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Mindset and Visualization

  • Written by Erik Alstrup

201002_theedgeQ: Erik,

It was mentioned in the article about you that you seem to focus and visualize before you go on the stage. I'm wondering exactly what that means. How does your mind come into play on contest day?

. . . Trevor Henry

A: Hello and thank you for the question.

Mindset and visualization are critical to achieving peak performance and using them leading up to and during contest day can make a huge difference in how the day unfolds.

The process begins long before a competition by seeing yourself, in your mind, actually going through all the things related to training and competition. For example, maybe it’s envisioning your workouts in the gym, perhaps doing a heavy set of squats or presses and seeing and feeling their successful completion. Or seeing yourself consistently preparing and eating healthy, bodybuilding meals, doing productive cardio sessions, or any aspect of stage competition from backstage preparation to winning an overall title.

I use visualization while doing my cardio work. Usually, I’ll have some good music playing and my eyes closed as I go through different scenarios, sometimes picturing myself going over my weight-training workout, visualizing the successful completion of the heavy, challenging work sets. I make it as realistic and detailed in my mind as possible, attentive to my environment and feeling the weight, the effort, the struggle and, of course, the completion of the set.

I’ll also project myself forward to contest day, being backstage and pumping up . . . what it looks like, how it sounds and feels. Then onstage, I see and hear the audience, I’m under the lights and hear the music and the crowd reaction. I feel the pump and the excitement.

The key to successful visualization is to make it as real as possible, down to the last detail, so that mentally it feels as if you are actually there, right now, in that very moment, having the experience.

I use different outcomes when visualizing, all very detailed and realistic, from winning the title to being in the mix during a posedown, or I imagine the moment just before taking the stage, going through a final muscle pump and feeling great!

Whatever your mental image, I have discovered that the key point to remember when using visualization techniques is that while the outcome is important, it is the FEELING that makes it effective. You must allow yourself to believe. Feeling good about your outcome is the catalyst that enables your visualization. Truly, it is the critical element.

You can see yourself winning titles or squatting 500 lbs for reps, but if you don't wholeheartedly feel the positive emotions that accompany success, it is simply a fantasy. Adding deep emotion and passion to visualization make it an extremely effective and impactful tool.

201002_alstrup_200907idfa
Alstrup onstage at the 2009 IDFA Toronto Classic.

Another significant point about this technique is that realistic visualization is done in sequence, meaning if you currently bench 185 lbs for 5 reps and your goal is to bench 315 lbs for 5 reps, certainly see that happening, but first thoroughly anticipate every detail about the struggle of 205 lbs for 5, then 225 lbs for 5, then 275 for 5, etc.

Intermediate, successful visualization ultimately helps you arrive at your main goal, since you may not believe 315 lbs for 5 reps just yet. But if you are now able to do 205 lbs for 3 reps, then 255 lbs for 3 reps might be an aggressive next step. Take one step at a time, but eventually you will be there, staring down 315 lbs about to attempt 5 reps, and having used proper visualization, you’ve done and completed that set in your mind countless times!

In addressing your question specifically regarding the day of the show, my mind is really at ease on contest day, as I recognize that all the hard work is done and months of dieting, training and sacrifice are behind me. It is now time to focus on the moment and enjoy the competitive experience. This happens by understanding and accepting that there’s nothing left to stress about, I’ve done my homework, and it’s just time to trust and execute my plan.

When I do arrive at a competition, I’ll make my way backstage and see how the show is progressing and if they’re on time. I’ll also walk through and scan the pump-up area to find a spot that is relatively quiet that I know I can use about an hour before I’m onstage to go through a pre-stage ritual of applying oil, pumping up, and setting my mind for success. I create an affirmative competitive mindset by envisioning anything that feels good to me while on the stage.

As I’m pumping up, I’m using this technique, feeling my body approaching its peak as I get closer to taking the stage. I time this process so that I arrive at my maximum muscle pump coincident with a strong mental picture of a successful stage experience. At this point, I am in a competitive zone and know what type of experience I’m after. Now I take the stage and follow through, completing what I have visualized for myself. This is my competitive mindset and visualization process.

A final point about using visualization: Ultimately, you may or may not create the outcome you desired, but remember that what you likely DID was activate the peak potential that you dieted and trained so hard for. Know that you will feel great about your experience and you will have set the stage, so to speak, for current and future success!

I hope this helps you reach your goals.

Yours truly,

. . . Erik Alstrup

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