When it's really getting tough to stick to your precontest diet because you work in a restaurant with greasy-but-great-smelling food, don't you lust for the life of the full-time athlete, free
from any distractions? When your full schedule forces you to train on clean and jerks at six in the morning-a full four hours before your joints are willing to suffer such torture - don't you
fantasize about being a pampered Eastern Bloc athlete who opens the training day with a 45-minute massage? And when your temples are threatening to burst as you eke out the last couple
centimeters of a PR (personal record) pull, don't you think about how nice it would be if power-lifters made bucks as heavy as their totals?
When the going gets tough and you start to look for the escape hatches, it's always tempting to inflate the demands of school, work, family, friends and everything else that might be competing for your time and attention. And because the vast majority of people who hit iron in the United States are amateurs, it's always tempting to say, "Well, if only I were a pro...." Would you really be cruising down Easy Street then?
Let's see what some relevant psychological research suggests and what we can learn to help you fine-tune your psychological suspension system to absorb any bumps and jolts that might lurk on the road ahead.
Imagine a psychology experiment that aroused hunger, thirst, pain, frustration and aggression in its subjects (if only fatigue had also been included, we might have had a perfect simulation of a workout). And since this was an experiment, the researchers not only tracked how the subjects said they felt, but also measured their actual physiological responses. This was great because it told the researchers how much the experimental subjects thought they were suffering, as well as how much they actually were suffering.
After establishing a base line, the experimental subjects were divided into two groups. The subjects in one group had a good reason to continue their torment, as they were given money, a good explanation or a strong dose of social pressure. The subjects in the other group didn't have a good reason to continue; they just agreed to continue with the experiment after being given a choice. Which group do you think was better able to cope with continued frustration?
Most people guess that the first group would do better; after all, they had even been paid to endure their frustration. Truth is, the second group did much better even though the physiological measures indicated that they actually suffered as much as the first group. What happened, though, is that the second group evidently was able to exert cognitive control over the negative experiences: It was as if the members of the second group had persuaded themselves that the experiences weren't going to be that bad, and so they weren't. Remember that this is purely a between-the-ears phenomenon because their bodies were in just as much torment as the first group. And it really worked.
This means that anyone who trains purely for the money, the glory of winning and all the other trappings of success, is actually less likely to persist in the face of training adversity than the average trainee whose only reward is looking, feeling and being better for his or her efforts. This is why some pros fall apart extremely quickly once they're knocked off their pedestals and why some amateurs just keep plugging away, rain or shine, year in and year out.
Now that you know the theory, how do you put this idea into practice? Just how can you manage the "disadvantages" of amateur-level training and turn them into "advantages" that will help you forge ahead?
1 When you think you are in control, you are. Piles and piles of psychological research demonstrates that if you merely believe you can control a painful stimulus, such as an electric shock, it doesn't hurt as much. Hapless victims, on the other hand, always bleed more.
You choose to walk the path toward improved strength, health and development-nobody forced you to. You were the one who realized that hard work on the basic exercises, although strenuous, would help you meet your bulk and power goals. You were the one who signed up for a stint of 20-rep squats to blast your body to new levels of size. You were the one who decided to diet for razor-sharp cuts and a real shot at the state title.
Just don't ever forget who is responsible for the discomfort of training - you are, and for very good reasons too. Your reasons.
2 Savor your training from the inside out. Remember that guy who used to always make a big deal about his 400-pound bench and how he- being so big and bad-was going to the NFL soon, with an annual tax bill likely to dwarf your five-year earnings? And remember how when he didn't make the cut, he started to get scarce around the gym, and the last time you saw him down there, someone had to haul two and a quarter off of his chest before he suffocated?
You never had NFL aspirations, being realistic about things like your 5'5" stature, but you kept pounding away at both your benches and your career, enjoying both for what they offered. Funny how on the same day you benched 405, guess who came around and cleaned your pool?
3 The tougher you are, the tougher you'll get. Ever notice how when you quit at the eighth rep on what's supposed to be a 12-rep set, on the next set you're down to five, and then you just kiss off the last two sets altogether? And it also works in the other direction: When you get really fired up and crash through a pain barrier, the next pain barrier folds a little easier, and then you pick up momentum and get a sense of being nearly indestructible. You can build up scorn for training pain, and you can build up some functional psychological callouses for other challenges as well.
Even though you had to put in a lot of overtime this past month, you never missed a workout, and by virtue of having stuck with your training through some tough times, you don't even think about breaking training, now or ever. We know an Olympic speed skater who used to shovel sidewalks to earn money when he was growing up. Instead of complaining about this later, he always pointed out how that work helped him become a better skater by making him tougher. Play tough, and you'll get tough.
4 Self-discipline creates time and energy. How many times are you tempted to say, "I can never stick with my contest training and diet while holding down my job and going to school"? If that's what you believe, that's what you'll get. But what you might find instead is that you can use the challenge to develop added self-discipline that sweeps you to new levels of achievement. In fact, you can use self-discipline to tap into a new physics, one in which you can create both time and energy. That's why it's not uncommon for college students who feel overburdened to find that their grades go up and they suddenly have more free time when they take on a part-time job. It's as if the added pressure creates energy by burning up the fat stored in the old system. So instead of making you crumble, the added demands just make you a leaner, meaner machine.
Use these four principles to help manage your daily demands and to integrate your training into the rest of your life. And just in case you're still in doubt about anything amateur having any advantage over anything professional, just remember that the word "amateur" comes from the Latin root for "love." And you know what conquers all.