Mental skills, Eastern martial arts traditions and their application to strength sports
Mental skills, Eastern martial artstraditions and their application tostrength sportsTHIS SERIES HAS BEEN PUBLISHED AT “ISTADIA”, A SPORTS NETWORKTHAT DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE. IT HAS BEEN POSTED FROM DECEMBER2008 TO MARCH 2009. I AM RE-PUBLISHING IT NOWMarília Coutinho (http://www.bodystuff.org – firstname.lastname@example.org)(DECEMBER 12)Strength sports are still a lot about pushing the athlete through the stress curve. I am acompetitive powerlifter and a researcher and I have been looking at this subject from insideand out. From the inside, there are two distinct approaches to achieving the “special maximumstrength” observed in certain meets: the extreme stress-driven performance, with a lot ofscreaming, hitting and other means of enhancing alertness and stress response, and thefocused approach. The latter is less common.With the help of a more experienced and accomplished lifter, I came to adopt the focusedapproach about a year and a half ago. We called it the “white chair thing”. Basically, I spent themoments preceding my turn to lift facing the back of an available white plastic chair, emptyingmy mind. It is hard to claim this is the one or chief reason why my performance leaped toanother level, I broke a couple of national and continental records and visibly improved. Therewere other factors involved.After this event, however, I started systematically searching for evidence in the literature.Besides a very old article from decades ago showing competent Olympic lifters performedmental rehearsal of their lifts in opposition to less competent ones, there was very littlepublished material. The search brought me to martial arts techniques. That, however, is awhole different realm of encoded knowledge. I wanted to understand the concept andapplication of QIGONG training to strength tasks.The only way to do it, it seemed to me, was to learn through practice. I spent one year (fromNovember 2007 to October 2008) learning qigong in a tai-chi-chuan program. During this oneyear, I was frustrated. My performance was irregular, mediocre at competitions and myinjuries were a real impediment.About three weeks after I quit tai-chi-chuan, however, I started applying some qigongtechniques in weight training. The results impressed me. I want to create a self-experiment onthis and record my results. I haven’t been doing this the way I want.
I hope to get some feedback, encouragement and even a little scolding if needed to carry onthis initiative. If I am right, this might be of great help to many athletes who still believe theyneed a lot of stress enhancing devices to achieve good marks.(DECEMBER 9)December 8 – energy and abdomen (update on mental skill experiment) - Meditation – about 10’ - Breathing – very little - Weight training – pecs & triceps general strength, upper back postural - Stretching - FlexibilityDetails 1. It’s been about one week or a little more since I haven’t practiced meditation. It makes a difference. It seems there’s a breakthrough after 5-7 days continuous practice and the curve of tolerance/body need for meditation enters a plateau 2. Zhan-gong – adapted its practice to this experiment. Works better than other martial qigong exercises I tried. Consists of keeping the traditional zhan-gong position combined with breathing and visualization. Inspiration = flow up from the Earth, up legs, following front part of lower abdomen; expiration = flow down from sky, throat, spine, sacral area, turning in and forward as it reaches lower abd. Breathing this way creates a white glowing ball at lower abdomen. Haven’t done it in a while – makes a great difference. 3. Weight training: almost impossible to apply qigong to any workout exercise yesterday. The gym was full and for some reason too many people decided they wanted to assist me. IMPORTANT: must develop ways to focus and apply energy techniques while under the care of others, since this is what actually happens at competitions. Yesterday I could only practice my “thing” on triceps-pulley and parallel bar exercises. Even without a lot of focus, it was quite effective: breathed in and out zhan-gong-like, visualized the glowing ball, contracted the abdomen and pumped about 10 abdominal expirations. Tried to visualized conducting strength to triceps and pecs, eyes closed. Opening the eyes still spoils the effect – I suddenly lose strength.Observation: yesterday was the first exceedingly hot day of the year. I have low blood pressureand felt somewhat dizzy and weak. Even in this condition, “focused” exercises were quitedifferent from “non-focused”. Was able to reach (very briefly) the state of disconnection withthe environment. I suspect this is the key to it.Questions:
