Psyche Enhancement Evolution For Weightlifting
Documenting the evolution of ‘psyche enhancement’
Where or when in life are you encouraged to get this out of control? Powerlifting is simplicity personified; short-stroke biomechanical movements that are over in 15 seconds or less. The shortness and one-dimensionality of the exercises lend themselves to insane levels of psyching. The greatest Mind’s in powerlifting thought, “If more psyche is better – are there psyche ‘enhancement’ tools and tactics? If a good psyche improves the squat by 20-pounds - does an insane psyche add 50!?” The quest for the ultimate psyche became powerlifting’s version of the Manhattan Project.
Competitive powerlifting is unique in a hundred ways. The actual lifts are short duration events, a single repetition is performed in each of the three competitive lifts, squat, bench press, deadlift, this in front of three judges looking for technical reasons to pass or fail a lift. Three attempts are allowed in each lift, nine total attempts. A competitive powerlift, a single repetition, lasts for between five and fifteen seconds. From a bio-mechanical perspective, the lifts themselves are simple to perform, compared to say a diver performing a Triple Lindy, or an Olympic weightlifter performing a full squat snatch.
Because of the simplicity of the lift, because of the shortness of the exertion, powerlifters discovered that they could psyche themselves out of their mind and enhance performance. The crazier the better, became the motto of their elite. You cannot get psyched out of your mind if the athletic task is complex. A clean and jerk or a pole vault has too many aspects, too many sequential actions, to many things to think about to be able to resort to Berserker Psyche.
Powerlifting’s one dimensionality and shortness lend it to crazed psyching. There cannot be a much simpler athletic task than a deadlift: the barbell is on the floor, stand up with it; and no, you do not have to lift the barbell overhead. The powerlifts are short-stroke compound multi-joint exercises. Powerlifting is lumpen proletariat drag racing (over in less than 12-seconds) while its sister barbell sport, Olympic weightlifting, is akin to Formula 1 Grand Prix racing.
Powerlifting has been in existence since 1964 and almost immediately the advantages of a proper psyche were apparent. That psyching was effective was not even debated: the question became, how much psyche is optimal? Psyche tactics evolved from an age of relative innocence until a highwater mark was reached in the 1980s when psyche techniques became so outrageous that they were deemed dangerous and ultimately banned. I have seen acts of powerlifting psyche that civilians find unbelievable.
Ammonia snappers: since the 1960s, competitive powerlifters have been snorting ammonia prior to a lift. Normally used to bring an unconscious person back to consciousness, the use of ammonia was used by the lifters to amplify consciousness. Snorting ammonia “clears the head” prior to an important attempt. On a deeper level, snorting ammonia is a chemical face-slap. Snorting ammonia short-circuits conscious thought: whatever thoughts you had been thinking the instant before inhaling the snapper are shattered. Most powerlifters used an old fashion camera film container and stuffed 2-3 crushed ampules into the plastic film container. The lid replaced and anytime the lifter wants a head-clearing jolt, they would pop the top and inhale through the nose. Lifters quickly learn to close their eyes during the snort as ammonia singes the eyeballs and makes them water uncontrollably. Ammonia inhaling survives to the present day and remains popular.
Face slapping: the next wrung up the psyche-enhancement ladder was the face slap. Face slapping began appearing in the 1970s. The face slap was (initially) a light to moderate last-minute cuff to the check, or perhaps a hearty back slap. Powerlifting’s leading thinkers reasoned, if a moderate face slap had moderate psyche effect, would not a herculean face slap elicit herculean results from the lifter? Face slapping became a powerlifting epidemic, a commonplace and expected occurrence at all topflight competitions. The rationale was simple: if someone slaps your face really hard, anger and retaliation are the natural reaction of any self-respecting macho American elite powerlifter. Murderous emotions are purposefully spawned by having a training partner slap you across the face, hard as hell – feel the pain – that pain triggers an adrenaline-fueled anger burst. Instead of beating the hell out of your face-slapping training partner, redirect that rage towards the barbell, Genius. Plus, it actually worked. Psycho lifters lifted better once they got their training partner to get the magnitude and velocity of the slap tuned just right. The psyche leaders combined the ammonia snort with the face-slap to attain new levels of psyche. Psyche was about to graduate to Psyche-O.
