Decoding the Mind Equals Muscle - One Must Believe to Achieve

Mind Equals Muscle

Take Advantage of all Avenues for Bodybuilding Growth

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What do you suppose is the reason people achieve great success in life, while so many others merely dream about it? I hope you don't think luck is the overriding factor that determines what course your life takes. If so, you may very well spend the rest of your days waiting for a billion dollars to fall out of the sky, into your lap.

Ben White, 2007 USA champion, put the case most simply when he declared the world is made up of "dreamers" and "doers." The dreamers have the same desire as the doers - love, wealth, fame and happiness - but they don't do anything about attaining them. They believe events just happen, and fortunes are out of their control. Doers don't sit back and wait for good fortune to rain down on them. They go out and make it happen. Doers know that if they set goals, come up with plans to achieve them, and are willing to work hard and do what's required, they can do or be anything they want to.

If you are wondering what on earth this has to do with bodybuilding, I'll tell you: Everything! Gifted genetics are wonderful, but far more important is having a strong mind and the will to succeed. Exceptional physiques are built one great workout at a time, and having great workouts on a consistent basis does not happen by accident. It takes preparation, and I don't mean carbing up or calling your training partner to make sure he'll be on time. The types of workouts that build exceptional muscle mass start long before you lay your hands on the iron.


Arnold once said, "Always remember that the body does what the mind tells it to do." Bodybuilding is just as much of a mind game as it is a physical pursuit. Before you can perform at peak capacity with the weights, you have to be in the proper mental state. During his six-year Mr. Olympia reign, Dorian Yates had a preworkout ritual that he followed without fail. He would retreat into his home office 90 minutes before the workout to review his training journal. He then devised and visualized the entire season in his head. In his book with Peter McGough, A Portrait of Dorian Yates, he explains: "What I'm doing is sorting out the workout in my mind, so that by the time I enter the gym, it's like I just have to insert a prerecorded tape."

Three-time pro winner, Branch Warren has a ritual that's slightly different, but equally effective. "I drink a double espresso on the drive to the gym, blasting hard rock music in my Hummer," he told me. "In my head I am seeing the workout. I see the weights, I feel the strain and the pump, I hear the sounds of my effort and the rattle of the plates. By the time I walk through the front door of the gym, I'm ready to attack my workout with no mercy."

Personally, I have found that writing down the workout ahead of time, along with setting exact goals with regards to the weights and reps, goes a long way toward ensuring a productive workout. There are a few other methods to ensure the proper frame of mind. Both Yates and the legendary Tom Platz were known to wear specific items of clothing to train certain bodyparts. Platz was fond of tight red sweatpants when he was squatting, for example. Whether or not you consider such eccentricity to be nothing more than superstition, the point is that it gave these men a mental edge to have better workouts. You can do the same with a certain song or type of music on your iPod or CD player. Even if it's watching a training or contest DVD, or browsing through the pages of MuscleMag before you head off to the gym, anything that flips the "go time" switch in your head is worth doing.


Arnold also said, "Probably the biggest difference between the champions I've known over the years and guys who always stay at a beginner's level is their ability to concentrate, to push themselves hard each set and to train without fear." The amazing fact about Arnold, and even more recent champions like Ronnie, is that between sets they could joke around with their gym mates. Once they started a set, however, they devoted total concentration to the movement and to their muscles. In contrast, Yates would intentionally stare at the floor between sets, as he felt making eye contact with others could break his intense focus on the task at hand. Either style may suit you, but the bottom line is that you have to be "in the moment" during your sets. Nothing else can intrude on your thoughts at these critical times - not your job, your wife or girlfriend, or your thrilling weekend plans.

Intensity is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit and seems to have different meanings depending on whom you talk to, but I think a good definition is the percentage of focus and effort you can channel into your sets. To a bodybuilder, this concept must transcend the mere act of moving the weight from point A to point B. You must consciously feel and see (internally, if not also externally) the muscle contract and stretch, and envision how you want that muscle to look. We all know how Arnold visualized his biceps as jagged mountain peaks when he did his curls. As corny as it might sound to us, he did go on to develop what some still consider the best biceps of all time.


A final component of mental preparation for great workouts is to eliminate doubt and fear. You've already accomplished this goal to a point simply by being a bodybuilder. Average gym members have already given up on the idea of ever owning a superb physique. They make up a laundry list of excuses such as not having unlimited time to spend in the gym, not wanting to use steroids, and not wanting to make eating and taking supplements a full-time job. The reality is that they aren't willing to put out the effort and endure the pain required, so they settle for an average body with a little bit of chest and arms that still make them look better than the fat slobs who don't work out at all.

You have decided to achieve something more rare, that will truly set you apart from the pack. Yet so many bodybuilders never reach their real potential - they don't believe they can ever have the physique they dream of, or they don't train as hard as they should with the most effective exercises out of fear of injury. For every bodybuilder who performs the classics like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses, barbell rows, chins and dips, you can easily find ten more who don't. They are all tough exercises that require very good form to be done safely. That's no reason to neglect these moves or attempt to replace them with inferior machine versions. You must force yourself to do the toughest exercises, and work them as hard as possible. Just when your muscles are burning and your brain is screaming for you to stop, you have to keep pushing.

Some argue the average bodybuilder stops at this point, while the champion presses on. According to Schwarzenegger, "The mind always fails first, not the body. The secret is to make your mind work for you, not against you." Do not fear pain. Embrace it as the sign that you are crossing over into the growth zone and leaving behind the rest of the guys who aren't willing to keep pushing.

You often hear the statement that the mind is the most important muscle in bodybuilding. I tend to agree. Before the weights are hefted, before the muscle gets pumped and before an exceptional physique is created, the mind must prepare the path. Develop your powers of visualization and focus, and the body you want will be within your reach.

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