- How important it is to contract abdomen - Timing - Team-work (in meets and training, how to deal with team-mates and helpers)(DECEMBER 11)Mental skills personal experiment (3): Interruption – sick days (other comments)December 9th has been the first hot day in São Paulo. Quite a few people are sensitive to thissudden transition and I am one of them. Blurred vision, no appetite, extreme fatigue andmental confusion are only some of the symptoms. I only know I am hungry when my headfeels heavy and I can’t move – some weird hypoglycemic reaction to heat. Have no idea why.For this reason, except for meditating, nothing could be done – especially because I passed outtrying to work out.So let’s talk a little about general principles in this experiment. 1. The relevance of the qigong standing position.Also called “zhang gong” (or zhan zhuang), it is one of qigong’s standing positions. Here is anillustration of one form of going it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhan_zhuangIt seems to me to have evident relations with the Horse Stance in Kung fu(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_stance ). The Wikipedia text above mentions thisrelationship.As a former fencing athlete, I learned that standing positions have more to it than justpracticing stability and balance.First of all, it is a meditation practice. Personally, I feel it is the most effective one. I usually usevisualization with breathing during its practice.I may be wrong, but when I succeeded in practicing zhan zhuang for more than seven or eightdays, I noticed that my body adjusted to more sitted positions, approaching more and morethe Horse Stance (unintentionally).In the beginning, it is hard to stand for more than five or eight minutes. Physical discomfortstarts interfering with the ability to concentrate and we just lose focus. I decided to time theextent to which my body remained standing each day, and it naturally increases.The relevance of doing this alone, in undisturbed environments is, as Rob pointed out earlier,to be able to reproduce it in “real performance” environments. Another explanation, renderingon Eastern knowledge systems, is that this practice is designed to built the strength andstamina that will be used, or employed, in other situations. Just like the charging of a battery,that will later be used to perform work. 2. The relevance of sitted meditation
Whole different ball game, but equally necessary. Makes a difference when focus has to bemaintained under extreme stressful situations (when everybody else is stressed or trying to geteven more stressed). It also seems to make the process of producing the “energy effect”(whatever that is) during strength tasks easier.Tomorrow I must remember to speak about space – for example, the power cage or theplatform as “consecrated ground” where rituals may legitimately be performed. Goodoccasion to discuss the ritual aspect of these practices.OBS – Not only these have been exceedingly hot days, but I accidentally ingested a toxic plant.Not fun.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(JANUARY 3)Mental skills personal experiment (4): Back on trackHaving survived the Holidays, I’m back to my personal experiment.This is the third day I follow the whole plan, including breathing exercises, meditation, zhanzhuan and the scheduled workout. The first day is always a bit hard after I stop for more than aweek, but I believe it is pretty much like training in general: people who have practiced beforehave some sort of “practical memory” and they recover their ability fast. In strength training,people have different (yet not sanctioned by the scientific community) names for this: musclememory, neural memory and others.The only empirical claim that can be made is that previous experience facilitates recovery ofskill performance – whether motor skills, strength or mental (meditation-like).As much as I have prepared my yearly periodization with 4 competitive macro-cycles, I haveincluded the experiment in the daily routine.Yesterday was an easier-to-focus workout than all the previous weeks workouts.Another interesting observation is that meditating AFTER a workout produced much moreintense reactions. I had taken a carbo supplement by Labrada that contains a lot of caffeineand some taurine – that must be taken into account. This supplement usually helps a lot ininter-set recovery during heavy workouts, but I notice it also makes me more alert, withoutgetting agitated or jittery as with other bio-active substances (such as anfetamines or, forother people, ephedrine – ephedrine has no effect on me, I wonder why).Might it be that it also facilitates focus?Visualization became vivid, colors intense, body sensations precise.
