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You are a Mirror of Your Environment

Surround yourself with negativity, lack of knowledge and a below-average standard of effort and strength and this will likely form part of your mindset and effort. Athletic success is not solely determined by physical prowess; rather, it's a culmination of various factors, including mental resilience, motivation, and the environment in which we as athletes operate. In a solo sport like powerlifting, where we as athletes face individual challenges and pressures, the significance of a conducive environment and robust support system becomes even more pronounced. From a psychological standpoint, understanding and harnessing these elements can be the key to unlocking peak performance and likewise can be the lead weight pulling an athlete down.

The Power of Environment:

Our environment encompasses everything from our physical surroundings to the social and emotional atmosphere in which we as athletes train and compete in. Research consistently shows that environmental factors significantly impact an athlete's psychological state and performance!

The problem with commercial gyms: 

For any powerlifter who’s ever trained their squat, bench, or deadlift at a commercial gym, you'll know what I’m talking about. People in the gym are staring at you if you’re lifting anything even slightly above average. Whilst this isn't inherently a problem, it can be distracting on those harder sessions. On the odd occasion, you'll have your headphones in, they’ll come up to you and ask you questions and want to know what your max bench is, if you compete, how often you compete, etc. It’s just not an environment that’s ideal for consistently improving as a lifter. Think about it, we all have competition out there. How can you expect yourself to give a training session your all, have a good spotter, and stay in the zone if you have strangers approaching you and staring at you during your training session? It's doable, yes, but this is an additional stressor we'd rather be without! Of course, compliments are nice, but compliments on working sets only get you so far and can inflate our egos more than necessary. Commercial gyms also tend to not be very powerlifting friendly so some don’t allow the use of chalk or have appropriate bars or racks, people might complain that you're dropping weights too hard or being too loud etc. You might scare someone unintentionally just existing doing a set that is naturally heavier than a majority of the human population! It’s also very hard to find a good spotter at a commercial gym that won’t touch the bar while you’re benching or who won't explain to you why you're likely to kill yourself under this weight or just a general lack of knowledge around the sport. For this reason, even just visiting powerlifting gyms relatively regularly to expose yourself to the right environment is valuable to help facilitate the growth and support you want to get better. 

Physical Environment:

Training Facility: A well-equipped, organized, and supportive training environment can enhance motivation and focus. Access to necessary equipment and conducive training spaces reduces distractions and fosters a sense of professionalism.

Visual Cues: 

Environmental stimuli, such as motivational posters, quotes, or even the layout of the training area, can influence our mindset and confidence levels. For instance, a clutter-free space with positive affirmations can promote a mindset of determination and success.

The atmosphere: 

The right people will bring the right vibe and intensity to the space you train in - the wrong people will get in the way and impede any sort of positive atmosphere that might be possible. In a good gym, people know each other and are friendly to each other, they don’t all just wander around with headphones on or awkwardly wait for the rack to clear as another person performs their workout. They say hello and generally have a chit-chat with pretty much everyone that uses the space. In a good gym when someone goes for a big lift someone will offer to spot without having to be asked - people will stop to watch and yell encouragement if you need it. In a bad gym, people may be agitated at the fact that you have asked them to spot you and they might even make it a dangerous place to be by trying to come to your rack to get something off it walking spine-shatteringly close to your barbell. Lots of things go into creating a good atmosphere - if you have the right people then this will most likely take care of itself but other things go into getting the training atmosphere right. Getting the music right can be a huge factor in your environment - something that brings people together. Whilst hardcore death metal or trance might work well for some lifters, they are likely to piss off or actively detract from some lifter’s workouts so it is essential to pitch it correctly to the crowd if using a speaker! If you're in a gym where picking the music isn't an option then setting up a good gym playlist on your headphones is a game changer! Getting your training group to come up with a playlist together and playing it at the right level can bring the session to life and organising to meet up around gyms that are in your local area even if it is a bit of a travel that distance can be great for exposure to improve and to increase motivation levels, preventing slumps.

Social Environment:

People make a difference but that doesn't even have to be physically in person, the community that can be found on socials and within coaching clubs is massive. A strong sense of community can provide emotional support, encouragement, and camaraderie. Training alongside like-minded individuals or having a supportive coach fosters a sense of belonging and accountability that is priceless!

