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From Iron to Gold

Weight training does more than build muscle and strength

Everyone knows the story about the 97-pound weakling who, after getting sand kicked in his face, buys a set of weights, transforms himself into a muscleman and lives happily ever after. It’s a nice tale, but as you might guess, it’s only half the story.

The physical transformations that result from solid weight training are nothing short of remarkable: Sunken chests begin to swell, shoulders thicken, arms and legs start to bulge through your clothes, and weights that once seemed daunting become warmups. That’s only the beginning. The psychological changes are even more dramatic. You stand up straighter, with your feet more firmly planted on the ground, and you look the world straight in the eye.

At the heart of your magical regeneration lies a solid training program. Most really productive programs rely on the so-called basic movements, along with sound nutrition and adequate rest. Although it’s sometimes glossed over, the key to making progress on the training side is to keep increasing your load. In the simplest form, that means your training weights must keep going up, and as many trainees know, one way to help make that happen is by setting goals. Those two elements’setting and achieving goals’may not sound like much; however, they not only drive your progress on the physical side, but they also fuel your psychological transformation.

A little more than two decades ago Stanford University psychology professor Albert Bandura published a paper on ‘self-efficacy,’ which he suggested was at the root of behavioral change. Self-efficacy is something like a belief that you can do something, and Professor Bandura, a mighty figure in academic psychology circles, explained that whatever its exact form, psychotherapy works by altering one’s level of self-efficacy. In other words, myriad psychological treatments had, as a common mechanism, the ability to influence a person’s belief that he or she could do something.

‘What’s this got to do with lifting weights?’ you ask. It turns out that building your biceps and pushing up your squat poundage give you the opportunity to cash in on that vital mechanism, meaning that not only will you get bigger and stronger, but your whole life will change for the better as well.

Even though Professor Bandura was focusing on cognitive events’things that take place between your ears’he pointed out that effective performance was the best way to influence the sense of self-efficacy. Simply put, accomplishing things, meeting goals and mastering situations pave the royal highway to a herculean mind-set. Michael Aleksiuk recently wrote a book called Power Therapy, in which he explained that we increase our sense of competence when we achieve goals that are meaningful to us. The value of the boost is that we become empowered, or gain increased ability to act in ways that improve the quality of our lives.

Coming back to the weight room, the archetype for transforming pencilnecks into musclemen is the 20-rep-squat program. Those who successfully follow it have clearly defined goals, which they kill themselves to achieve. Although it’s nothing short of a baptism of fire, it’s possible for all who are sufficiently motivated. The payback is that they not only remake their bodies in a month or two, but they also acquire a lifelong sense that they can accomplish some pretty tough things. That’s what puts added spring in their stride; that’s what self-efficacy is all about. And because it’s portable, permanent and legal, it borders on the magical.

Years ago IRON MAN founder Peary Rader regularly extolled the benefits of the classic 20-rep-squat program. One of the points he made was that besides adding some serious beef to countless bodies, the program seemed to have the ability to change people from hardgainers to easy gainers. In other words, people who previously lifted weights with nary a tangible result could make good gains on a variety of programs. That suggests some pretty powerful stuff going on, and Peary explained it in terms of bodily transformations that seemed to be permanent.

It’s an especially interesting idea in light of the self-efficacy concept. In fact, some of us would say it’s the psychological conversion that really blazes the trail here. In other words, many people who have trouble gaining are hindered by their own negative, self-limiting thinking: ‘I can’t do that because I’m a hardgainer.’ That leaden mantle melts away in the fires of hard-won accomplishments, freeing you to raise your sights, which in turn leads to greater progress. Stated that way, it might not sound impressive, but what we’re really talking about is the ‘open sesame’ to size, strength and success in life in general.

When you lift weights according to the tried and true formula of setting goals and achieving them, you reap amazing benefits, not the least of which is building yourself into the embodiment of muscle and power. And as dramatic as those benefits are, you also end up with a set of psychological benefits that can take you just about anyplace you’d like to go. Iron barbells, magic wands. IM

Editor’s note: Randall Strossen, Ph.D., edits the quarterly magazine MILO. He’s also the author of IronMind: Stronger Minds, Stronger Bodies; Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks and Paul Anderson: The Mightiest Minister. For more information call IronMind Enterprises Inc. at (530) 265-6725 or Home Gym Warehouse at (800) 447-0008, ext. 1. Visit the IronMind Web site at

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