Creating Peak Performance on Demand

Peak performance is often referred to as the “zone” or the “grove”, or even finding one’s “rhythm”. It can happen at any time and nearly always results in breaking personal records. People often get in their own way trying to make it happen, thinking that if they just try hard enough it will happen. Frustration and poor performance are almost always the result. I’m now going to share with you something that very few people know. It is a method of greatly increasing the odds of peak performance every time you lift. It requires practice and commitment. In return you will find strength you never new you had.

Within the arena of strength sports, Olympic lifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding are certainly the most recognized. You see the Olympic-style events during the summer Olympics. You see the Worlds Strongest Man competitions on ESPN. If you were at the last Mr. Olympia competition you saw many of the worlds top bodybuilders gathered together all vying for the famed Sandow. Yet have you ever stopped to ponder what psychological exercises are involved in the act of building the bodies strength and size through heavy resistance exercise? Hereafter, I would like to share with you some insight into a principle of the Hypertrophy-Specific Training method I have not shared before. It’s a method of increasing strength and generating peak performance. It consists of Centering, Charging, Grounding, and Discharging (CCGD). It is the mental act of controlled, high intensity, physical exertion.

Centering is the first step in the process of CCGD. Centering is a state in which you draw within yourself mentally. Your attention is turned and focused on your own mind, in a very calm or relaxed way.

Breathing and concentration techniques are often used to center ones self. The breathing method most effective is what is called diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. It involves allowing the inhaled air to displace the contents of the lower abdominal area instead of the thoracic region. Inhalation during diaphragmatic breathing does not expand the chest. Instead, it pushes your belly out. This is the type of breathing that you will experience automatically when you are already in a deeply relaxed state. In order to purposely center yourself you will intentionally do some of this “abdominal breathing” for a period of time sufficient to relax you and allow you to become centered.

Centering should not be confused with simple relaxation. Although it is to the advantage of the athlete to be centered, too deep of a relaxed state can lead to feelings of lethargy. Instead of lethargy, becoming centered is about concentration. Concentration means to direct ones attention on a single point. Concentration should be focused internally while working towards centeredness. It is important to reach a state of concentration that eliminates all unnecessary external distracters. This is why focusing on ones breathing, for example, is so effective at achieving both relaxation and a sense of centeredness.

It is important to maintain your concentration in such a way that you are only selectively aware of your surroundings. Selective in such a way that you can perform optimally either during a competition, when you need to be aware of the starting guns, judges or the scheduled lifting order, or in a gym where you should be aware of your coach or training partner. It is important that while being centered you are able to interact normally with others when necessary. This may sound like an unnecessary precaution, yet many times you can see someone that looks as if he is on some kind of rampage and is totally oblivious to his social responsibilities (other people) training in a public gym.

Charging is the second step in CCGD. Charging is the process of increasing physiological activation (i.e. arousal) while remaining centered. Charging is obviously an integral part of CCGD. Without charging the athlete would be left trying to achieve high intensity exertion while still in a state of relative calm and relaxation. The Yerkes-Dodson law tells us that without sufficient charging, you would not be in an optimal state for performing, competing or training.

As with centering, breathing plays an important role in charging. Thoracic or costal breathing is the type of breathing that will allow the athlete to charge effectively. In thoracic breathing, the external intercostals muscles and several synergistic muscles actually force an expansion of the rib cage while the belly is sucked in. In thoracic breathing, the chest works like a bellows, sucking air in and forcing it out.

Thoracic breathing is natural during periods of high physical exertion or stress. This being the case, thoracic breathing can act as a signal to the rest of the body to prepare for exertion and/or stress. Usually three or four rapid thoracic breaths are all that is necessary to charge. Too many of these breaths performed in rapid succession can lead to hyperventilation so don’t overdo it. The point is simply to trigger the fight-or-flight response.

To facilitate the charging phase of CCGD, many athletes have successfully used a technique known as “anchoring”. A classic example of anchoring is Pavlov and his dog. Pavlov, an early psychological researcher, borrowed his neighbor’s dog. Every time he got ready to feed the dog, Pavlov would show him food and then ring a bell. The dog would salivate and then Pavlov would give him the food. He did this same procedure over and over until the dog linked the sound of the bell to being fed. So eventually, all Pavlov had to do was ring the bell and the dog would salivate. He even went so far as to put a tube through the dog’s cheek to measure the amount of saliva that the dog produced before and after the conditioning period. He found that there was no difference in the amount of saliva the doge produced either in response to actually seeing and smelling the food in front of him, or later, in response to hearing the bell alone. The dog had anchored the sound of the bell to being fed.

