Derick Luu is a Canadian junior powerlifter in 66 kg weight class in the CPU. He has set multiple provincial and national records as a 59 kg lifter and has also placed second in the 66 kg Junior division in the 2017 CPU National Championships. We asked him to write a blog for us about his mental game because whenever we shot and covered him at meets, there was an aura and vibe that was different and made him stood out against his competition. His attitude and the way he approached each lift was very unique - we wanted to learn more about the way he lifted and his mental approach and he was kind enough to share his thoughts regarding mental game in competition. The following body of text belongs to Derrick and all credit goes to him. Hope you guys enjoy!
Every time I step on the platform, I knew that I was physically ready. All the physical hard work has been done: the peak, the weight cut and even meet day rehydration. I also knew that everybody else competing was physically ready.
But I always felt that I had an advantage over my competitors. Something that I started many weeks in advanced before the meet. Something else I was able to train besides my body. Something that would allow me to compete at my best and made me feel more than just physically ready. I was mentally ready.
I believe that the mental aspects of powerlifting can be sometimes underutilized and just like your body can be trained. Sports psychology researchers Weinberg and Gould (2011) defined mental skills training as the systematic and consistent practice of mental or psychological skills for the purpose of enhancing performance, increasing enjoyment, or achieving greater self-satisfaction. In this case, mental skills training refers to training the mind to ensure that you are mentally prepared to dominate on the platform.
I’d like to share you with you the techniques I use as I mentally train for a meet. I am not guaranteeing you that you will obliterate your competition, win IPF world’s or that you don’t have to physically train at all, but I am strongly confident that you will maximize your full potential on the platform and perform better than if you were to not do any mental preparation at all.
“I’ve pictured this a thousand times in my head already. This time is no different”
Visualization or mental imagery is a powerful tool. I remember doing some form of this technique when I was running for the track team in high school. I didn’t know what I was actually doing nor did I know that it was helping me. I was just so nervous and excited for my track meets that I started picturing things like how the track would look like, what I would be wearing on race day, how the clothes would feel on my back, the cheering from the audience and the wind blistering against my face. I would just lie down in bed thinking about this and my heart would start beating fast and I would actually start sweating. This was no different from when I signed up for my first powerlifting meet.
To maximize this technique I’m going to break it down into 5 components. You use these 5 things every day and they are a part of human evolution. They are your human senses.
I try to picture it my head, as clearly as possible EVERYTHING that will happen on meet day from weigh-ins to when my last deadlift hits the floor. I picture how the venue looks like. Most meets take place in a hotel so I try to picture that. If you don’t know how the venue looks like you can always look it up online or follow the meet directors social media as they may post the venue getting set up. Next, I like to picture myself stepping on a scale in front of a judge, making weight, smashing my electrolyte drink and settling in as I wait for warm-ups to start. I picture how my warm-ups are going to be like, I know what weights I’m going to use, what kind of plates will they be using whether it’d be Eliko, Titex, Ivanko, Rogue, Challenge or whatever competition plates is used, I like to visualize the actual colors and how the weights look on the bar since each brand have different shades of colors for their plates. I picture how great warm-ups are going to feel and more importantly, I picture myself making my lifts and getting 3 white lights. I try to picture everything about my squat, bench and deadlift from the setup to finish.
What I AVOID doing is picturing a heavy weight or PR I’m going to attempt and failing. All that’s going to do is set myself up for failure and if I start feeding my mind failure, Ill start to believe in it. When I start to believe in it, it’ll eventually happen.
I like to also picture how everything will FEEL on meet day. How the carpet will feel like as I walk through the hotel or meet venue and how it’ll feel like on the platform, how refreshing it will be to drink my electrolyte drink after dehydrating myself for the weight cut, how bloated I’ll feel after replenishing back my fluids and taking in copious amount of sodium and carbs. I like to picture how it’ll feel when I grab onto the cold, rough, steel, chalked up barbell, how my singlet will feel like around my body, how tight my knee sleeves and wrist wraps will feel, how my squat and flat shoes will feel, how thick my socks will feel, how my shirt will feel, how uncomfortable my IPF approved underwear will feel (only guys will understand - serious), how heavy the weights feel on my back and in my hands and how happy I’ll feel when I make that PR I’ve been training so hard to get.
