By Dr. Jeremy Girmann
In a previous question submission, Performance Press reader, James, reported that he was stuck at a particular weight on the bench press and that he could not, despite repeated attempts and great effort, push any more weight. He stopped progressing and wants to know how he can break through his plateau.
I could begin by describing various training techniques that are likely to facilitate a bigger bench, however these are fairly difficult to articulate with brevity through text and often necessitate significant individualization.
If you have read the Performance Press since the start of my column, you’re likely to have developed the impression that I like to provide answers that are perhaps less intuitive and that have far-reaching application.
My last column focused largely on the importance of the mind-muscle connection and this month’s question provides an excellent opportunity to expand on the importance of the mind and psychological influence.
I often hear people claim that they could never accomplish a particular feat because they have never been able to do so in the past, or perhaps because nobody has ever been able to accomplish that feat.
Whether considering a personal best bench press, a world record squat, the creation of a new, innovative company, or inventing a revolutionary technology, many people surrender to perceived limitations. They create an artificial barrier that imposes real restrictions that remain until someone redefines the possibilities. We can find examples of this concept throughout history.
Consider Bob Kennedy, the great American distance runner from Westerville, Ohio. Bob became the first American to break the 13-minute barrier for 5,000 meters. After he set this record it stood unsurpassed for 13 years. The accomplishment seemed too grand. Many in America imagined that it would stand for eternity. That is until Dathan Ritzenheim smashed the record by nearly 2 seconds. Shortly thereafter, even more distance runners successfully beat Bob’s record.
Consider also the story of Takeru Kobayashi, a competitive eater who ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes during his rookie appearance at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. This was double the previous record of 25 hot dogs and far greater than what most imagined was even possible. Following Kobayahi’s remarkable demonstration, eating 50 hot dogs became routine for many competitive eaters. The accomplishment was no longer a feat of fantasy.
In cases such as these, the act of witnessing a specific accomplishment was enough to expand the realm of possibility for many. It made the accomplishment more tangible, more practical. As for those who are the first to set the records, they believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that perceived limitations are artificial, irrelevant, and without meaning.
Interestingly, one area of the brain in particular is heavily involved in this process of perceiving our limitations. It’s an area where nuclei connect to form a modulatory system known as the reticular activating system (RAS). This system is responsible for wakefulness and sleep-wake transition. It also serves as a sort of filter between the conscious and unconscious mind. Have you ever been among a group of people with multiple conversations taking place in the background? Most of it is just noise. The content of the conversations hardly registers in your mind until you hear your name. Whether or not the person was referring to you, your brain immediately recognizes the name despite the fact that you were not consciously listening to any other part of the conversation.
Imagine a similar situation occurring when parents of an infant child fall asleep with the radio playing nearby. They will remain asleep despite the music but will wake as soon as they hear their infant make even the slightest noise. The RAS helps the brain to decide what information to focus on and what information to ignore.
Fortunately, the RAS can be trained and is subject to our beliefs. It cannot distinguish between what is real and what is synthetic. As a result, as long as we entirely believe something, the RAS will filter to our consciousness only information that supports and is in alignment with that belief. Have you ever heard that you attract the things that you think about the most? Successful people believe in great success, wealthy people think of themselves as wealthy, healthy people focus on good health, and people who set records on the bench press envision the achievement of that record. They believe completely in the goal, which sets into motion innumerable processes that facilitate that goal coming to fruition. It’s almost as if the universe gets entirely out of our way when we so clearly see the path that we intend to take.
This phenomenon is central to the Parrillo Performance philosophy. Helping others to clearly define goals and instill self-belief was the catalyst for the creation of Parrillo Performance and remains the principal mission that benefits so many athletes.
Whenever you seem to encounter a barrier, rethink the possibilities, redefine your potential, and realize that limitations are often only what we make of them.