What follows is an excerpt from StrongFirst's latest publication, The Search for Greatness by Dr. Judd Biasiotto.
The fact that I couldn't push my squat above the 440-pound barrier drove me crazy.
Even my coach got upset with my futility in the squat. I had improved significantly on the bench press and deadlift. Both of those lifts ranked me in the top five in the world, but my squat wouldn't move.
Ben, my coach, kept telling me that my squat was going to be my best lift, and I kept proving him wrong in every meet I entered. Finally, I decided that if I was ever going to do anything in powerlifting, I would have to significantly improve my squat.
Together, Ben and I sat down and devised a game plan. We rearranged my entire training routine so the majority of my time and energy would be used for training that lift, we increased the number of sets I did from eight to fourteen, and we decreased the number of sets I did in the bench press and deadlift from eight to five. We also spent a lot of time trying to perfect my form in the squat.
Perhaps the most drastic change we made was in my mental training. We decided to use all the time I spent in mental training on the squat. In fact, we even increased the time I spent in mental training by twenty minutes. Every day, an hour or so before practice, I hypnotized myself, induced deep relaxation, and mentally rehearsed the squat routine I was to perform that day. I would rehearse the routine at least twenty times before practice. After the mental rehearsal, I listened to tapes designed to increase my confidence and motivation. During my actual workouts, I also used hypnosis and mental rehearsal before I attempted each lift.
Of course, I had always used this type of mental training. The major difference was that I was emphasizing the squat. Before, I used mental rehearsal to go over all three lifts equally. During this time, I mentally rehearsed only the squat. I was, therefore, rehearsing the squat three times more than in the past.
After practice, Ben and I would analyze the videotape records of my practice lifts, paying particularly close attention to my squat. We scrutinized every little detail of the biomechanics. After these filming sessions, I would hypnotize myself and then mentally rehearse what I was going to do at my next meet. During the first week of mental training, I must have visualized myself making at least 10,000 squats. I was that determined to make the program work. And almost immediately, I could feel my squat improving. For the first time I could remember, I was making my squats without much effort.
The fourth week into my training cycle, a strange thing happened. I was working out at the Albany YMCA with Dale Rhoades (an accomplished Olympic lifter and assistant coach for the United States Olympic Team). I was resting between sets when I suddenly saw a vision of myself squatting 470 pounds. Now, I don't believe in clairvoyance or precognition, but that vision was so vivid it was scary. It wasn't just a vision. It was more like a happening! I could feel it, and from that moment on, I knew I could squat 470 pounds. I don't know, maybe it was all the visualization I was doing. Maybe my itty-bitty brain got confused with the amount of weight I was visualizing. Like I said, I don't know why I saw that vision or why it felt so real, but I did experience it and it convinced me that 470 pounds was a doable lift for me.
I told Rhoades what I had experienced, but he passed it off as a case of brain damage. He may have been right, but whatever it was, it convinced me I was going to squat 470 in my next meet. Rhoades was convinced otherwise, so much so that he bet me fifty dollars I wouldn't get within twenty pounds of 470. I couldn't blame him for his skepticism. After all, I had been training for more than six years and I had never squatted more than 440 pounds. Even with my new squat program, Ben and I were only shooting for a 455-pound squat, maybe 460 pounds at best.
For the next eight weeks, I thought of nothing but squatting that 470 pounds. I was totally obsessed with that single thought. It seemed no matter what I was doing, I would eventually end up visualizing myself squatting 470 pounds. I was possessed. I certainly wasn't myself, and by the time the meet rolled around, I was somewhere in The Twilight Zone. It was like being on amphetamines or something even stronger. I was going full blast. I even found myself spending more and more time in my mental training. In fact, I got so good with my biofeedback training that I was now playing musical renditions on the machine by raising and lowering my brainwaves. I was becoming totally awesome. I was scaring myself.
Well, it all paid off because my squat started improving steadily, just like my other lifts had. I was now making near-maximum lifts in the squat with relative ease. I can't say if my improvement was the product of my mental training or the slight adjustments Ben had made in my squatting form. Most likely it was both factors. Whatever it was, it worked. There was no doubt in my mind I was going to win my fifty dollars and, in the process, I was going to prove to the world that I was someone to be respected and feared in the sport of powerlifting.