Face-slapping amplified: the most sophisticated face-slapping I ever saw was when monstrous Dave Colangelo (one of only two men to ever beat Doug Furnas) appeared at a bench press competition held in Ocean City, Maryland in July of 1982. This was the annual Best Bench on the Beach competition. Dave weighed 270-pounds standing 6-foot. He was benching around 600-pounds raw and had with him a posse of neophytes that trained with him in Virginia Beach. Before his final bench press, he had eight of his guy’s line up, one next to other turned sideways. Dave roared past as each neophyte in turn slapped Dave face with all the violence their 15-inch arms could muster. It was an Indian gauntlet of face slaps. After seven guys slapped Colangelo’s face raw, the eighth guy, the head neophyte, cracked Dave a little too hard. This enraged the already enraged Colangelo who swatted the man-boy like a pissed-off Grizzly bear. It sent the kid hurtling backwards, tripping over a weight bench, flipping him over, cracking his head wide open on the concrete. Neither Dave nor his crew paid any attention to their unconscious comrade. Dave roared out to bench press 575 to win the competition.
Beyond face-slapping, ‘Git the board, he needs the board’ the next iteration of psyche enhancements involved lumber. The powerlifting thought-leaders decided that the next advancement in psyche required more than ammonia, more than a face slap, more than a gauntlet of face slaps, the next breakthrough required a tool, a device: the training partner would now crack the lifter across the forehead with a short length of 2x4. Right before an all-out attempt, the lifter would bend forward, extending his head. A training partner would stand to one side and deliver a board blow to the exact center of the forehead. The blow delivered a loud CRACK! It was all quite dramatic and strange. There was a group of powerlifters from Baltimore led by a hard-ass longshoreman named Popeye. This crew took board psyching so seriously that their 2x4 had its own gym bag. When Popeye sensed one of his lifters was failing or fading, he would growl, “Git the BOARD! He needs the BOARD!” Popeye inadvertently knocked one of his lifters’ unconscious, this before a 2nd attempt deadlift at the Junior Nationals. He looked up from his unconscious lifter and yelled at the officials, “He’ll pass this attempt!” Eventually the board was banned. I thought the board ritual unintentionally mimicked Samurai seppuku, ritualistic suicide wherein the warrior used his short sword to disembowel himself. The samurai’s training partner stood by and lovingly chopped off the head of the samurai committing suicide: this at the peak of his pain. It was viewed as a favor. I saw fascinating parallels: no one else did.
Blood on the platform: elite lifters were flummoxed. With the board banned, what could be used to duplicate the psyche-on-steroids effect of the expert use of the board? The innovative thought-leaders came up with, arguably, the ultimate psyche-up procedure: self-mutilation. I don’t know what lifter invented it, but I know who perfected it: Florida powerlifting immortal Willie Bell. Willie was formidable: 5-10, a ripped 245-pounds, he squatted 865, bench pressed 540 raw and consistently deadlifted 825-pounds. Before a big squat attempt, Willie would stride out, eyes bugging, grab the squat bar with both hands and smash his forehead onto the center knurling. He would hit the barbell with his head so hard that his head would rebound. In the next instant he would dip under the squat bar and break from the racks. Bell’s incredible theatrics set off a wave of imitators. Most of his imitators broke the skin on their forehead when they head-butted the barbell, causing blood to spurt geyser-like and then run down their face during the attempt. Which they thought was exceedingly cool. Now what could possibly top that? Perhaps an assisted onstage suicide after a missed attempt? The head butt was banned, to the dismay of power fans worldwide.
The future of power-psyching: modern psyching seems in the doldrums, compared to the avalanche of innovative psyche tactics of yesteryear. The modern psyche-ee seems restrained, demur, mild, when compared to Doug Borden getting knocked unconscious in another board incident, or the awe-inspiring blood-covered face of Luke Iams on the cover of Powerlifting USA as he squats 900, this after head-butting the barbell. By the year 2020, I had expected to see fire and flames introduced into psyche. Flame and fire seem the logical and perhaps final iteration, the last bus stop on the psyche-O route where everyone squeezes into the little yellow short bus. Douse a committed lifter in lighter fluid before the winning attempt: if he makes it in dramatic fashion, it is wine, women and song. If the lifter fails, the disgusted coach throws a lit pack of matches on the lifter. He ignites, bursting into a ball of twitching, flaming muscle. No, we are not killers, after five timed seconds, his training partners use their fire extinguishers. Let’s put the O back in Psyche. My suggestion is rather than emphasizing psyching before a lift, emphasize penalties for failing. That opens a whole panorama of exciting visuals for power fans. I think the “pre-lift” psyche procedures of the past (sans flames) are unsurpassable. Let’s look to the future.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.