A ‘trick’ to increase your lifts
Everyone knows about the power of the mind. Mental attitude and belief are fundamental ingredients when it comes to making things happen, and although obviously there are physical limits, you’ll probably never get near them because you don’t believe that you can.
I’m not saying that ‘if you believe it you can do it’ because that’s patently untrue. That kind of mantra is nice for a kids movie but in reality we all know that talent, circumstances, luck and day-to-day life all play a massive part in determining what we can actually achieve.
What I mean is that often our minds act as a hand brake to the realisation of our physical potential.
So while you can’t do anything by just believing it, you can certainly harness a greater proportion of your potential by ‘overcoming’ your mind.
This is really quite noticeable in the gym. Strength is evidently a physiological output- well-adapted and sturdy muscle fibres contracted harmoniously with one another produce a force that move an object.
However you’ll often find that one day you can lift a certain weight and it feels easy, while one week later it feels hard. You might eat, sleep and rest the same but it feels different. It’s not your Central Nervous System (CNS) because you’ve had adequate rest and you’re not more stressed or tired.
Alternatively you might find yourself stuck on a particular weight for months- ‘hitting a plateau’ in training parlance.
So how do you get over this?
‘Trick’ the mind
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to work in increasing my strength or getting over a plateau (through a lot of trial and error over the years) is to try and ‘trick’ my mind into thinking the weight isn’t so heavy.
It relies on the concept that the ‘weight’ of something is really just a perception. 100 kgs is 100 kgs but it will feel very different to any two people dependent on whether they’ve trained, their size, their experience with a weight like it etc.
All these factors, and many more, add up to how confident they feel when they approach it to pick it up or move it or even think about it.
So the key to lifting more is to make yourself more confident by changing your mind’s perception of the weight.
How can you do this?
The technique I’m going to describe is for intermediate/advanced lifters who have:
a) good knowledge of and well-practiced form for their exercises
b) enough experience to know their bodies and when to quit when their form breaks down
If you’re a beginner don’t worry too much about trying to max out your potential, because you’ve got a whole lot of room to fill before you even get close. Just enjoy the honeymoon period where you can progress well using linear progression of adding weight incrementally week after week. I’m envious of that, trust me.
What I do is a process of over-weighting and back-down sets.
I pretty much just made that name up so I’ll try and explain it to you.
Essentially what I’m trying to do is make my working sets feel lighter by initially working up to a heavy single or double.
Then I strip the ‘overload’ and concentrate on doing my working sets with a weight that normally feels heavy but now feels lighter because I’ve just handled something considerably heavier.
For example, dips and pull-ups.
Dips have always been a good exercise for me and I’ve always been able to add weight using a belt and chain. But for a while I couldn’t get past doing them with more than 40 kgs added for more than 5 reps.
Some days I couldn’t get that, I’d get 3.
I tried doing more triceps exercises, doing them twice a week, once a week, every two weeks, doing negatives etc. It didn’t really make any difference.
How did I break through it eventually?
By over-weighting. Instead of maxing out with the 40 kgs as usual for 5 reps I just warmed up with 2 or 3 then for the next set added another 20 kgs, to make 60 kgs.
I obviously couldn’t do it but I just did a few negatives (lowered myself down as slowly and controlled as possible then jumped up to the start position). Then I took the extra weight off and did my working sets of 40 kgs.
I found that the weight that used to feel pretty heavy now felt considerably better. I felt more confident in approaching it.
It didn’t happen by magic but over time with this method I managed to get my working sets with 40 kgs up to 9-10.
I wasn’t eating any magic formulas, or growing lbs of new muscle to do this. I just changed my minds perception of 40 kgs by making it used to carrying an even heavier weight.
It was as simple as the perspective of taking off weight rather than putting it on. Same target weight, different approach. As a result after 60 kgs 40 seemed light.
The best thing is that in general as your rep strength goes up, so does your absolute strength. So using this method I’m now up to doing 60 kgs for 5-6. 40 kgs is basically a warm-up now.
I’ve done this successfully for most of my other lifts, like squats and pull-ups. I don’t always get as dramatic a result, but I always find that I can do more reps with a weight I used to struggle with.
As I said, this is a great technique but it’s really for those who have a lot of experience and are already moving fairly decent weights.
It’s because it requires you to do more than you’re currently capable of, which can definitely be dangerous if you don’t already have a good idea and understanding of how your particular body works and a lot of experience and practice in performing lifts with good form.
The amount of over-weighting is obviously going to differ depending on you and the exercise- I would never advocate or recommend throwing on 20 kgs more on your near-max squat to try and do this method because that is asking for an injury.
Instead for stuff like that I recommend using a good spotter who knows what they are doing and adding the weight in smaller, but still significant, jumps. Alternatively for the squat what you can do it load up the bar with 20+ kgs more than your usual and just un-rack the bar, hold it for 10 seconds and then re-rack it.
That way you’ll get to feel the weight and get your body used to it without risking your form and your spine by actually squatting down. You’ll still get some of the desired effect of mind-conditioning.
Obviously there are some exercises this doesn’t work on, like the deadlift. However you might find that doing something like heavy shrugs (where you can normally go much heavier than your deadlift because the range of motion is very small) can also help in ‘tricking’ your mind into thinking the same weight feels lighter.
Give it a try. But as always, practice good form, err on the conservative side and don’t expect miracles.
This technique is not going to turn you into superman or dramatically change your physique or your lifting numbers because if you’re a natural intermediate/advanced lifter that just does not happen.
What it will do is help you unlock more of your individual natural genetic potential.
Which could be a lot more than your mind has allowed you to believe.