By the time the meet started, I had convinced Ben to let me open with 435 pounds in the squat. We had been arguing for over a month about what I would open with. Ben wanted me to follow the program we had set up, which would have me opening with 415 pounds and closing with 450 or 455 pounds. He reasoned that the training cycle I had used to prepare for the contest had cycled me for a maximum lift no heavier than 455 pounds.
Although Ben was sure I could handle the 435 pounds, he didn't want me to chance bombing out by opening with too heavy a weight. From a purely logical standpoint, Ben was right. But I wasn't functioning logically-I was running on pure emotion. He could have talked until he was blue in the face. I wasn't buying what he had to say. Besides, I was thinking 470 pounds all the way, not 455, not 460, not 465, but 470. Consequently, I didn't want to burn up energy fooling around with lighter weights. I was going to take it right to the limit this time, and then some. I could feel it. This was going to be my day.
You wouldn't believe how much Ben and I argued over that opening attempt. It was the first time I ever went against one of Ben's decisions. In retrospect, I think it really bothered him. To be honest, it bothered me, too. During our relationship, Ben had always put me first. In truth, he sacrificed his own lifting career to help me do better in mine. More than once, he sat out of competition so he could help me through a meet. I owed him, but I couldn't back off. I knew I could make that lift. There was no doubt in my mind. Ben finally gave in, but not until the very last moment. Even then, I knew he was still against the idea. As always, though, he stood by me.
When it came time for me to lift, I was sky high. I felt like I could walk through walls. When I got to the platform, the 435 pounds on the bar looked like baby weight. I felt larger than the entire platform. Everything seemed to shrink right before my eyes. It was a weird feeling, but it was definitely a feeling of power. I felt awesome. It seemed at the time that everything was revolving around me-as if I were the center of the entire universe.
I remember snatching the weight out of the rack and waiting for the judge's signal. I honestly couldn't feel the weight on my back. It was as if I was totally out of touch with everything. When I got the signal to squat, I did the lift so fast I shocked the heck out of the judges. They couldn't believe it. I was totally convinced after making that lift that the 470 pounds was mine. Consequently, I went right after it.
My second attempt, with the 470 pounds, was an instant replay of my first attempt. In fact, I made the lift look so easy that the head judge, Tommy Bird, stopped me before I left the platform and told me I should attempt the world record. I didn't even know what the squat record was for 132 pounds. Up until that time, my squat was anything but world-record material.
After checking the record book, Bird told me the world record was 480 pounds. The way the 470 pounds went, I was considering 490 or even 500 pounds for my third attempt. Of course, I wasn't going to throw away a chance at a record because of my ego. So, I called for 485 pounds and a chance at setting a new world record. After the bar was loaded, I unracked the weight and stepped back. It felt incredibly light. The attempt was so easy and went so fast that it remains but a blur in my mind. There's no doubt I could have done at least 500 pounds that day. I was just that strong and just that emotionally keyed-up. In fact, if I had known at the time that I was entitled to a fourth lift, I would have taken 500 pounds.
After I made the lift, I had a feeling of exhilaration I had never experienced before. It was as if happiness filled my entire being. That feeling was so intense that it still remains ingrained in my mind to this day. I was so happy that I didn't know what to do with myself. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long. Within seconds, my emotions went from unadulterated euphoria to absolute dysphoria. The next thing I knew, I was crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason. Worse yet, my energy level seemed to dissipate. I felt empty-totally drained. For me, the rest of the meet was uneventful.
After the squat, I couldn't get into the bench press or deadlift. I benched 280 pounds and deadlifted 480 pounds for a total of 1,265 pounds. It was a rather disappointing ending to a phenomenal beginning. Still, I was extremely happy. I had exceeded the world record in what was traditionally my worst lift. Heck, I had good reason to be happy. I had made my weakness my strength and, in the process, established myself as a force to be reckoned with in the sport of powerlifting worldwide.
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