Mind Over Matter: The Role of Positive Self-Talk in Maximizing Heavy Strength Training


Strength training requires more than just physical prowess. It demands a keen understanding of the relationship between our thoughts, behaviors, and performance outcomes. In a world where individual sports take center stage, the significance of self-talk becomes undeniable. In the realm of mental conditioning, we will explore the profound impact of performance self-talk on heavy strength lifts. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just beginning, your peak performance may lie within your internal dialogue. Join us as we discuss the pivotal role of positive self-talk and uncover practical strategies to conquer challenging feats in the realm of strength training.

What The Research Says:

Research shows that our thoughts and behaviors wield significant influence on our performance, often determining the success or failure of a heavy lift. Reflecting on a study examining various aspects of athletes engaged in powerlifting (Ljdokova et al., 2014), we find intriguing insights. A comprehensive questionnaire administered to 160 competitive powerlifters asked them to rank what was most important in terms of being able to overcome difficult factors during training. The top three strategies identified included the guidance of a coach, cultivating a robust mental attitude to navigate fear and stress, and employing behavioral techniques like visualization, relaxation, and meditation. These results underscore the pivotal role of mental training, offering valuable considerations for women in the 30 to 50 age bracket pursuing strength achievements.

In the realm of individual sports, particularly evident in disciplines like powerlifting, self-talk emerges as a prevalent tool among skilled athletes. Notably, positive self-talk stands out as the paramount predictor of success, as highlighted by Van Dyke, Van Raalte, Mullin, & Brewer (2018). Conversely, if self-talk takes on a negative tone, becomes distracting, or disrupts automaticity, it can exert a detrimental impact on performance. Therefore, mastering the regulation of these internal dialogues is of utmost importance, a subject we will delve into shortly.

Central to confidence development is the strategic focus on halting and replacing negative thoughts. The adage holds true that the body listens to everything the mind utters. When an athlete approaches the bar harboring doubts about successfully executing a lift, the likelihood of missing the lift increases. While completely eradicating negative thoughts can be challenging, the key lies in substituting them with constructive alternatives, as advocated by Hacker (2021).

Use the following tips to help regulate your self-talk:

  1. Thought Stopping: identify a negative thought and say a cue word, such as “stop,” to yourself.
  2. Replace with a positive thought: Restructure the statement to be positive. Take a deep breath and repeat the positive statement as you exhale. (“I don’t lift well in the morning,” becomes “It really isn’t different, I just need to focus.”)
  3. Keep phrases short and specific
  4. Say phrases with meaning and attention
  5. Combine with self-feedback: Adding some technical or tactical instruction to the statement helps performance and the learning process. (“Bend your knees more and you’ll get the lift next time.” OR “I can see that my hips were tight, I’m going to work on that this weekend and come back next week feeling ready to go.”)
  6. Self-talk log: An awareness logbook is an effective technique as well. Here, athletes accurately monitor their thoughts and behavior patterns. Evidence tells us that if we observe a problem with thinking then we can more easily identify the problem and consequences that follow (Hacker, 2021).

Next, come up with statements of positive affirmation. These are statements that reflect positive attitudes or thoughts about oneself. Here are our top tips for making these statements effective:

  • Statements should be positive, action-oriented self-statements.
  • Statements should be true and vivid.
  • They should capture the desired feelings for their training or competition session.
  • Write the statements down & repeat them often.

Additionally, coaches also have a big influence on an athletes’ self talk. Zourbanos et al., (2010) found that athletes have significantly more positive self-talk when their coaches display supportive behaviors. This can lead to feelings of increased competence and satisfaction. It’s important to find a coach that can help you with both thought stoppage and coming up with effective affirmations.


In pursuit of mastering the mental aspects of strength training, adopting a proactive approach to self-talk is a game-changer. Let’s sum up the main ideas that can help everyone, especially those into sports like powerlifting. We’ve learned that talking positively to ourselves is key for success. Stopping negative thoughts and replacing them with good ones and paying attention to what we say, can make a difference. Combining this positive talk with some useful tips on how to do things better, and keeping track of our thoughts in a logbook, gives us a solid plan to improve not just our lifting but also our overall mindset. By following these simple strategies, anyone can bring a focused and purposeful mindset to their strength workouts; showing that the mind can be just as powerful as the muscles.




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