Has anyone heard of a synthesizer software called Sharm? You can produce sounds that aresupposed to be focus-enhancers, or sleep-enhancers or whatever. I tried a couple of monthsago and I entered a sort of trace. I was wondering if it could be useful once I start the liftrehearsals. I plan to make them daily routine as well.Enough for today.Tomorrow I’ll post my competition calendar and “regular” workout periodization on my web-site and a link here.(JANUARY 4)Mental skills personal experiment (5): first session of mental rehearsal (ridiculous)Yesterday was not a heavy workout day and I did a number of other thingsrelated to training, mostly physiotherapy and pre-hab stuff.I followed the whole breathing-meditation-zhan-zhuang sequence and itwas pretty ok: lasted a bit longer and less distracted/irritated at zhan-zhuang. Maybe it’s time to start timing my practice.I had decided that it was also the day to start mental rehearsal. It wasreally stupid and there is no excuse for what I did: unlike the “Eastern-approach-mental-skill-translation” issue, where there is virtually noresearch and published material on, mental rehearsal has been studiedand discussed. So… it was not so much an “intuitive” approach I adopted,it was a plainly stupid and careless one.First, I decided to do it at night, before bedtime (!!). I neglected the “smalldetail” concerning physical arousal that results from visualization. I musthave made intense scapular abduction movements, triceps contraction,glutes contraction and isometric contraction of the quadriceps andhamstrings about a hundred times and ended up alert and sleepless.Ridiculous.Second, I did not script the rehearsal conveniently. It went on more likeobsessive thought, re-starting sequences without much planning.As a result, intervening images started to spoil the rehearsal: as I wasvisualizing a squat, for example, I would lose balance and lean forward,
losing the lift. At the bench press, I guess I lost the elbow extensionmovement twice, with a sudden back-kick movement just like the one thatresulted in my accident in 2007 (the bar, loaded with 110kg, was thrownat my face – a couple of friends unacquainted with powerlifting werespotting and didn’t catch the bar – I almost died). Only by the end of therehearsal session did I realize I had to take the mental-“energy”-skill intothe visualization scene. I needed to create a visual description of the Qiexperience. Once I did that, deadlifts were the best part of my “mental”workout.So that’s it for today.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(JANUARY 6)Mental skills and Personal Experiment (7): head-ache and strengthJust a short note today (late).1. Did my mental rehearsal early in the afternoon. I kept fighting theparticipant-observer shifts that seem to come natural. And when I reallyimposed the participant perspective and concentrated on TECHNIQUE, Iended up with an acute head-ache at the end of the lift. I noticed I wasgoing into apnea along the lifts, exactly as real, “presencial” lifts. Maybethis is the reason, since you can repeat the lifts so many times mentally andthat means going into apnea that many times as well.2. When I concentrated instead on the Qi experience, the head-ache waslighter. Also, the experience was more “unreal”, much like a “perfect lift”is in reality (the sudden loss of individuality). No, this I could not achieveyet.
3. Ended the session quite tired and decided to meditate at this time, withthe head-phones and the weird sound. I went into a 20 min trance – verystrange.4. Had texts to finish and then went to the gym. Today was Pilates day – Iam taking Pilates seriously – the basis of his propositions are sound andinteresting. It was the first time I actually felt I could use the power-boxeffectively. After that, I did a short leg workout. Slow and concentratedmovements. Believe it or not, the control level over the movements with afully loaded leg press (haven’t begun the powerlifting macro-cycles yet –still into the adjustment and preparation cycle) was perfect.Jusq´ici, tout va bien… (this is a French joke about a man thrown from atop floor on a building and reporting his fall at every floor – no, I don’tthink this is dangerous… just a joke).focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(JANUARY 9)Mental skills and Personal Experiment (8): soundtrack and the right focusToday I decided to refine my mental rehearsal technique and focused in one specificlift and one specific challenge: the bench press and the chest stop. I believe doing thiswas more productive than going through all the three lifts, creating a full powerliftingmeet mental scene.Many interesting observations:1. I think I found out why the chest stop is a problem, besides the physiological factthat it is a problem (isometric contraction with fully stretched pectoral muscles andloss of elastic strength plus other problems). I think I finally SAW that I fear the cheststop. I am not sure why – it can be a fear of being squished (I don’t think so – neverhappened to me) or a fear of the “strength sink”. That makes me lose control andbecome desperate to lift again. As it became automatic, I lost the consciousness thatwhat lies under this urge to go into concentric phase is FEAR.2. Therefore, I produced a visual image of strength storage during the short chest stopand repeated the mental experience until it became “nice”. One thing powerlifting is
