Updated: Feb 23, 2021
Let me set the scene. You’re at British Juniors. You failed your previous deadlift attempt of 220kg and are walking towards the platform for your last attempt of that weight. A successful lift will secure 1st place. You can feel the nerves rushing through your body and some thoughts of doubt are creeping into your head. “You didn’t lift this before, what makes you think you can do it again” and “I don’t think I can do this”. How often have you experienced similar thoughts? And what are the consequences of thinking this way? For some, this can lead to high levels of unhelpful anxiety, debilitatingly low confidence, and ultimately failing the lift attempt. This is because our thoughts, feelings and actions have an interesting relationship with each other. On occasions, how we think can impact how we feel, and how we feel can impact how we act. What if I were to tell you that a potential remedy for this is changing that inner voice? It is a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. By changing what we say to ourselves we can have an impact on how we feel and how we act. This is the basic premise of what is known as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, AKA CBT (but I’ll talk more about that in another blog). For the sake of being brief, this blog will just dive into the use of self-talk and how it can impact strength athletes.
Self-talk can have many functions as you can see on this graphic here. Research has found that motivational self-talk, such as “I can do this”, has been shown to significantly increase muscular strength performance in 70% of studies exploring its use. For example, positively impacting 3-rep max leg extension performance. To add more fuel to motivational self-talk’s fire, it’s use has been suggested to positively impact confidence, effort and anxiety. The impact on these psychological factors, as well as overall performance, goes to show that the words we say either out loud or in our heads, can have a major impact on us. To illustrate the magical impact of motivational self-talk in strength, I want us to take a look at the man, the myth, the legend, Ronnie Coleman. Although he was primarily a bodybuilder (and a big one too), he was also known to lift some HEAVY weights. For example, executing a 800lb (363kg) squat (although I cannot confirm this weight since I wasn’t there, it still looks very heavy to me). His outspoken self-talk (AKA overt self-talk) is just as famous as his name. He has regularly been seen to use motivational self-talk just before lifting incredible weight. Such golden and heavenly motivational self-talk statements include; “Time to bleed”, “Yeaaaah buuuuuddyyyyyy”, “Let’s go baby” and “Lightweight baaaabyyyyyy”, to name a few. This goes to show that motivational self-talk has a purpose within strength performance. As strength athletes, you may be limiting yourself by not using motivational self-talk in competition, and even in training. PSYCH-CHEK’S MENTAL TIPS:
Reflect on what you say to yourself, either out loud or in your head, before you’re about to perform a lift.
Identify whether this self-talk has a helpful or unhelpful impact on your performance and emotions.
Create a list of motivational self-talk statements that have great motivational meaning TO YOU, and select ones to use before executing a lift.
Practice, practice and keep practicing the use of these self-talk statements. Reflect on your use of them and refine them so they’re more personal and impactful for you.
To read other psychology golden nuggets, make sure to visit www.psych-chek.co.uk/articles to see articles like my correct prediction to why Anthony Joshua was able to handle the pressure of his rematch. If you wish to explore the mind of a powerlifter, you can listen to my podcast with British Powerlifter, Hendrick Famutimi.