Finding Positive Role Models: 

Surrounding oneself with individuals who exemplify dedication, resilience, and success can serve as powerful motivators. Role models inspire us athletes to set higher standards and strive for excellence. 

Emotional Environment

Psychological Safety: 

Feeling safe to express vulnerabilities, seek help, and learn from failures is crucial for our psychological well-being. An environment that promotes open communication and constructive feedback enables us as athletes to address mental barriers and build resilience.

Celebrating Progress: 

Acknowledging and celebrating small victories and milestones cultivates a positive emotional climate. Regular affirmation of progress boosts confidence and reinforces the athlete's belief in their abilities. Celebrating progress and not just the big wins keeps us motivated!

Support Systems in Powerlifting:

Creating an empowering environment in powerlifting involves implementing evidence-based strategies that support the athlete's psychological needs and enhance performance. The powerlifting community can serve as a valuable source of support. Building camaraderie among teammates, connecting with fellow lifters, and participating in supportive training environments fosters a sense of belonging and motivation. Social support networks provide encouragement, accountability, and camaraderie, all of which contribute to overall well-being and performance.

Establishing a Supportive Network

Coach-Athlete Relationship: 

A coach who understands the athlete's individual goals, strengths, and weaknesses can tailor training programs and provide personalized support which in turn fosters a progressive environment!

Peer Support Groups: 

Encouraging collaboration and peer mentoring among athletes fosters a sense of solidarity and collective growth. Group training sessions or online communities can facilitate knowledge sharing and mutual motivation.

Emphasizing Mental Skills Training

Goal Setting: 

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals helps athletes maintain focus and track progress. Regular goal review and adjustment keep athletes motivated and aligned with their objectives.

Visualization and Imagery:

Incorporating mental rehearsal techniques into training enhances confidence and performance. Visualizing successful lifts and overcoming challenges primes the mind for optimal execution during competition.

Promoting Self-Care and Well-being

Rest and Recovery: 

Prioritizing adequate rest, nutrition, and recovery practices is essential for physical and mental health. Balancing intense training with sufficient downtime prevents burnout and optimizes performance.

Stress Management: 

Teaching athletes coping strategies such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation equips us as athletes to handle pre-competition nerves, challenging environments, and adversity effectively.

Ways to get Involved in Communities and Create your own Community in Powerlifting 

Volunteer at Events:

Volunteer at Powerlifting competitions, championships, or local meets. Serving as spotters, loaders, or event staff not only contributes to the smooth operation of competitions but also provides opportunities to connect with fellow lifters, coaches, and officials. If you're able to it's worth studying and qualifying as a referee!

Attend Regional Meetings and Workshops:

Participate in AGMs, workshops, or training camps organized by your local Powerlifting governing body. These events offer valuable opportunities to network with peers, learn from experienced coaches, and stay updated and involved in the latest developments within the sport.

Attend Independent Powerlifting Gyms:

Travel for gyms in your area and a little further out that specialize in powerlifting or have dedicated powerlifting sections. Training alongside other powerlifters provides motivation, support, and opportunities for learning from more experienced lifters.

Get Coaching from an Experienced Established Coaching Team or Powerlifting Club:

Reach out to experienced powerlifters or coaches for mentorship and guidance. Establishing mentor-mentee relationships can accelerate your progress, provide valuable feedback, and offer support throughout your powerlifting journey. Clubs provide a supportive environment for lifters to train together, share resources, and organize group activities such as training sessions, workshops, and social events.

Attend Powerlifting Competitions:

Attend local, regional, or national powerlifting competitions as a spectator to experience the atmosphere and gain insight into the sport. Supporting fellow lifters and witnessing their performances can be inspiring and educational.

In the realm of powerlifting, success is not solely determined by physical strength but also by the psychological fortitude cultivated within a supportive and empowering environment. By recognizing the profound impact of the environment and implementing evidence-based support systems, athletes can harness the power of psychology to unlock their full potential and achieve peak performance on the platform. As the saying goes, "It takes a village," and in the journey of an athlete, the environment and support systems serve as the cornerstone of success.

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