for me, is the second (often the first) greatest source of pleasure. So, there you go:associate the chest stop with pleasure.3. Rehearsing one lift, or even one movement in the lift during the rehearsal session iseasier concerning quenching the “observer” response.4. I did all this listening to my Sharm meditation/whatever synthesized sound. Later,while browsing something on the web, I played my “platform” music – basically twoRamstein songs and DJ Shadow Six Days remix. Well… it was MUCH MUCH easier toperform basically everything, including concentrating in the “participant” role.Probably because I “mental rehearsed” lifting thousands and thousands of timeslistening to that. Might work with War drums or other warrior-like music or (realheavy) heavy metal powerlifters usually enjoy.4. Still a little bit of headache in some finalization movements, but much less than twodays ago.5. Meditation was less effective, no idea why.I did some research in recent medical literature concerning mental rehearse andgathered them here: http://www.bodystuff.org/mentalrehearsalBIB.htmlThere is also a bunch of books about it that I haven’t actually looked at here:http://books.google.com.br/books?uid=9582357440004992726&rview=1This is all for todayfocus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology,weight lifting, weight training, zhan gong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy,focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance, powerlifting, sportspsycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting,(JANUARY 11)Mental skills and Personal Experiment (9): “Power Zhan Zhuang”As a sequence to my last findings, I decided to keep the “industrial, gothic-like, heavy-whatever” soundtrack and extend the background experiment into Zhan Zhuang. 1. I defined the order of items that were to fit into the soundtrack. There was a sort of techno-house music from Camille Jones called “The Creeps” which I always found interesting for “warm-up” focusing. That was the first item. Then obviously Feuer Frei (Rammstein), followed by Ich Will (Rammstein), Feuer Frei again and Six Days.
2. That allowed me to explore my weak point in bench press technique (the chest stop) both raw and equipped. I gave special attention to using the Super Duper and rehearsing the pressure sensation and the resulting carry-over. Not very successful at that. 3. I also tried to create and repeat another serious pitfall in my performance: losing scapular abduction when around maximum load. I reproduced the pressure and joint “discomfort” (I must change this representation) caused by very heavy loads when you first hold the bar – a sort of “sustaining” mental workout. And concentrating in not losing scapular abduction. 4. After that I used something with a high emotional impact on me to relax and finalize the mental rehearsal with the actual “success feeling”: The Queen’s “we’re the champions”. This song was released a little before I was a very successful fencing athlete and it has always been linked to the sensation of climbing the highest podium position. Cool. 5. Done with rehearsing, I moved to another room and did breathing exercises and seated meditation. Very easy. The meditation lasted for about 10 minutes. I might have been anxious because of the next step, already planned. 6. Which was “soundtracked” Zhan Zhuang. This time the sequence was Apocalyptica’s “One”, followed again by Feuer Frei and Six Days. 7. “One” produces results (in any respect) not far from those Classical music does. Very effective for the Zhan Zhuang practice, helped to hold focus into “concentrating” energy and all that. Feuer Frei totally changed the atmosphere, but did not disrupt the exercise. Only I opened my stance and sat lower on the standing position, almost like a horse stance. I sweated a lot and might have unnecessarily contracted the left deltoid. The exercise lasted 12 minutes, which was pretty long considering my previous attempts. The scientific literature seems to be out of consensus as to whether mental rehearsal leads to SKILL LEARNING or SKILL IMPROVEMENT or refinement. Some of the studies suggest that it is really effective in training what the subject already learned “physically”. That makes me think if there isn’t a gradient in this respect and mental rehearsal should become the most effective when synchronically complementing “physical” training.I believe I am refining a framework that will become much more useful once I resumemy proper powerlifting training. I am still in preparation – we must strictly follow ourperiodization for competition, and I have still one more week to go with preparatorymovements. In ten days I shall actually start squatting, benching and deadlifting. Thatis when the real action begins…
focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology,weight lifting, weight training, zhan gong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy,focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance, powerlifting, sportspsycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting,(JANUARY 12)Mental skills and personal experiment (10): sick but strongHot weather and my organism simply don’t match. Yet my house doesn’t have air conditioning(nor my car). Weird thing… it didn’t use to be this hot in São Paulo… I was born here andalthough I haven’t lived here all my life, I used to survive pretty well in the past. I think I’mheaded for some changes – at least concerning air conditioning.I’m sick again, but I feel great except for the fact that I am so dizzy that I have to hold on tothings in order not to fall. We (my friend and I) considered the possibility that this was a resultof a wrong turn in my Qigong workouts. We have re-examined this hypothesis in the light ofmy past reactions to heat: plain terrible, simple as that.It was a nice and quite productive day. My brain works fine and my mood is ok, but the culpritseems to be the choclea: four liters of water weren’t enough to prevent a certain dehydration,it seems.Anyway, I did all my “qigong/mental rehearsal” practice as always, only avoided heavy metalduring Zhan Zhuang and added the “qigong sequence” – a very nice collection of exercisessupposedly efficient to “unblock” energy flow and make you feel better. Since it really mademe feel better, our first hypothesis sounded right. As soon as I moved my head again, though, Inoticed there was a problem with the HEAD, not the MIND.There might be a feedback mechanism there, anyway. This was the worst heat inducedlabirynthitis case I’ve ever had and although it is hot, I’ve had other hot days in my life.Mental rehearsal is getting better and easier, especially concentrating on the “participant”role.Also the strength workout went out fine – it might be just an impression, but the actual loads Idid were slightly higher today and the whole thing felt lighter, while the rest of the gym wascomplaining they were unable to do anything because of the heat. The only thing that waspretty hard was to walk from one place to the other, or move up or down (sitting down,getting up, turning round were all ridiculous).Apart from surviving the heat, the rest went fine today.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting
(JANUARY 18)Mental skills and personal experiment (11): more detailsAfter a few days of total “energy work” rest and some improvement of my labirynthitis, Iresumed the experiment.Today I believe I chose the best sequence: breathing exercises, seated meditation, zhanzhuang and, in the end, mental rehearsal. This sequence seems to provide the best conditionfor each practice, one being preparatory for the other. Meditation after mental rehearsal ishard, since it is quite an arousing and tiring exercise. Mental rehearsal before anything else isdifficult, since I am not sufficiently concentrated.Again I focused on that specific difficulty I had concerning the chest stop. A second insightemerged then: not only I was scared by the expected “energy sink” at that point, but bybecoming anxious to press I was systematically losing control over the eccentric phase. Itoccurred to me during and after this mental rehearsal that I must introduce eccentric“physical” training in my workout routine. Not just sustaining, not just finalization, butsomething rarely done in bench press pre-contest meso-cycles: eccentric over-max training.That I will do tomorrow.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(JANUARY 19)Mental skills and personal experiment (12): getting physicalToday was my first physical powerlifting workout. Benching. Boy, how I missed that bar…These “neural vacations” have been a torture.Apart from real fun, I obviously felt my elbows. Both – more the left than the right one, whichmakes sense: the ugliest injuries had been on the left arm.I am being a good girls and strictly following the periodized spreadsheet. My desire was to loaddisk after disk on that bar, but I controlled it. Which was good, because I then concentrated onthe items I had been “mentally rehearsing” the previous weeks.Guys, it works: the workout today was precisely what I had rehearsed. Even with peopletalking to me the whole time about various issues (we are two days from a course I will teachthe instructors about lifting kinesiology and they are quite anxious), focusing was easy.“Summoning” the imagery I had created during the mental rehearsal was the hardest part, butfeasible.
