very perfusely. I'm going to outline a few of these visualizations.
1. Imagine you walk into the gym, feeling more powerful than you ever have. It's like Hercules just gave you his strength, Atlas asked you for help lifting the world. You lay on the bench, knowing that no matter how much weight is on the bar, you will lift it with ease. Imagine, in great detail, everything about the exercise, as if you are truly performing it. Remember the feeling, the smells, the noises. Imagine you are doing a weight heavier than your capable of, with ease, as if looking into the future. As you finish your exercise, move onto the next. It should resemble your workout, and take just as long. You are strengthing your nuerons and your brains connections to your muscles. You are also empowering yourself. Best of all, your imagination is limitless: you can do whatever you WILL in your mind.
2. This exercise should be performed while standing. Have your eyes open, and stand so that your completely relaxed. Imagine your muscles are like a leather jacket on a coat-rack, being supported by your bones and tendons. While maintaining relaxation at all times, hold your hands facing palms up, as if your in mid-curl with a barbell. Visualize two stones, or two PLANETS in your hands. They are extremely heavy, yet your hands do not go down. You can actually FEEL how heavy they are, in your mind. Maintain that posture for 10 minutes. This is biofeedback. Your now physically interacting with your mind, strengthing the connection even further.
3. This is like the previous exercise, only your holding your hands out - elbows bent - as if you are pushing a car. Imagine you are pushing a car that ran out of gas. ONLY IN YOUR MIND. Do not strain or flex any muscle. You feel the weight of the car pushing onto you, yet you can not be moved. Imagine you are holding the car from falling down a hill. The sky is the limit, and you can get creative with these.
4. The forth exercise is one that should be performed while exercising. It does not need to be practiced after meditation. While you are doing bench press - let's say - visualize and command the weight to be pushed up. Picture you are throwing the bar through the ceiling. You don't even think about pressing the bar. All your thinking about is the ceiling. This small trick has been known to add pounds to an exercise on the spot. It's the same principle as a mother lifting a car off her child - MIND OVER MUSCLES.
5. Ive found this on a forum, the person who wrote it is named IAM (forum handle); and is called the Solar Grounding Exercise. This exercise should be performed laying flat on a bed, or sitting in a char. Having your eyes closed, imagine you are god size. The size of the universe. Imagine your RIGHT is planted firmly on the sun. Your left foot should be firmly planted on the earth. When you inhale, imagine you draw the energy from the sun up through your right leg. On exhale, imagine the energy goes down your left leg and is grounded in the Earth. At first it will be hard to focus, but try your best. I won't tell you what your supposed to fell, as you may imagine the results. But let me say, the results will AMAZE you, and your energy will be significantly increased. The first time I did this, the result was so strong I had to stop because it was so powerful.
The simple fact is, many of us weight lifters and athletes put almost 100% more emphasis into physical training, rather than using our minds. Until now, perhaps you weren't aware of the mind's potential to affect your physical. Maybe you thought the closest you could get was to pump yourself up, to get into a positive mindset. With the right techniques, you can increase your strength outside of the gym, while in the most relaxed state you've ever been in. Remember, rest is one-third of your results. This will help you rest better, as your teaching yourself how to relax. How many posts have I seen on this forum of people being unable to fall asleep at night, simply because they can't shut the mind off and fall asleep? Scientists say we only use a small percentage of our brain. These exercises, your actually opening up parts of the brain that were on "autopilot" most of your life. Your willing and manipulating yourself, as we do in bodybuildng, to perform better. Not only will your energy go up, your results in the gym get better... you will also perform better in LIFE, because you are training your mind to focus on one thing.
Scientists have also proved there is no such thing as MULTITASKING. Your brain can only do one thing at a time. What your essentially doing when you multi-task, is switching your attention back and forth. A controlled ADD if you will. In these exercises, your learning that once you improve your ability to focus, AMAZING things will happen. Your training your willpower and intention, by focusing on the hypnosis induction, the visualization, the suggestions. This is essentially meditation. Buddhists don't just meditate when they sit quietly in the lotus posture. They meditate constantly. When you eat, your mind isn't wandering, your thinking of chewing, tasting, swallowing. When you focus on the task at hand, you will find your able to perform what your doing better. You've already experienced this. Having an "off-day" at the gym, psyching yourself out by a heavy-bar, your unable to lift what your capable of doing.
Give these exercises a try. What do you have to lose?