The psychology involved in bodybuilding is often underestimated and also hardly ever spoken about in depth in the way that is required.
I’ve been involved in competitive sports for most of my life. I played soccer when I was a child, I’ve done Martial arts and competed in the national level and international level.
And alas, I obviously have a very high interest in weight lifting and muscle building. From an early age, one thing I noticed was that the mental aspect was as important as anything else. Yes, you can have the best training routines in the world, the best diet, even the best steroids, but if you don’t have the mentality for it. You simply won’t get anywhere. I’d say this is one of the most important, if not the MOST important aspect of any sport, competitive or not.
UFC middleweight submission machine Rousimar Palhares recently saw a sports psychologist ahead of his UFC 142 clash with Mike Massenzio.
Have you heard of sport psychologists? One of the biggest things in sports now, and it really does work, is getting a psychologist in. “Why?”, you may wonder. Well, put simply, let’s pretend you play soccer. You’re in the champions league final. You have a penalty kick in the 90th minute of extra time. You step up. Run. Shoot. Gooo… Oh… It went wide. You missed it. Your team lost in the final, you are a villain back home. Even worse, you doubt your ability. You doubt yourself. You scored 35 goals in 38 matches last year. This was your best year, but when it mattered most, you missed. Are you as good as they say? If you weren’t playing for one of the best teams in the world, would you be this good? Next time you get a penalty and the match is 0.0 or you need to score to win, will you miss it again? This can be applied to any sport and happens to the best of us. Baseball, you get struck out, American football, you fumble the pass. Rugby, you miss a tackle, other team go.
Mike Tyson, Pele, Babe Ruth, all of these have felt like this. Yet the difference is, they’ve all managed to pull themselves up and keep the fight going. Keep going and win. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails. It’s what makes us stronger, and what makes us GROW!
How many times have you been on a roll and thought “Ah I’ll add 10lbs to the bar” or 5lbs and been unable to hit the reps you aimed for? Or God forbid being unable to move the weight entirely!
All of this has encouraged me to develop the psychological skills that could help me perform better. In this article I’m going to talk about the basics of bodybuilding, psychology wise and introduce a few techniques that I, myself, use and believe to work. I’ve learned these over many years of training.
The basic of bodybuilding for beginners
Or I could call it “Psychology of Bodybuilding 101”, as that’s a far cooler and catchier name, eh? Anyway, I’m going to start with the basics.
So you’ve decided to start bodybuilding. You want to better your physique or you may be one of the guys who feels he has the dedication to even be competing some day, and if this is the case, good on you!
Remember that this requires a big commitment.
Before you join a gym or build your own at home gym and start learning about routines, nutrition and supplements, you need to prepare yourself mentally.
Yes, mentally. This is by far the most important aspect. What’s your diet like now? You eat Mcdonald’s daily? Chew on sweet constantly? You think you’re gonna walk into a gym and start eating chicken, protein powders, and have no temptation? You are thinking wrong! To succeed, you MUST accept that Bodybuilding is a lifestyle, as many have stated before me, so you may want to ask yourself some very important questions first:
1.) What is my main motivation for this?
There are many reasons to start such as health improvement or to lose weight, or feel stronger, or the desire to attract women, even! Hell, if this makes you stay motivated, so be it.
2.) Am I willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve my goals?
You WILL have to cut some food out, you WILL need to say no to a party sometimes and you may even lose a friend or two because you won’t be drinking, smoking, doing weed, or other recreational drugs. Are you willing to make those or any other sacrifices to meet your objectives?
Why would I lose friends? I can tell you from winning numerous championships, you will lose friends. It can be something as simple as your best friend’s girlfriend saying, “Ah you’ve lost a lot of weight,” or “Wow! Can you tell you work out, now!”, but you will find jealousy surrounds you. But look at it this way, billionaires and successful business men surround themselves with successful individuals. If you want to be successful, do the same. Don’t spend time with idiots and losers.
3.) What exactly are these goals?
This may be the most important question of all. You need to set REACHABLE and realistic goals in order to succeed. For example, if you first start and you can bench 60lbs, don’t say “By the end of the year I’m going to bench 400 pounds.” A realistic goal would be, “This is my first 3 months of training, my plan is to put on as much strength/muscle as I can. I want to take my bench to 120 pounds, and within 1 year, hit a 200lb bench.” You should, however, still make sure that they push you to your limits and farther ! This is the key to success. Examples of some other good goals: Drop my body fat by X%, lift Ylbs at a given exercise, gain Z lbs of lean mass, you get the idea. Also set a timeframe for those and intermediate goals to monitor your progress.
Write every of your own answers down in a note book and read them often. When you want that cheeseburger, look at your stomach. When you feel you can’t progress, look at how others have felt in your situation.
I read my motivation and my goals every morning when i get up. This notebook will also be your log where you’ll write everything about your training
4.) What, where, when, who???