Before I got inside the power rack for my scheduled workout, accident images kept popping tomy mind. I was troubled by them – I thought they were maybe caused by the videos I chose forthe course. But now I believe the mental rehearsal “intervening thoughts” might have beenthe expression of a fear. After all, I almost died in 2007 with one of these accidents. The actualphysical contact with the bar dismissed them all.Tomorrow will be squatting day. Mental rehearsal today was full of accident “interveningthoughts”. Observation: also in 2007 I broke my tibia while squatting over unstable surface.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(JANUARY 25)Mental skills and personal experiment (13): greater self-awarenessThe first powerlifting week was over yesterday. To be more precise, Friday.The heavy workout days were Monday (bench press), Tuesday (squat) and Friday (deadlift). Ialready reported what happened at the bench press heavy day.The squat day surprised me. Unlike the bench press, in which I believe I lost very little strength,the squat felt heavy. Besides that, I decided to train at the fancy health club that sponsors me,and not at my original team gym. I never actually learned how to properly wrap my knees. Ialways had someone there to do it for me – and they are the best, at Paraisopolis. At thehealth club, I must wrap my own knees. No one knows how to do it and the best they can do iswatch.Tuesday turned out to be a contest between knee wraps and myself, where the wraps hadwere far better prepared. After the second attempt at actually squatting with my ownwrapping, sound common sense indicated I should give up. So, I just called it a day in terms ofheavier training and made it into a “knee wrap training session”. Interesting, though, is that Iwas able to actually concentrate on the work, in spite of the expected frustration with theweight. I was actually pretty satisfied.Wednesday and Thursday were much more complicated. Thursday would be the great day inwhich I would be teaching a course on powerlifting to Physical Educators at the Health Club.The reason for this was a project designed by the general Manager to create a “powerliftingproduct”. It was a lot of responsibility, the product is actually my brain-child and all theadministrative procedures went wrong – it seems we have trodden a few toes. I really have ahard time understanding unspoken confrontation.There was no workout Wednesday, and also no sleep. Thursday became quite a successful andproductive professional day and a total athletic disaster. I managed to do three exercises (I hadtaught four classes, two of them included practical lessons in which I lifted a lot). I didaccomplish the “summoning of mental achievements” into the session itself for the first and
second exercises. The third was irregular and when I started the fourth I realized I was “cold”inside: there was nothing to summon. The bar never left my chest.Friday was deadlift day. A new member of the team decided to learn the lift while I wastraining. That means requesting my attention to teach it. To my surprise, my lifting itself waspretty easy, needing just a few seconds to focus and execute the lift according to what hadbeen previously rehearsed.The level of self-awareness during the lifts is far beyond what I had experienced even on thebest of my past training days. The ability to “look inside” while lifting seems to be natural.The funny thing is that after deliberately quenching and struggling to keep quenched thetendency to become an observer during mental rehearsal, I think I learned to actually observemyself while physically performing an action. I am really not sure about this. Might be just amuch more accurate self-awareness, but my impression is that I had a little movie of myselfperforming the lift while actually doing it…Weird… something to be further explored.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(FEBRUARY 2)Mental skills and personal experiment (14): reporting againI have been silent for a while but not inactive.To be honest, I have been doing very little “homework” (mental rehearsal, meditation andzhan-zhuang ). The workouts, however, have kept a steady improvement. It is increasinglyeasier to focus and “summon” the necessary visual clues to perform the lifts.Maybe this is a period I needed to focus on technique itself. I would much rather attribute thisto lack of personal organization, though. Many things happened at the personal, professionaland athletic levels. That includes illness in my family and the dissolution of the national sportsfederation I supported and competed at.The impact of such an event on any training protocol, including the “mental” one, cannot beunderestimated. It means the virtual disintegration of any long term planning. It sort of leavesyou in a state of suspended animation.Following that, the organization of another organization, political issues involved there andother practical matters took priority over all else, since without them, there is no sport, so tospeak.I hope these next two weeks will bring some stability to everything.
