The Gym Is War: Prepare Your Mental Game

Cogito Ergo Sum: I think therefore I am. These words of wisdom were originally dropped by the philosopher René Descartes at the turn of the 17th century. And through the ages, they have stood the test of time as a to-the-point representation of the power of the human mind. Though Descartes didn’t share our united appreciation for the iron, his fundamental philosophy has unknowingly influenced the performance of successful bodybuilders and powerlifters for decades.

Like the Latin language itself, the mental approach to bodybuilding has long been forgotten by the majority of gym-goers worldwide. The psychological aspect of the iron game is consistently being overlooked in favor of more literal concerns: things like exercise choice, number of sets, and number of reps. Although these things have an important role in our sport, they’re inconsequential if you’re not psychologically prepared to approach them with the mentality indicative of a champion, and more importantly a warrior.

Anyone can go in and “do” five sets of squats. But a set to me and a set to the prepubescent kid sitting at the juice bar are likely two entirely different things. Intensity leads to immensity. A mental state of self-assuring maniacal consciousness needs to be attained before physical limits can be transcended. The mental approach to physical progression continues to be put on the back-burner, as the spiritual warrior now finds his home between the pages of antiquated literature; not in the arena where he belongs.

Bodybuilders, power-lifters, and strength athletes worldwide represent the modern gladiator as they fight for survival in the coliseum of Iron. As such, we as athletes need to approach battle with the same conscious mentality indicative of the warrior of ancient times. Resurrection of this unyielding mindset is imperative to the enrichment of ourselves, and our individual conquests.

How many articles have you recently read on how to mentally prepare for a workout? Or how positive thinking is going to result in optimal performance? If every bodybuilder had the half-ass can’t do attitude of the contemporary gym-goer then every house of iron would be chalk full of hesitant cowards perfectly content to walk the path of mediocrity. Like a ying and a yang, the mental and the physical must cohesively work together in the undeviating realization of goals. The body is only as strong as the mind allows it to be.

I don’t care how good your training program is or how many calories you eat a day, if your head isn’t on tight when you enter the gym to train you’re wasting your time. Self-doubt, apprehensiveness, and reluctance are three tell-tale signs of a weak-minded individual. Overcome these psychological restraints, and you’ll reap the kind of benefits that no new exercise or bullshit training program could ever provide.

Confidence, not cockiness facilitates the road to glory. Believe in yourself, and what your body is capable of. Stand strong in the face of adversity and less than satisfying circumstances. Like a soldier on the eve of battle visualize victory and prepare yourself to take it. The new millennium has diluted the warrior who approaches battle by preparing both mentally, and physically.

The type of psychological and spiritual preparation of days past has lost its value in a contemporary society plagued by mediocrity and failure. Forgotten are the transcendental approaches once used by the Samurai of feudal Japan and the soldiers of ancient Greece. These archaic warriors celebrated the mind-body connection, and they understood that only when the mental and the physical were in cohesion could the actualization of one’s ambitions be fully realized.

Being psychologically prepared to step into the arena and completely dominate any obstacle standing in your way is the benchmark of a true champion. The weight room is your coliseum, your battlefield. If you want glory you need to be mentally prepared to take it.

Every day I see people selling themselves short before they even step foot on the gym floor. Spend five minutes in a locker room, and you’ll be subjected to the type of bitching and complaining that has never, and will never have any relevance inside a venue of personal progression and self-improvement.

I’ve overheard the same meaningless drivel for years, “I had a long day at work, it might not be a good workout tonight,” or my personal favorite, “My shoulder hurts, I should have waited to lift tomorrow.” If you’re going to physically show up to train, you better show up mentally as well. There’s no reward for walking through the gym door, half-assing a workout, and then going home.

If you want to survive in this game leave your self-doubts, regrets, and negativity at the door. Heavy weight won’t sympathize with you because your boss kept you late at work, you missed a meal, or you were not in the mood to train that day. Two-hundred pounds is always going to weigh two-hundred pounds, and if you start making excuses and telling yourself it might be a bad workout for whatever brand of bullshit is on your mind that day, you’re going to get buried. There’s no two ways about it.

How you think is going to dictate how you perform, for better or for worse. If you’re apprehensive about what you came in the gym to do you’re not going to accomplish anything. Stay at home and play video games or go hang out at the mall, because doubtful thinking has no place in the weight room or in life. My boy Rodney Roller said it best, “If you sit back and for one second think, give me an extra spot on this because I don’t know if I got it, you might as well go the hell home because there’s no way you’re gonna get it done.”

Bodybuilding is not a sport for wannabes scared to step up to the plate. Just like in ancient Rome, when you walk into the arena it’s kill or be killed. The iron has no remorse about crushing you, or your dreams. If you want victory, you have to be prepared to take it. Never hesitate. Never question what you’re capable of. You’re stronger than you think, and immortality is on the horizon.

The only person holding you back is yourself.