To develop an anchor, you first have to achieve the desired state. In Pavlov’s case this was a salivating dog. This desired state should be one that was or is experienced during peak performance. To do this you must either visualize a period of peak performance that you have recently experienced, or you have to go out and make one happen. Once you have done this, continue visualize and “re-live” that peak state several times a day. Stand exactly how you were standing, breath exactly how you were breathing, and try to see and feel exactly what you felt during that specific peak experience. This may take some practice. Over time the visualization will become more vivid and physiologically effective, meaning you will feel your body begin to respond to the visualization.

Before you attempt to gain this charged state through anchoring, you should pre-plan a unique and specific anchor. An example might be a certain motion like rubbing your hands together in a unique way, or moving the arms in a stretching motion as if to loosen them up, or even something as simple as stomping your foot on the floor. It should just be a simple and unique movement that you would not normally do. Some people, rather than relying solely on a certain act or motion, rely on other stimuli like music. Generally this is some sort of aggressive music like “real” heavy metal, or even something from today’s rap/hip-hop/metal blends. Whatever does the trick is fine.

Now, while experiencing or visualizing your peak performance, perform your unique movement. It is important to perform your movement right when you are at your peak state or feeling. Over time you will begin to connect the peak state with your movement. The more intense the experience, the faster the anchor will be established.

Developing an anchor takes practice and some experience with peak performance. Ideally you should perform your anchor just prior to peak performances. You can continue to make your anchor stronger and more effective as time passes, by reinforcing the anchor during all future peak performances. This is done by repeating your movement when you achieve a new 1RM, or when you do well in a competition, or even when you just feel at your biggest and strongest during a particular workout.

In summary there are four keys to developing an anchor:

  1. You must be able to put yourself in the peak state for the experience you wish to anchor.
  2. Anchors require repeated conditioning.
  3. The movement (or song) you choose as your anchoring stimulus must not be one that you perform commonly. Or in the case of music, it shouldn’t be a song you listen to during other activities.
  4. You must be able to replicate the peak state by firing the anchor.

The next phase of CCGD is called Grounding. Grounding is fairly self-explanatory. It simply means to establish a foundation through contact with the physical ground. Do not be mislead by the simplicity of the precept. Without proper grounding, the final phase of CCGD known as Discharging, cannot occur optimally.

In the standing position, grounding is through the legs and feet. In other positions it is through whatever body part that is acting as your foundation, for example your feet, upper back and buttocks while bench pressing.

In addition to the primary grounding that involves the contact boundary and the physical ground, there can be secondary grounding through the eyes. Looking intently at a stationary object anchors one in and to their environment. An example of this is when a ballet dancer will visually ground him or herself while performing a pirouette. This adds additional stability in an intentionally unstable position.

The final phase of CCGD is Discharging. Once the athlete is Centered, Charged, and Grounded, what remains is to discharge the energy. The discharge is controlled by virtue of the lifter’s centeredness and grounding. Its force is a reflection of the lifter’s muscular strength and level of charge.

Being centered at the time of discharging means being at one with the task. No distractions. No ambivalence. No hesitation. No holding back. The discharge is the explosion of one’s commitment to the task. So, upon discharge, one puts every bit of available energy into the lift with a precise and narrow focus on energy.

In summary, the process of CCGD is as follows:

  1. Centering through slow abdominal breathing, relaxing the muscles, and the use of imagery to focus the attention on the inner self. All mental chatter and negative messages must be removed from the mind.
  2. Charging through fast thoracic breathing and the use of anchors.
  3. Grounding through a heightened awareness of the body’s contact with the physical ground. A visual anchor may also be beneficial.
  4. Discharging by focusing the rapid release of all charged energy towards accomplishment of the lift.

The lifter is a living energy system that requires control not only of the muscle but also of the mind. I hope this brief look into this HST principle gave you some new insight, information and tools to break new ground and achieve your goals.


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