Sincronicities considered, it is amusing that I was procrastinating writing the chapter onperiodization on my book. Recent events have just shown me how flexible a coach must beand how much she must understand principles of non-linear periodization…focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(MARCH 31)Mental skills and personal experiment (15): end of first meso-cycleThe first properly powerlifting meso-cycle ended four weeks ago. I decided to adopt a differentstrategy and divided a 12 week meso-cycle into three blocks. The first block ended last week,with the very-low volume X high-intensity workout, practically a load test. The result was waybeyond our expectations.We needed to interrupt out squat test because the gym was closing, and we were at an easy170kg, which was the objective. We outdid in 7kg the deadlift objective. Unfortunately wedidn`t reach the goal with the bench press due to injury.When my colleague and I discussed the goals for this three-week block, we were a bit insecureas to the loads: we noticed my strength had increased significantly. Therefore, we had noparameters for establishing load percentages (performance levels). We were left with the factthat bellow a certain point was too light, but we doubted the Max (100%) could be highenough for those values to be 80%.That night I decided to use the mental rehearsal techniques I had developed to “turn” ourgoals into a 70-75% performance level. That was the boldest thing my colleague had everheard of. It meant rehearsing for a 100% performance of 210kg squat, 155kg bench press and190kg deadlift.After our tests, we realized the actual 100% for the squat is 225kg, if calculated by my presentperformance. I am not so certain as to the other two lifts, where injury intervenes.Our conclusion is that it has worked: mental rehearsal is efficient in producing substantialincreases in performance which is directly related to neural activation.For the moment, it is hard to advance any other possible implication.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(APRIL 19)
Mental skills and personal experiment (17): negative feedbackI have stopped mental rehearsal for 10 or 15 days. On March 29th I developed a strange illness.According to my physician, it was a flu-like virosis, pretty strong. This Summer has beenparticularly difficult for many of us in Brazil. We had the hottest temperatures in more than sixdecades and I learned the hard way that I suffer from “idiopathic heat intolerance”. By the endof the period when I struggled against heat intolerance, I had interesting results from mymental training.On March 26th and 27th, we tested the protocol through a maximum effort test, which Ireported earlier. This test is quite taxing on the athlete’s immune system, and I might havefailed to take the necessary precautions, such as extra supplementation, feeding andhydration. Yes: I am sure I failed. It had been my birthday and all was a bit out of control. Onthe 28th there was a family party – those long ones – where I definitely failed to feed andsupplement properly, plus had some alcohol (ok, in general, not good after maxing out and notrecovering well). On the 29th I had a very stressful business meeting. By the end of the day Iwas already feeling the virosis symptoms: sinus pain, nasal congestion, a little head-ache.What followed then was unusual: joint pain, sickness and fatigue. I had no strength to makemyself even sit down and meditate. Work was demanding and by the end of the day I feltmiserable.I lost 8lbs of lean mass, measured by bio-conductivity tests. And I lost about 25% of mymaximum strength. I’ve been able to recover some of it on the squat, but not on the benchpress yet. My injury is especially annoying now, as well.Lessons to take home: it seems once you start on this mental training journey, there is nolooking back. The loss was worse than when I had not engaged in any special protocol. Itseems the price to pay for the gains in control acquired from mental practice is that the lossesare equally dramatic.focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting(APRIL 20)Mental skills and personal experiment (17): another athlete’s experienceToday I discussed the effect of having stopped my mental training with my workoutbuddy/coach/partner. He is also experimenting with mental rehearsal and meditation. He toldme he had interrupted his mental training for about a month and resuming it was very hard. Iasked him to describe what he meant by “hard”. He said he was only able to do it twice a weeknow.
I have resumed my mental practice for about 5 days already. It is still “hard”, but in my casethis means: 1. I can endure only short sessions (about 4 minutes for each lift, 12-15 minutestotal); 2. I frequently have headaches; 3. I get those stupid mind-tricks every time again.In my review of the literature I found evidence that mental rehearsal may be useful forlearning new skills (Allami et al 2008) and also that observing others performing or imaginingoneself performing, as an observatory, produces positive effects (Cisek & Kalaska 2004). Thislatter evidence came from animal models (monkeys). I am not sure I agree with themethodological approach: first, in the case where researchers concluded that mental rehearsalis useful for LEARNING a skill, as opposed to IMPROVING or TRAINING it, there was nosituation comparing a group where 100% of the training sessions were on imaginary settings(mental). The smallest amount of overt execution was 25%, which is not negligible. I wouldconclude all these people improved an overtly learned skill.Allami N, Paulignan Y, Brovelli A, Boussaoud D. 2008. Visuo-motor learning with combinationof different rates of motor imagery and physical practice. Exp Brain Res. 2008 Jan;184(1):105-13. Epub 2007 Sep 12.Cisek P, Kalaska JF. 2004. Neural correlates of mental rehearsal in dorsal premotor cortex.Nature. 2004 Oct 21;431(7011):993-6focus, meditation, mental skill, performance, powerlifting, qigong, sports psychology, weight lifting, weight training, zhangong, zhang zhuang, eastern techniques, energy, focus, martial arts, mental rehearsal, mental skills, performance,powerlifting, sports psycholgy, strength sports, stress, tai-chi-chuan, weight lifting