18 Maggio, 2020
This article lays dormant in the maze of my mind, waiting to be written. Not feeling ready, yet, to translate it from thoughts, the thrust to make it concrete was given to me by my friend Nick Greppi who, in a message, wrote to me:
“Giò, that article on resilience you wanted to write … this is the right time to do it!”. Moreover, he was not wrong at all: we are in the midst of a pandemic for covid-19 and our Country is going to face a very difficult period during the awakening from this incredibly surreal nightmare.
Perhaps some of you may have noticed it, here on Grip and Bend Italia, we often write from the heart and stomach and not for having followers or for selling something.
So, here we are: Sergio Leone in the background, a cup of steaming tea by my side and a rainy winter afternoon behind the glasses. I am going to tell you my opinion on some fundamental aspects of training, which I consider essential components to achieve your goals, hoping I’ll be able to convey my thoughts in the best way.
“The feet are frozen, the wind sucks every drop of heat from the muscles and joints, and I feel that I will never be able to warm up for the rest of my life. I would like to stay here, locked in my tent, but then that voice orders me.
<< Go outside, go outside and try it! >>
The words read, written by a great explorer and climber, a man who survived the -130 ° F and faced solitary expeditions to Antarctica, best summarize the two aspects that I consider most fascinating and important in training: the intrinsic motivation and resilience.
These are concepts that I made mine thanks to the reading of all the books by Pietro Trabucchi (a psychologist who deals with sports performance) who highlights the importance of being able to give oneself that motivation that comes from within, without any external factors ( bankruptcy over time) to switch on that spark that inflames our performance desires.
In sports psychology, but not only, motivation is split into two essential components, the external one (extrinsic motivation) and the internal one (intrinsic motivation). Initially it may seem superfluous to have to divide the motivation, when in reality its presence is enough to give push to our workouts. But, seeing it closely and investigating those complex and fascinating neural processes of our brain, there are two types of motivating stimuli. Extrinsic one is when the motivation comes from a person who incites us, like a screaming coach, or a rewarding sum of money, or the desire to appear of a certain aspect to please someone. A classic example is someone who tries to lose weight to look beautiful for costume testing and perhaps sexually attractive. Something that externally loads us to increase our desire for success.
The concept of intrinsic motivation is much more profound and ancestral, because it has more noble roots, going back in time to the learning processes of the human being. In the animal world, in fact, the human being is the one who spends the most time on the growth of his brain, compared to other mammals, developing it slowly and subjecting it to infinite stimuli that can increase neural networks. The key mechanism of this process is the intrinsic motivation inherent in our DNA and which requires us to explore, touch, observe, interact and all those forms of learning that will take us to a next level!
|Intrinsic||Do the activity because it is internally rewarding. You can do it because it’s fun, pleasant and satisfying.||The goals come from within and the results satisfy your basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relationship.|
|Extrinsec||Do the activity in order to get an external reward in return.||Goals are focused on a result and do not meet your basic psychological needs. Goals involve external gains, such as money, fame, power or avoidance of consequences.|
This process is the basis of important evolutionary changes, because it has allowed explorers such as Columbus or Magellan to embark on daring and dangerous challenges for that inner spirit of which some subjects are richer than others.
If today a climber is often held up as irresponsible, because he risks his life to climb a mountain, in the history of the human beings there have been highly motivated personalities, such as those climbers, who made a difference on an evolutionary level, allowing us to discover new lands, new plants, new animals, new territories.
“Resilience is the ability to persist, to make motivation lasting despite obstacles and difficulties. The term resilience comes from metallurgy: it indicates, in metal technology, the dynamic breaking strength obtained from a crash test. In this field, resilience is the opposite of fragility. ” – P. Trabucchi
Lately, we hear too much about Resilience. We are full of motivators from Anthony Robbins’ school, who tries to bring us optimism even when the alarm clock rings in the morning, knowing very little about what resilience is, the real one. Unfortunately, in this contemporary period, we have it less just exactly when we need it most! Resilient is the one who manages to persist and move forward, even though the surrounding conditions tend to surrender. Resilient is the one who maintains a positive attitude in a challenging context.
Nelson Mandela was certainly resilient, for having spent 27 years in prison as an innocent and, despite that, he graduated in Law studies, increasing his knowledge.
Resilient was the late Andriy Pushkar, a great Armwrestling athlete, who for years built his reputation, also taking hard losses and then, with dedication and determination, to become one of the strongest ever in his sport.
Alex Zanardi was undoubtedly resilient, who awakened in the hospital bed after his serious accident thought: “When I woke up without legs I looked at the half that was left, not the half that was lost.”
