It’s generally thought that being more amped up, means more weight on the bar and a better lift. This is true, SOME OF THE TIME. With any seasoned lifter, it only seems advantageous to get hyped, pump yourself up and crush your workout. Heck, there are even powerlifting PR soundtracks packed full of heavy metal and Batman soundtracks to put you in that state of mind. There are then of course those who take this too far to the extreme…
Anyone who has trained individuals from the ground up knows that you can’t pump up the newbs for training the same way that you can veteran lifters. Well… you can, but it may look something like this:
Getting a newbie hyped will often times give them misconceptions about their own ability and cloud their judgement of what they should be doing. The internet is full of montages to prove this. It will also ensure that they just have a hard time learning the new movement in general, according to the Inverted U Theory.
The Inverted U Theory
Have you ever been looking for something when driving and instinctively turn the music down when you know you’re close, almost as if the loud noise would somehow hide what should be in plain sight? This seems pointless and silly, right? It also seems like that same idea would have nothing to do with getting better at lifting heavy things. Both are wrong. The reason for this, is you are adjusting your arousal level
I know hearing me talk about your arousal levels is kinda weird. But the definition for arousal is: “A general physiological and psychological activation of the organism that varies on a continuum of deep sleep to intense excitement.” To keep the rest of this blog from sounding morally questionable, I’ll be subbing arousal out for other synonyms like excitement when I can.
The Inverted U Theory states that for every task, there is an optimal level of arousal. Meaning that if the individuals becomes too excited, it could potentially hinder their performance. Tasks that are heavily influenced by things like fine motor control, decision making, and attentional requirements generally require less excitement for optimum performance. Today, we’re going to be looking at it from a strength training point of view, but this can easily be used within any sport.
To try to decipher the correct excitement level for a skill, you first need to consider the experience and ability of the individual. If I have little Billy-Bob on his first day of learning how to squat, I’m going to prefer to not have him too amped up so that he can pay attention to my cues and focus on the movement. If he had too much Mountain Dew or his friends start hyping him up before his first set, you can bet that I’m going to have a heck of a time getting this kid to focus on the finer points dropping it low. This will be the case until he becomes autonomous and skilled with the movement, making it second nature for him. Once that occurs, little Billy-Bob can pump up the music, chug some Dew and get hyped to squat to his little heart’s content. In this way the apex for the individual on the inverted U is going to always change as they become more skilled. They will be ab able to get more pumped and use that extra energy correctly.
On the other side of the spectrum we’ve all dealt with the individuals that have the ability, but are lacking the drive. The notion of putting more weight on the bar does little to drive more effort in their session. These individuals may actually need a little more pep in their step to be performing optimally. Raising their arousal level will help with their workout and skill acquisition for the session.
The exercise being executed is important to note in regards to technicality. I’m going to psyche myself up way more for a heavy deadlift than I am a heavy Turkish Get Up. In fact, some days I’ve even had to bring myself down to better execute my TGUs. My current get-up PR of 130lbs actually came from a session of listening to Phantogram and doing breathing resets between sets.
With that being said, even some of the less technical lifts can be over-hyped in execution. This may not necessarily result in a poor lift, but it does result in wasted energy. The amount of mental effort that it can take to get yourself hyped for each set can take that much more out of you without adding anything to the workload. It becomes a skill on how to identify the needed excitement level for each movement and is definitely something worth thinking about during your next training session.
Applying it in your own training:
Applying these ideas to your own training is actually easier said than done. I try to keep this in mind fairly often in my training and I have seen many benefits to it. Days that I have more skill-based movements, I generally have more breathing-based core work to help keep me from getting ahead of myself. I also make sure that these are the days I put on a more steady style music. This all helps me to maintain more internal focus and allows for me to more easily better my technique. It’s also a great model for active recovery days as the next day I feel great.
For days where it’s time to just rip heavy things off the floor I go with a different approach. I’ll blare some, “Rage Against The Machine” and go to town. I’ll occasionally talk to myself (shut up, it’s not weird) and I’ll hype myself up whenever I’m coming up to a challenging set. If I feel like something may be feeling off, I’ll grab another coach and have them watch the lift I’ll then calm myself down and focus on whatever advice they gave me for the remaining sets rather than keeping myself hyped and still pounding away. You are your own hardest person to pull back and I’ve learned the cost of not doing so at appropriate time. It’s hard to swerve back onto the road when you’re still flooring the gas pedal. So even if the training session is feeling great, if there’s a problem, pull yourself back and fix it.
Applying it in a Trainee’s Session
Knowing what level of excitement the trainee should have is one thing, getting them there is the other half to the puzzle. To amp them up, which is way easier in my opinion, you can do any of the following:
Raise your voice and own level of intensity- First and Foremost
Slap them on the back
Blare some of THEIR music - I actually know a guy who gets pumped to lift with acoustic guitar solos
Do your Ronnie Coleman impression and yell, “Yea-buddy” or, “Light weight!” - my personal fave
Bet with them -yes I constantly lose bets with my clients.. it’s almost as if I knew they could do what I bet them they couldn’t….
Bringing them back down to work on skill development is a whole ‘nother beast. Once someone is pumped up, they seem to like to stay in the heightened state. This goes double for if you ever have the misfortune of getting a new client that’s already riding the pre-workout supplement train. It’s awesome to have clients that are raring to go, but if you can’t get them to respond to your cues try any of the following first:
Breathing Drills - Yet again they answer another problem
Calmer music - I usually go with Pink Floyd or Phantogam
Temporarily distract them - I know this sounds like taboo for a training session, but if they don’t seem to be adhering to your cues and are just off, you probably need to pull them back. Ask about their family or something close to them to get them out of the intense state of mind. Then revisit the exercise.
Make ‘em walk- If someone’s got too many ants in their pants, I’ll have them do a quick lap around the gym, then they’re usually at a more coachable level when they get back.
With all of this, everyone is going to have their own level at which they perform best. A good coach or trainer should be able to identify this and match their coaching to it. Doing so will only expedite their results and progress them quicker.
Having intensity in the weight room is a good thing, but being intense and amped without already having mastered the required skills is almost always a wasted effort. If you haven’t mastered the movement, you have not yet earned the right to slap yourself to get psyched and crush the bar. Even if you do have the movement down pat, if anything ever feels off, pull yourself back and spend a session or two greasing the groove at the appropriate level of excitement for skill-building. Manipulating the environment through your own presence and the music can have incredible results on the energy level of your trainees. In fact there are several studies out on the effects music can have on an individual for learning new skills. Just like everything else, it’s a tool in your toolbox to make yourself and others better.