Calm, Cool, and Collected or Raving Lunatic? Which Makes the Better Lifter? Part 1 - Chaos and Pain
Calm, Cool, and Collected or Raving Lunatic?  Which Makes the Better Lifter? Part 1

Calm, Cool, and Collected or Raving Lunatic? Which Makes the Better Lifter? Part 1

Posted by Jamie Lewis on 11 Jul 2018

Every time I have ever run across an article regarding the correct mindset for success in the gym or in sport, it was written with a specific viewpoint in mind is right and any other is patently incorrect. While I will state that I am unequivocally correct in my assertion, it's not because I pick one side or another. The proper mindset when training and competing, whether you are headbutting the hell out of the bar and have a latex-clad dominatrix punting your balls before a lift, the chillest bro anyone's ever seen carve up Jaws in Maui, or ice man-serial-killer-quiet, is not a question with a catch-all answer. Instead, it's entirely dependent upon your personality and mentality.

Half of it is incredibly useful and half of it appears to me to be utter garbage. the latter half made me wonder if I was just much more insane than I knew myself to be.

For years, I had wondered what in the hell people were babbling about regarding the benefits of a cool head in compeition. I've definitely gotten myself overhyped and gotten under squat weights with my legs shaking like my name is Michael J. Fox, but acting like your typical USAPL lifter and listening to some smooth jazz and speaking in entirely PG language never helped anyone do anything other than annoy me in an elevator to my knowledge. In spite of this, people like Bradley Steiner and Frank Zane used to write about the evils of metal and aggression, and Vince Gironda would tear up memberships if people wore headphones in his gym.

At the same time, I knew I liked getting hyped up in the gym and before competition, Lattimer-in-The Program-style, that martial music had been used for millennia to scare the opposition and encourage the combatants, that certain warrior cults would whip themselves into a frenzy for success in battle, and that Muscle and Fitness, Flex, and Muscular Development articles always contradicted the hell out of Ironman magazine's authors by citing studies showing that aggressive music increases performance.

Flower arrangement vs facial rearrangement.  

Holy hell, was I ready to riot at the end of this episode of deadliest warrior.

What aggravated me about this situation most is the fact that no one seems to be willing to concede that there is a middle ground, and as it's obvious to anyone with a working set of eyeballs there is. And that middle ground is very simple- Zen Buddhism, asceticism, and silence works for some people, while freaking the hell out and running around like a maniac so hyped you're bleeding adrenaline and testosterone works for others.

The Science

Getting Pyched / Getting Metal

  • In one study of twenty participants split between men and woman, their five rep bench press tested using "a free-choice psych-up, a cognitive distraction, and an attention-placebo." Peak force recorded after psyching-up was 12% higher in the psych-up group than the distraction, and over 8% from the placebo. Thus, the study showed that if you're a trainee with a year of training under your belt, your peak force on the bench when you're pumped the hell up will be considerably higher than people who are, say, screwing around on their phone between sets or people who've done nothing to increase their focus, such as the people in Gironda's gym (Tod).
  • There is something to that old school weight room battle cry- it improves muscle activation and peak O2 and VO2 when busting your ass in the gym, and improved hand strength in one study by 7% (Chen, Welch).
  • Whether you get psyched by being happy or angry, either is a gift compared to being anxious or calm in competition (Rathschlag).
  • Fast music benefits people exercising far more than slow music and which was more helpful than no music at all. The perception of exertion isn't reduced, but the length of the workout was (Thakari, Thakur).
  • Even if you can't listen to music when you're competing, listening to music while you warmup increases your power output significantly (Chtourou, Jarraya).
  • Music might be useful for fighters, Olympic lifters, and throwers. Speed and reactivity in surgeons was increased significantly in those listening to music than not, especially where the surgeons played music they liked (Allen).
  • Music makes you more explosive- it improved the velocity of takeoff and force development in squat jumps in one study (Biagini).

Psyched or Chill? It depends.

  • There was a hell of a lot of variability in a study on the performance of karatekas while angry. Performance ran the gamut on athletes by performance and the intensity of anger. "In best performances, the intensity of experienced anger was perceived as increasing the generation of energy whereas in worst performances, anger reflected an ineffective generation and utilization of resources (Ruiz).
  • Moderation seemed to be key in one study on the use of anger in rugby, and self-confidence is necessary for the control of anger and its effect on performance. Importantly, however they found that "cognitive anxiety was a significant predictor of anger, while self-confidence was a significant predictor of control of anger" (Robazza).
  • Anger is indeed a gift, but one study showed that it was more a gift for extroverts than with introverts (Woodman).
  • Psyching up does not help performance in 1RM in the squat, according to one study (McGuigan).