C. Smell and Taste
A little weird I know, but I try to visualize how the meet will smell like, a bunch of sweaty powerlifters, particles of chalk and smelling salts floating in the air.
Again, a little weird but I like to picture how my post weight ins foods will taste like on the day of my meet. Oh, and the taste of victory.
Will the meet have music playing? I’ll picture that, if not then I’ll picture silence. I’ll imagine my name getting called, “The bar is loaded for Derick Luu xxxKg/lbs!”, the voice of the judges giving me commands and the sound of the audience yelling as I get hyped up or as I struggle through a lift. I like to also picture what type of music I’m going to be listening to and how that music will make me feel. My personal favorites are metalcore, epic orchestral/choir music, and motivational speeches where some random angry person is yelling at me which are usually filled with positive messages. This gets me to my next mental technique: positive self-talk.
2. Positive Self-Talk
I like to tell myself that I WILL l squat, bench and deadlift x amount of weight. I try to avoid saying things like “I hope I hit this” but rather “I can hit this and I will”. Positive self talk helps me to build confidence, stay focused, and reduce anxiety. I say this not only in my head but also out loud to myself.
For those who have ever competed with me you might have seen me uttering words under my breathe with my head phones in. I also give myself positive affirmation when I’m on the platform. As I hype myself up I yell things like, “I GOT THIS” or “THIS IS MINE”. If you’ve ever watched me compete and hyped up it usually just sounds like gibberish or like I’m auditioning for my favorite metal band.
I also like to play around with certain words that I choose to tell myself. If I’m worried about dropping the bar on the deadlifts due to grip, I don’t tell myself, “Don’t drop the bar”, instead I tell myself, “I will hold this, just squeeze the bar as hard as you can and hold it”. It is important to fill yourself with positive feelings and emotions as I found that to be less stressful and helps me to build confidence than worrying about negative side of things and that starts with your language and how you talk to yourself.
Imagine this, Derick #1 says to himself, “Man, I don’t know if I feel ready. What if the judges are really strict? What if I miss weight? What if I injure myself on the platform? My deadlift training hasn’t been going well at all, what If I drop all my attempts and bomb out?”. Derick #2 says to himself, “Man, I am ready. All the training and hard work has been done. I’m going to do my best and know that I’ll hit some PR’s. All I need is a good night's sleep and show everyone what I’m made of”.
Who do you think will have a better meet? It you say Derick #2 then you are correct. If you say Derick #1, well…I don’t want to say you’re wrong, but you’re probably wrong.
So there’s no point in worrying about what might go wrong. All that will do is increase your stress and set you up for failure. Instead, focus on what you can control and what the things you will do right.
The last thing I’d like to share is self-efficacy which has been developed and defined in the field of sports psychology as one’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. It’s also a fancy word for self-belief. This is something I still continue to struggle with to this day but it’s something I’m working towards and it’s a quality that all the greatest athletes in the world have. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself when things aren’t going your way. Training doesn’t go well or you had a bad meet, things didn’t go the way you expected them to go and you start to doubt yourself. But that’s okay. These things will happen, that’s simply a part of life. There are going to be hills and valleys that you’re going have to climb over and usually the higher you try to climb, the tougher it’ll be, and the farther down you might fall. But if you keep climbing higher and higher, the more breathe-taking the view becomes and you’ll eventually see the beauty of your struggles.
One of my favorite powerlifters once said, “I just put my mind to things and work incredibly hard to get it. I think that no matter what you do in life, whether its athletics, work or anything, if you truly believe in yourself, work hard, and just have this really deep sense of belief that you will accomplish it eventually."
I hope that I may have helped someone reading this. These are some of my mental strategies and tools that I use and what I found worked for me since beginning my journey in powerlifting. If you’d like to learn more, I have a “Mental skills manual for powerlifting” which was an assignment I did for my advanced sports psychology class and is backed up with sports psychology science and research during my undergraduate degree. Shoot me a message with your e-mail and I’d be more than happy sending you a PDF file of it. Feel free to message me on Instagram @cheezeboyy or add me on Facebook if you want to talk to me about mentality and powerlifting. I love talking about this stuff!