Written by: Kevin Cann
The strength sports and Crossfit are more popular now than they ever have been. With one calendar year ending and another beginning, even more people will begin their journey into these sports. This makes this as good of a time as any to take a look at the psychological aspect of competing in strength sports. This is an often overlooked aspect of training from more advanced lifters and can be extremely difficult to handle as a beginner or novice lifter.
Last June Boris Sheiko and Mikhail Kokylaev came to Total Performance Sports to give their first ever seminar on American soil. The Sheiko program is very different from many programs as it utilizes smaller weights and higher volume. Sheiko, being from Russia, brings another different aspect to the table. That difference is with the psychology in how they approach the sport.
Go into any gym in America where they allow you to lift heavy things and you will undoubtedly see someone slamming weights on the ground and yelling loud enough for everyone to look over. I do not get the attention seeking behavior here, because this person is sure to blast this video on Instagram with a million hash tags, but that is a story for another day.
At the seminar I watched Kokylaev pick up and put down 675lbs without him or the weights even making a noise. He then went on to explain that when they train in Russia, they respect the bar. They do not slam it down on the ground and they do not step over it between sets. At first, I thought this was a bit odd, but with an explanation it made more sense, especially with my background in sports.
He asked the attendees if they would step over a training partner or an opponent if they were lying on the ground. The majority of the people in the audience were shaking their head no. Kokylaev explained that the bar is a training partner and sometimes an opponent.
He then went on to explain his first experience with this. He was new to his gym and a novice lifter. He was doing clean pulls and upon finishing his set he stepped over the bar. This upset a lot of the more experienced lifters in the gym and they told him that he should not show the bar disrespect. They told him that he had the choice of crawling under the bar, or lifting it up and walking under it as he dropped it behind his head.
Kokylaev was doing clean pulls, so this was a heavy weight. In fact, it was a weight he had never lifted overhead before. He was able to get it up just high enough to sneak under it and drop it behind him. He respected that bar from that moment on and the bar and the sport has been very good to him since.
In Russia, he said that some of the lifters believe that showing respect to the bar shows respect to the gods of powerlifting. In Greek mythology, Atlas is the god of Strength. Whether you believe in this superstition or not, it can’t hurt. All I know is that Kokylaev believes in it, respects the bar, and has had a ridiculous amount of success in the sport.
This rule of respecting the bar goes much further than upsetting an ancient Greek god. It has a lot to do with how one approaches training. For one, you should always respect your sport, your gym, and your equipment. This was always drilled into me at every age playing sports growing up. From the time I was 5 years old starting out in sport, to college and beyond, we always shook hands with the opponent after a match. This was to show them respect and it was respectful to the game.
Treating the bar with respect also helps to put the grind of any sport into perspective. As a beginner you will lift and see great improvements on all three of the lifts frequently. These improvements might even be pretty large. However, gains like this do not last forever.
On those good days the bar is a training partner. However, there are times when that bar becomes an opponent. You will go into the gym one day, feeling confident, only soon to realize on this day you can’t even lift what you used to be able to lift. Nothing has changed with diet and training, but today the weight just feels heavier.
I have seen this happen many times and the lifter gets extremely frustrated. If this is you, try looking at the bar as an opponent on that day. Every great champion eventually loses (except for Marciano). When these great champions lost, they worked harder and made the adjustments necessary to come back and again become champion. Assess your program, your nutrition, your sleep, and your technique. It always helps to have a good coach in your corner to do this stuff for you.
Understanding the bar can be an opponent can help you before the lift as well. In any sport you come up with a game plan to beat your opponent. Focus on what you need to do to beat the bar with that weight on it. When you practice this type of thinking before every lift and it becomes habit, your thoughts will not wander to how much weight is on the bar, but instead on what you need to do to lift it.
If you are undertaking a journey into the strength sports, at some point you will be humbled by the iron. Respect the bar as a training partner and as an opponent. Do not slam it on the ground, step on it, or step over it. This can help readjust your thoughts onto how you think about the sport. It is a sport, and like any sport there are winners and losers. However, the lifters in your weight class are not your only competition, for the majority of the lifts you take it will be the bar. When the bar wins, acknowledge that it won and make the adjustments necessary to come back and beat it. Also, it can’t hurt to treat the bar with respect. Who knows maybe the whole “do not upset the gods” thing is true after all.