“CrossFitter Turned PowerLifter: Mentality Differences” by Crystal McCullough

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CrossFitter Turned PowerLifter

“Mental toughness is a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances (such as difficult training or difficult competitive situations in games) and emerge without losing confidence.”

I consider myself a multi-sport athlete. Yes, I am a Powerlifter, but I am still a CrossFitter. I am simply on an extended hiatus from CrossFit to pursue certain Powerlifting goals. My hope is to go back and forth between the two depending on the time of year and the season.

I am going to be honest with you from the get-go. I am a baby in the sport of Powerlifting. I do not pretend to be an expert or even know very much about this sport. I am in the process of absorbing as much knowledge as I can from the best in the sport so I myself can be successful as both coach and athlete. I want to just go ahead and put that out there.

I was initially introduced to Powerlifting in 2010 through a friend of mine that personal trained his athletes out of a CrossFit gym. He then held a meet in that same gym. It was the first time I had heard of a powerlifting meet. We were there, didn’t have anything better to do, so myself and a few other gym members decided to sign up. I had not trained at all for it, nor did I really know what I was doing. That day in May 2011, I benched 110, squatted 205, and deadlifted 275. I thought I was the shizz!! Little did I know how those numbers would change quite drastically over the next few years once I put some work into it. And, man, oh man, I’m not done yet!!

I had always enjoyed the Big 3 lifts from the time I was introduced to them, but didn’t think much about specializing in it. I just thought they were a part of the CrossFit regimen and methodology Kool-aid I was drinking. It has been said by many in both sports that CrossFit has opened up the world of Powerlifting to a very large population. This, in turn, has made powerlifting a more popular sport than previous years. I couldn’t agree more. Powerlifting meets are being held weekend after weekend in CrossFit gyms across the country. Each and every week, more and more people are being introduced to the sport of powerlifting. That being said, I know several powerlifting athletes who have supplemented with CrossFit-style workouts to break up the routine or try something new. It is a symbiotic relationship where both sports benefit from the other in relation to exposure. I believe this will continue as both sports grow.

There is a definite mentality difference between the two sports. Everything in the CrossFit community is for time. You are racing against yourself, the clock, each other….each day you walk in, you are competing in some way. There are no “sets” or focuses on small muscle groups in traditional CrossFit programming. I get looked at funny in the CrossFit gym I manage when I do barbell shrugs or hammer curls. My athletes don’t understand just yet the slowing down and focusing on specific small muscle groups. I am slowly but surely educating them on the importance of dumbbell work. They are already grasping the importance of squatting!! There is a benefit in both powerlifting and CrossFit where these types of movements can be of great value to both sports. When you are stronger, the lighter weights in conditioning workouts can be moved faster. I have had to transition my mentality from GO, GO, GO into longer resting sets and much less conditioning.

For me personally, it has taken time for me to appreciate the rest periods and focus in on the little things that had been neglected/ignored for quite some time. What led me to powerlifting in the first place was a shoulder ailment that would not go away. In all honesty, since focusing on powerlifting, the shoulder has healed and strengthened at the same time. I feel stronger and healthier now than I ever have! Definitely makes you trust the process and very appreciative of my coach forcing me to address the issue.

The one area I was NOT mentally prepared for by CrossFit was making weight and what athletes are willing to go through to get there. I had to make two drastic weight cuts in December 2015 and again March 2016. I went from 162 to 148 in a short period of time. The federation I competed in was a 24-hour weigh in. My attempt to cut weight was two-fold. First, if I could lift the same or better at a lower weight class, well, that would be awesome on all accounts. Second, I proved to myself I have the discipline to do it. There are no weight classes in CrossFit, so instead of focusing on the scale, I focus eating for performance and the weight I will perform my best at in both strength and gymnastics. There has had to be a mental switch on my part to cutting weight for the purposes of a weigh in with no intention of actually lifting at that weight. I have since switched federations to USAPL where I am comfortably in the 72k weight class with minimal to no cutting!

Mental toughness is required in both sports and I know without a doubt, the time I spent focusing solely on CrossFit helped prepare me for what I needed to succeed in Powerlifting. CrossFit requires a lot of skill in gymnastics movements and the Olympic lifts. There are a lot of days you leave the gym frustrated and disheartened. The key is to use those days to fuel yourself to keep pushing to get better. That is where being mentally tough breeds success. Powerlifting is strength only. Yes, there is technique that comes into play with the lifts just like everything else. Foot placement, bar placement, bracing yourself, depth, how you set up, etc. are extremely important and must be consistent with the lightest to heaviest of lifts. At the end of the day, the goal is to stay healthy, train smart, and be as strong as you possibly can be. This could apply to both sports. When I have a training day that I am required to lift at 90+%, I have to be mentally focused in order to be successful.

Whatever the sport you are competing in, mental focus and toughness are the only way you will succeed at a higher level. I will leave you with these pieces of advice:

1. Find a coach you trust and knows what they are doing!
2. Listen to that coach!
3. Work hard and put in the work required.
4. Realize you will have bad days and those are the days that just might be the best training days to train that mental toughness.
5. Celebrate small victories. A PR is a PR and new skills are always worth celebrating.
6. Go back to the basics and make your technique flawless.
7. Don’t talk smack or degrade others. Put your head down and let your numbers talk for you.

You could add so much more to this list, but bottom line, allow your sport to bring out the best in you!!

Good luck to you in whatever you are aiming for!!

Crystal is quickly becoming a world class powerlifter. She has squatted 325lb raw, benched 175lb, and deadlifted 370lb all at the age of 40-years-old. To find out more about her, check out her Instagram: @crystalmac_72

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==> www.mashelite.com/performancezone/
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==> www.mashelite.com/performancezone/

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