Now you are ready to go! Before your start, you need to address these questions: Where am I going to train? When am I going to train? Do I want a partner? (There are positives and downsides to this) If so, where can I find one? How do I train? This is where you go looking for a gym that suits your needs. It’s time to establish a schedule with your training session, school, job, leasure time, meals! It is also a good time to start learning the principle of bodybuilding. You can do so by reading a lot, asking questions to experienced people, getting a personal trainer, etc.
So that should give you the basic guideline for mental preparation if you are starting. Note that if you are an intermediate or advanced bodybuilder and you never took the time to do this, it is never too late! It might be the extra part of your arsenal you need to keep progressing! If you already did this when you started, it is also a good thing to take a look at your answers often and update them!
3 psychological tools
So you’ve been training hard for a couple months or even years now. You’ve gotten big, leaner or maybe not. The following is an introduction of 3 tools that can help you a lot in your quest.
This will make you go: “Duhhh!”, but do you really do this? Do you really go out of your way to educate yourself with the best knowledge possible. Always try to know everything about anything to do with bodybuilding. I.E. Nutrition, supplements, routines, exercices, competitions (if you want to compete, of course). All of these are extremely important. I cannot put emphasis enough on this: LEARN CONSTANTLY. Also don’t be afraid to criticize and doubt!
You must also learn about other fields such as kinesiology, physiotherapy, psychology and neurophysiology! If you know how the mind and body work, you’ve got a big advantage! You’ll know what and why things work!
I get tons of guys saying “it doesn’t matter when you eat, or what you eat or when you take that protein shake or carbs or fats!
Want to know what they all have in common? They are fat or skinny or sometimes a bit of both. You can wobble the individual’s belly and watch it bounce but they have 12 inch arms.
I’m obviously not telling you to write a thesis here, but the bigger your field of knowledge is the better you’ll be at bodybuilding and you’ll be better at recognizing down right crap so that you don’t waste time. You can take every good thing about different theories and blend them as a whole to create one that is adapted to your needs. We always tell kids to stay in school, so I’ll tell you to do the same: keep learning!
This is important and quite easy to use!
I learned everything I know about visualization through many martial art gurus and it has transferred over well into my weight lifting career. I have to say that it’s because of this, that I could run my 40 yards dash at 4,9sec without really training for it.
There are many techniques of visualization but I’ll state the main guideline: if you go through the process in your mind, the actual process will be easier! Here’s a way to start: Write down your routine for the day after and read it a couple of times so that you know it by heart. Then go over each and every reps, sets in your head. Always visualize with a weight a little greater than what you lifted the other session and with ABSOLUTE PERFECT form. Repeat a couple of times during the day. If you train in the evening, I suggest you do this in the day but if your train in the morning, do this the day before. Try to be in a relaxed state when you perform this. A good time is right before bed, if you get good at this, you might even dream your routine Yes. I know this sounds a bit obsessive. But isn’t eating right all the time, training all the time, making a big life change obsessive?
There are other ways visualization can be used but I’ll stick to this one for the 101 article
3- Behavioral conditionning
This is a concept widely used in psychology. The definition is: when a stimulus has a response, adding a different stimulus to the original one will have the subject associate the new stimulus with the response. Example: everyone has heard of the Pavlov dogs: the dogs salivated at the presence of food. Pavlov rang a bell every time food was served. After a while, the dogs salivated at the simple ring of a bell.
You also have positive or negative reinforcement where you reward or punish an action for it to be repeated or not. Example: You want to teach your dog to sit. When he does, you give him a treat: positive reinforcement. You want your puppy to stop releaving himself on the rug. When he does, you tell him off: negative reinforcement. You get the idea here. I suggest using the positive reinforcement in the training case, because you will be the one implementing the reward or punishment.
Examples of how you can incorporate this in training:
- You achieved your goal of losing 10 lbs of fat in two weeks: reward yourself with a junk food item you love!
- You didn’t miss any training session for the past month: buy yourself a CD or something you enjoy!
You get the overall idea.
It can also be applied in the pavlov’s dogs way :
Let’s say you managed to bench press 225lbs X 8 for the first time, note in your head the way you felt right after. The well being, the pride, the congratulation of others. How good it felt to hit a new PR. When you’re going to attempt the weight the next time and when you’ll try a greater weight, try to recreate the same pattern and go through the feelings you had when you accomplished it the first time!
These techniques will not help you make incredible gains, but if applied correctly, can help you make gains and reach your goal faster.
I’ve used these techniques when I played football and I’m still using them when I train. They worked for me. They helped me run faster, lift bigger and bust plateaus. They are like supplements, they won’t compensate for any lack of the basics but they can give you an edge, and a great edge at that!
So that’s it for psychology of bodybuilding 101. I hope it has helped the beginners and more advanced bodybuilders. If i get good feedback, I might write the 201 part, in which I’ll focus more on advanced technique of visualization and the mind-muscle connection everyone is talking about!
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