Stop Robbing yourself of Muscles - Train your Brain to Think

Training your Brain

Pump up your mind.. not your muscles

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So you're raging, intense and extreme about your training. You drive yourself without mercy, demanding the best at all times under all circumstances. Hey, this is bodybuilding. This is how it's done, right? Screw that feeling-good-about-yourself psychobabble. This is about getting huge and shredded. Think so? The fact is that keeping an absolutist, over demanding mindset like this is robbing you of muscle every second you hold onto it Oh-now I have your attention.

Stressing your mind by harboring irrational demands about your performance isn't being nice to yourself. Stress brought on by this type of thinking stimulates the hypothalamus in our brains, which sends messages to the adrenal cortex, which stimulates the production of Cortisol in the bloodstream.

Why should you care about this little physiological tidbit? Cortisol has a catabolic effect on your body. It inhibits the development of muscle. In short, my ragingly extreme-training buddies, your attitude is getting in the way of your pursuit for mass and definition.

"Stressing yourself mentally unnecessarily interferes with muscle gains. Your goal is to optimize the anabolic effects of training. A thought process centered around stressful self-talk can have catabolic effects. You may think it's helpful but you're really robbing Peter to pay Paul," says Dr. Brad Hatfield, sports psychologist and president of the National Society of Sports Psychologists.

Hatfield points out that developing a more mellow outlook on training goes against the core of a lot of bodybuilders. "Let's face it. You've got to be intense to be a bodybuilder. You're not going to get guys to totally let that attitude go. The key is to have balance in your life."

Finding balance may be a bit tricky in the bodybuilder's world, but it is possible. The same discipline and dedication that goes into weight training can also go into developing a new style of thinking and stress management. A style of psychological counseling known as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) fits the needs of the bodybuilder exactly. Instead of sitting down for psychoanalysis, like Tony Soprano, REBT focuses on closely examining the way you talk to yourself.

"When bodybuilders become perfectionistic and absolutist in their thinking, their mindset always leads to self-defeat. They fail to live up to their standards, and the results are procrastination, improper diet, poor training and stress," says Dr. Richard Madden, psychologist and associate fellow of REBT.

World-renowned psychologistDr. Albert Ellis founded REBT. Ellis was trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst but quickly became frustrated watching people free-associate on his couch. He devised REBT because he wanted people to help themselves - and do it quickly.

All of us have a tendency to think in an irrational way. If we miss a day of training, we tell ourselves we will never succeed or have any discipline. If we skip the broiled chicken breast for one meal and instead go for four pounds of deep-fried chicken wings, we not only tell ourselves that we simply made a bad choice but that we are totally no good. The result is paralyzing guilt. The kind of guilt that gets in the way of training.

At the center of what goes on with us emotionally is our belief system. The events which occur in our lives don't get us all screwed up. The damage is from the view we take of those events and what we tell ourselves about them. Humans have a tendency to use all-or-nothing thinking, especially when negative events occur.

Ellis noted four causes in summarizing the roots of emotional disturbance: 1) demanding the world be any other way than the way it is, 2)labeling anything that sucks as awful or terrible, 3)having low tolerance for any type of frustration, and 4)rating yourself as a piece of crap whenever you don't perform optimally.

Anytime you talk to yourself with messages like these you're going to feel angry, guilty, anxious or depressed. These aren't the types of emotional states that lead to positive training experiences.

The trick is to exchange your irrational beliefs for calmer rational ones. That doesn't necessarily mean trying to convince yourself everything is perfect 100 percent of the time. Instead, it is a disciplined thinking style that centers your energy on making the most of situations. Here are some examples of how you can change your beliefs:

Irrational belief: I blew my diet scarfing down four pounds of chicken wings. I suck big time. I have no discipline and I never will! Instead make this a rational belief: I blew my nutrition plan for one meal. I can do better and I need to refocus. Or:

Irrational belief: This nagging injury sucks and I can't stand it. I might as well quit training. Instead make this a rational belief: This injury is a disappointing setback, but I can deal with it. I can focus on other bodyparts for a while.

This new strategy of thinking may seem fake and forced because, honestly, it is. This new attitude takes the same discipline as bodybuilding and will become just as natural. You have to train your mind to respond in a disciplined manner and not in the sloppy, lazy and irrational way as is human nature.

Three-time Mr. Olympia and bodybuilding legend Frank Zane focuses a great deal of time on his thinking and self-talk. He credits much of his success to the time he spent training his mind.

"It's a lot like working out," says Zane. "When I competed for Mr. Olympia I set a goal to say my positive affirmation one million times that year. That's 3,000 times a day. I met that goal and I won the Olympia."

A personal affirmation is a statement you form and repeat over and over to center your mind and focus your motivation. It is an excellent way to concentrate on rational thoughts. "Some good affirmations are statements like 'I've already won,' 'I can feel my waist shrinking,' or 'I'm flexible and can stretch my limits," adds Zane.

Zane feels strongly enough about the process that he incorporates it into his Zane Experience training programs. "Thinking is critical. I believe we become what we are by what we think, what we say, and what we do." Along with positive affirmation practice, Zane incorporates hypnosis and brain-wave technology to calm and focus the mind. It's all part of keeping focused and centered on the right style of thinking.

An excellent example of an athlete who pursues a balanced way of thinking and a balanced lifestyle is NPC superheavyweight and up-and-coming superstar "Mad" Mat Duvall. The year 1999 was supposed to be Duvall's breakthrough year. He was getting the attention of the bodybuilding world and was a sure bet to crack into the IFBB. Then, right before the USAs, he caught a virus. He wound up taking the stage with a 104-degree temperature. The result - he failed to place.

"I went into a depression after that. I had trained too hard and put my whole life into that goal," says Mat. That adversity changed Mat's view of training. "Balance is key," states Mat. "My physique is my career, however I allow myself to be human, even if during the 13 weeks before an event I become a machine."

Duvall illustrates the balance that you need to succeed. He gets incredibly stoked on training, but he remains focused with a balanced view on life. "A lot of bodybuilders are unhappy," says Duvall. "They feel persecuted by the training and the diet, but this is the life we choose. There are a lot of little people hiding in big gorilla suits out there. I get high on keeping my life balanced."

Duvall also notes that bodybuilding is a sport that naturally breeds constant comparison among athletes: "There's quite a bit of insecurity and fear. Everyone is always worried about measuring up."

This type of worry is exactly what takes the joy out of bodybuilding. When you are obsessed with how others look, you aren't concentrating on yourself. The real kickass high in this game is maxing out your own body. Keeping focused on that goal will get you the gains you're looking for, and allow you to have more fun on the way.

Like a set of tough-gainer biceps, your brain will need a lot of reps to show improvement in thinking rationally. Here's a sample A-B-C-D-E formula to train the old noggin'.

Activating event - This is what occurs to get you thinking. (Example - You miss a day of training.)

Belief - This is what you tell yourself about the activating event. (Example - "I suck for missing a training day. I'll never amount to anything. I can't stand myself!")

Consequence - This is the emotion you experience - depression, anger, anxiety, guilt. Here's what you can do about it: Dispute your thinking - Challenge your thoughts to see if they make any real sense. (Example - "How does missing one day mean I'm a loser and will never improve? How does that mean anything more than I just missed a day?")

Effective new strategy - This is the new, more rational self-statement you develop to confront your irrational belief. (Example - "I missed a day and even if that shows a lack of discipline for one day, it doesn't mean I have no discipline or that I'll never improve. Now what can I do to achieve my goals?")

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