Relaxing into PRs
by Myles Kantor
Readers might recall the 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, about child chess master Josh Waitzkin. In his 2007 book The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence, Waitzkin describes his transition from chess master to martial arts world champion.
Toward the end of his competitive chess career, Waitzkin visited LGE Performance Systems in Orlando, Florida (now known as the Human Performance Institute). Sports psychologists there taught Waitzkin about the benefits of relaxing during competition. He applied this in subsequent tournaments and describes the results:
"The notion that I didn't have to hold myself in a state of feverish concentration every second of a chess game was a huge liberation. Instead of feeling obligated to feel completely focused on the chess position while my opponent thought, I began to let my mind release some of the tension...Immediately I started noticing improvement in my play."
One finds a similar pattern of constructive relaxation among elite powerlifters. Larry Pacifico remarks in the documentary Power Unlimited about his competitive style, "I was kind of laid back and easygoing. Inside me, I was ready." Ed Coan states, "I'm a little more calm and reserved, until right when I have to lift."
In his book Inner Strength, Inner Peace, Tim McClellan discusses coaching Mike Bridges at WDFPF Worlds in 1989. "He knew exact weights to choose and sat in a somewhat unnerving, calm manner between lifts," McClellan writes.
Today's elite lifters often display this frame of mind as well. USAPL women's world team head coach Matt Gary notes of Russian IPF lifters, "Many of them appear to be almost trance-like between attempts. It's as if they're sleeping."
Waitzkin writes how "relaxation is just a blink away from full awareness." The mental freshness enabled by that relaxation can mean a PR lift instead of a mystifying third attempt miss.
Myles Kantor has coached elite powerlifters and written about the sport for Powerlifting Watch, Elite Fitness Systems, and other publications.
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