The stories of these men teach us how much a determined mind can affect one’s destiny. In this regard, recently, I was literally amazed while watching a splendid documentary, The Dawn Wall, which tells of the climbing of a 900-meter-high vertical rock called El Capitan by the mountaineer Tommy Caldwell at Yosemite National Park, USA .
A feat that was considered impossible by all climbers. To succeed in this, Caldwell trained hard and studied that wall inch by inch for six long years! Tell me if this is not the living representation of resilience!
When we usually talk about strength about training, many promptly pull out the second law of dynamics, that is, F = m a, where m stands for mass and a stands for acceleration. Undoubtedly true when we talk about Physics which is applicable on the dynamics of a moving barbell. But when we talk about Grip Sport and especially in more extreme aspects such as Bending or Oldtime Strongman, this formula should be integrated with the two components of which I spoke earlier: intrinsic motivation (I call it Mi) and resilience (represented with the letter R).
So Newton’s formula becomes:
Obviously, my representation in formula has no mathematical evidence, but wants to be just a nice and bizarre representation of a more complex concept, of what we often tend to simplify as a formula applicable with two variants in play.
To be clear, bending a steel bar to the limit of one’s ability, will oblige those who perform this action to use not only mass and acceleration (taking for granted an impeccable technique), but also a strong component of intrinsic motivation and resilience. The result of this summation will lead to twist the bar.
If one of these components fails, the bar will win by staying straight as it was, or by deforming a few degrees.
Just like in a formula, each factor plays its fundamental role!
I made this diagram to summarize the paths to achieve a goal. Thanks to my wife for ordering my mental problems! Hahaha!
Several times I have been a direct witness of the influence caused by an extrinsic motivational component: those who performed the athletic gesture were motivated by my presence and the need not to appear weak to my eyes.
I will give you a couple of real examples that can be witnessed by the people I’m going to mention, both brothers from GBI.
First example is Alfredo Florimonte who, with patience and will, faces the 155 miles that separate us, to get to know me personally and to be able to visit my “Cave”, a few years ago. Alfredo was stuck with progress in bending and had never been able to bend a 100 kg GBI bar. I persuaded him to try it and spurred him by saying that I was completely sure he would be able to succeed. He took the bar, took a deep breath, squeezed the pads tightly and crushed the bar in seconds! He was dismayed and evidently surprised by his performance. The feeling of having to bend in front of my presence, combined with the fear of not feeling confident, conveyed the strength, motivation (extrinsic) and resilience to Alfredo: in a few seconds they earned him a new personal record of great satisfaction.
The second anecdote refers to Nico Oliveto: before me, he managed to tear a pack of Bicycle cards for the first time in a few minutes. Cards that require experience and dedication to rip them off. But his strong component of intrinsic motivation, in addition to mine (extrinsic) and combined with strength and resilience led Nico to make that high-level gesture. Also surprised by his unexpected result, he looked at the cards with great admiration and visible joy.
These are clear examples of how the performance can change an elevated motivational value.
Sometimes when I compare myself with someone about the strength applied in our sport, I find it natural to make a similarity with Martial Arts, more than with any other sport. Instinctively, looking at a person who bends an iron bar or holds a gripper will immediately make you think of someone muscularly strong. But in reality, besides the muscles that are shortening, the tendons that go under tension and the ability to recruit the motor units, there are two additional components that the martialists know very well:
intrinsic motivation and resilience.
Who among us has not seen the gesture on TV of some martial arts champion smashing thick wooden boards, ice sheets or bricks, with just a single shot?
Well, these people, to perform amazing shows such like these, in addition to the physical ability to exert great strength in a short time, they draw on mental sources capable of producing a high level of intrinsic motivation and resilience. Motivation will allow you to raise your concentration and the feeling of inner security, while being resilient will allow you to accept the pain that will be absorbed by the body through the impact. All these factors will contribute to the success of the test.
A hesitation in motivation or fearing possible pain will lead to a certain failure.
Here we are: the same conditions can be found in a bending test or in the Old Time Strongman, just as explained in the previous paragraph.
Dealing with a very hard bar, tearing a deck of quality cards, breaking a wrench, requires being able to draw on this great mental ability. Obviously these are conditions that we can also find in other strength sports, but personally I believe that our sport winks more at Martial Arts, for the affinities related to the mental component and its great resources, as well as to the great connection that is established between hand and brain.
A space within this article undoubtedly deserves the power of visualization. We have all heard of it, and not only about training.
I suppose a lot of people don’t care about how all these aspects matter, little by little, in everyday training.
Here you are a couple of examples that may intrigue you!