Vince Gironda probably screamed this at young whippersnappers in Venice Beach 20 times a day.

Chill the hell out

  • Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is lower when athletes train in silence (Biagini).
  • Encouraging weaker training partners kills their performance, so keep your mouth shut while you're training partner is lifting (Irwin).
  • Relaxing music lowers heart rate and RPE in high-intensity cardiovascular training (Karageorghis)
  • Relaxing music lowers grip strength, but silence or exciting music don't do jack to improve grip strength, so whatever you do, don't train in an elevator (Pearce)

Thus far, it looks like the maniacs are taking it to the monks in our little "Deadliest Iron Warrior Sacrificing on the Throne of Crom" battle- just in getting psyched up and throwing in a yell or grunt when you attempt a lift it looks like you might be able to improve your force output by 20%, which is a hell of a lot. Hell- we've all lost a pull because of grip strength. Just imagine if you could get an extra 7% on your deadlift just from an old-school karate kiai. If you've got a 500lb pull, you're instantly pulling 535lbs just from making a bit of noise. Maybe all of this old school "meathead" nonsense isn't as worthless as whoever your favorite weaksauce evidence based coach might say.

My man might have been built like a Redditor, but that kiai might have put him into Bodybuilding.com levels of "super strength."

Frankly, there is not a lot of scientific evidence out there that silence or being a chill bro will get you to the next level in strength sports, but as I will show in part two, there is some anecdotal evidence in that direction. As i said at the beginning, I obviously tend toward the "throw on the new Hate Diplomacy (which effing slams), rip off my shirt, and terrorize everyone in the gym wearing a loincloth and bleeding all over the equipment," but one of the reasons I rarely interject my personal experience into these articles is that I want to give you guys the ability to make an informed decision on your own. As such, Part 2 of this series will have the anecdotal evidence for both sides. 

Until then, here's Bud Jeffries' take on the debate:

"It's an interesting topic. I've done it both ways. I've actually come to a place where I feel like those are both doors to the same room so to speak one from the angry side and one from the calm side. Today I actually view them similar to the way the Chinese view Qi Gong. With the berserker style being a hard chigong and the calm stop being a soft chigong. I grew up in the old school powerlifting gym and American football atmosphere rowdy and slapping and berserker type. Later I'm adopted a more calm style through the influence of martial arts that really more so from the years I spent performing as a professional strongman. In a three-year time span I did literally 1000 anti-bullying shows in schools. Each show had about 6 feats of strength.

Now what you doing a show isn't max effort usually but you still have to be able to immediately give a person strength and go right back to talking without missing a breath. To do that you need to be in shape but you also need to be able to harness and immediately get to the mental place to do a feet of strength at the snap of a finger and then go right back to the flow of speaking. I think both are useful at the appropriate time but I also think you get more mental training out of learning to be calm and immediately turn on and off your adrenaline / mental power. I have found that stronger when I remain calm and then immediately go into action versus spend a lot of time doing psyching. The problem with a beserker style is it tends to burn up a ton of mental energy and you start to become dependent on it. In other words I want to be able to spring into action at a moment's notice without having to spend 5 minutes getting my head together and banging on the wall. I think it can be a good thing for young guys because they almost like a learning process they need to go through. And sometimes they have a lot of anger they got a harness and get in a positive direction instead of unleashing it in stupid ways.

The problem I see with using a berserker style long-term is that you develop your own Pavlovian response. That means this if you're teaching yourself to be angry all the time that starts to flow outside of the gym as well and every time you walk into the gym you immediately get that overly tense response because your condition to it. This is going to sound weird but I have actually found on strongest when I'm laughing. I think that comes from a place of add a lot of background of focusing so I can be focused very quickly and still actually display other qualities. But I also think when you laugh you you gotten past any kind of fear with a thing, or past taking things overly serious which I have the tendency to do in regard to lifting, and into the pure joy of what's going on and I tend to respond best to that. When I was young I be mad for days if I missed a lift. Now I simply go on and make it later. kind of like this I want to condition myself for that endorphin response and happiness to be built up through my workout instead of to get there through going through a hard mental place and being exhausted.

Still have that absolutely intense desire that comes with the berserker style but it just comes out in a much more calm use of energy and maniacal laughing way, haha."

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