The Mental Aspects of Weight-Training – Chuck Coker (1962)

Written works on serious weight training sometimes describe the “mind-muscle connection,” and serious trainees can attest that if their mental state is ‘off’ during a workout, then performance and results will suffer.

The article below illustrates the importance of the mind in weight training. This was taken from the May-June 1962 issue of Physical Power, a mid-twentieth century fitness publication which covered a variety of aspects of training for physique, strength, and sports. The writer, the late Chuck Coker, was head Track and Field coach at Occidental College in the late 1950s to the early 1960s.


A photo of Vince Gironda which accompanied the article. Click to enlarge (will open in new window/tab).

Further reading on Chuck Coker:

Magazine Excerpt:

Competitive weight lifting has been one of the forerunners in the field of Athletics in the respect to the mental application of mind over matter. In our present acquired knowledge in regard to increased performance we are limited only by the bounds of our mental incapabilities. It is often said, that Einstein was one of the most brilliant men that ever lived and that he only used 1% of his mental capabilities. This places some of the rest of us pretty far down the scale by comparison.

Let us examine in the light of present knowledge some of the things that we can do from the mental approach to improve in our physical training. I can recall one time during the service when I was working out in the San Francisco YMCA. There was a well-built young man working out doing some heavy bent arm pullovers, he wore very thick glasses which he took off while exercising. He loaded the bar with his glasses off to what he thought was 220 lbs. he then proceeded to do 8 repetitions which I thought was terrific. (He weighed 170 lbs). He jumped up very disappointed because he hadn’t done 10 reps. and said, “I must be weak tonight.” He then placed his glasses back on and looked at the bar and to his amazement there was 255 lbs. on the bar. This was more than he had ever tried before and he managed 8 reps. with this weight. This is a good point in the case of mind over matter–he THOUGHT that there was 220 lbs. on the bar.

I think many times in athletics we underestimate our ability. Too many young athletes read about some star athlete and then they make him their hero and think that it is impossible to do as well as he has done. This type of hero worship is fine provided you set your goal to outdo your hero!! All records and achievements are made to be broken.

For example, whenever you exercise a muscle group in which you were trying to increase the size, strength, or speed, your mental application during that exercise should be concentrated on the goal you are trying to accomplish. I feel, in relationship to weight training, if you first concentrate on speed and strength, that size and shape are sure to follow.

For example, when training for the shot put, at the completion of every repetition of all pressing movements, you should mentally be thinking of speed and explosive force. Even though you may be using such a heavy weight that it is just barely moving, this mental application of speed will be developing speed so that when you pick up the shot put, it not only feels light, but you have the speed and strength to propel it at a higher velocity, thus enabling you to put a greater distance. The shot put is but one of many events that have shown such great improvement with weight training and mental application to improve performance.

You have undoubtedly read about numerous weight lifters who have done many different things from the mental approach in order to lift a heavy poundage during competition. Tommy Kono is an excellent example of a lifter who has established tremendous records in competition as a result of mental application. This same concentration, when continually applied in a training program to the exercises being performed, could produce quicker and greater results.

Don’t underestimate your mental abilities in bringing about physical improvements. The human body has a built-in reserve that we do not have conscious control over, as yet, with our limited knowledge. I am certain that you have all heard stories concerning tremendous physical feats being performed under fear, particularly when your life is in danger or that of a friend or loved one. The stimulus of fear can instantly change a person into a “Tiger,” he can run faster, fight harder, lift more, react quicker, etc. Suppose for a moment that you could control this reserve power that your body possesses to perform better in an athletic contest, needless to say, you should surpass anything that you had previously done. We are not going to tell you that we know this secret but a person can do a great deal more than he realizes with better mental application to his training.

There may not be scientific evidence to back up some of these ideas, but, if experience is any criteria, we know that they do work. The following are a few thoughts that may enable you to improve in your chosen activity. When working out to develop strength to increase speed, you must think speed during the movement of the exercise. Your concentration to be such that if you are performing a very heavy exercise that at the completion of the movement you try to accelerate the speed of movement even though it is just barely moving. This type of concentration will then enable you to perform without the resistance very rapidly. Your exercise should as much as possible mirror the activity you are preparing for.

I am constantly being reminded that we are born with a certain reaction time and that this can not be changed! It is my opinion however that it can be greatly improved upon by training. For example, let us say that you have followed a program to increase running speed. We know that all experiments in physiology show that within a muscle group when there is an increase in strength that there will be a corresponding increase in speed. However, strength is not always the only thing that will help increase speed. You can re-learn leg cadence by the use of music or, better still, a drum beat. If you start off with a slow cadence running in place to a slow beat and gradually increase the beat to faster than the individual can run, he will eventually become faster as the nervous system picks up the tempo following a period of training. Some of you coaches should try this in the off season with your track men and you will be surprised at how much legs speed that they will have picked up.

Whatever your goal is and weight training (or workouts), let your brain help you achieve results quicker and more positively then if you go about your training with negative or blase’ approach to your workout. We suggest that in your next training session you give it a try, you will be pleased with the results.

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