In the “Peak Performance”, a book by Charls Garfield (ex-NASA researcher and professor at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco) it’s been quoted a very interesting study concerning the preparation of Russian athletes for the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. In that occasion, the athletes were divided into four groups, each with a different approach to training:
– First group exclusively physical training (100%);
– Second group 75% of physical training and 25% of mental training;
– Third group 50% physical training and 50% mental training;
– Fourth group 25% physical training and 75% mental training;
Which of these groups had the best impact on sports performance? Believe it or not, the fourth group, to everyone’s surprise, gave the best results!
Even if that study was not complete due to a lack of informations, with several doubts about how it was settled, it has been a starting point to keep on noticing how mental training plays a hard part in a competition.
In 1992, however, a more experimental study took place: it concerned 78 diving athletes. Some of them were expert athletes and others were beginners. They were divided into experimental and control groups. This was a blind study, so those who studied were not aware of the identity of who was within the groups. Participants were tested on visual skills and classified as high or low viewers (based on different viewing qualities). Both groups were tested on three skills over a six-week period.
2.5 minutes of physical practice on skills
5 minutes of mental images for the experimental group
5 minutes of abstract problems like math or puzzle for the control group
2.5 minutes of physical practice on skills
In the end, a significant difference in performance was found for both groups, high and low viewers, but the most significant results were obtained from the high viewers. This has shown experimentally that the advantages are tangible both for those who are beginners or experts, but also that the type of visualization training (i.e. the quality of the visualization work) significantly affected the result obtained.
In light of these scientific aspects, it is easier for us to understand high-level athletes, who sometimes seem to really detach themselves from reality and immerse themselves in another world before their performance. In fact, mental focus and continuous visualization bring the athlete’s mind into a meditative state that will prepare the physique to perform the expected gesture in the most convinced and perfect way possible.
Bringing these aspects back to our workouts, we should experience every lift or test at our limit as if it were an Olympiad. In those moments there must be no room for hesitation, for demotivation, but only the conviction of being able to do it … indeed, of having to do it! The mind has potential that we too often underestimate. The most extreme and heroic endeavors were accomplished by those who had their goal clearly in mind.
We grew up in the myth of genetics. We have always been told that we are born for something and if we don’t have certain lucky cards we can forget the numbers to get to the top. Of course, I’m not here to tell you that a Kenyan runner doesn’t have the best genetics to run compared to an Icelandic, or that a giant hand isn’t more advantageous than a smaller one in the Grip Sport. But if this advantage seems obvious initially, who can tell us that the guy with the smaller hand doesn’t have a better muscle recruiting ability? Or a greater resilience capacity than the bigger hand? Genetics can undoubtedly offer advantages, but remember that willpower and dedication are incredibly powerful weapons and sometimes can bridge genetic limits!
Between the late 80s and early 90s there was a boy of African American origins, raised in Texas and passionate about basketball, who although growing up in a context of poverty and a hard life as a ghetto, kept on believing in his dream with motivation and determination: he wanted to play in an important basketball team. The years passed and the dreamer named Spud Webb joined an NBA team and even won a dunk contest! Do you know what is the surprising thing? Webb was “only” 168 cm tall! While looking like a puppet among the giants of the NBA Spud Webb showed a show never seen during that race … yet his genetics rowed in the opposite direction! Evidently he was endowed with great inner motivation, which he poured with all of himself into the explosiveness that his legs could express!
Another story that I like very much is Chris Schoeck’s one. He was a war veteran, a man of normal genetics (170 cm x 70 kg) who, suffering from alcohol-related problems, found in sport the way to regain control of his body and his mind. Chris had passion for the Oldtime Strongman and immersed himself in bending steel, with unimaginable results for a light and long-limbed man. On his story, made of determination and dedication, a very beautiful film was also shot in 2013, Bending Steel. In the film Chris tells how hard he worked to bend a bar that initially seemed impossible for his genetics, but that he had to conquer with sweat and perseverance, under the supervision of Chris Rider as a great mentor. In a statement to the Desert News site, Chris said in an interview:
“Bending steel requires the maximum embodiment of concentration, and it is almost therapeutic. Folding gives me a very personal sense of self-esteem that is not even comparable to the sense of euphoria induced by alcohol”
Sport is full of incredible stories and many times determination, the desire to aspire brought to the limit and the visualization at work in the head of the winning, resilient, dreamer athletes won on genetics.
In every workout you face, don’t forget the potential you have in your head and use it to conquer the goal you have set step by step.
In the hope that you enjoyed this writing, I say goodbye to all those who follow Grip e Bend Italia with this aphorism:
“The obstacles do not stop me. Every obstacle submits to rigid determination. Whoever looks at the stars does not change his mind”
Leonardo Da Vinci
Pietro Trabucchi, Perseverare è umano, Corbaccio, 2010
Pietro Trabucchi, Resisto dunque sono, Corbaccio, 2007