If you've read enough bodybuilding magazines, I'm sure you've heard the phrase "Breaking the Pain Barrier". This phrase involves going past the pain normally experienced by heavy, intense training. According to the magazines, it is absolutely necessary to go past this (mental) barrier in order to really train hard enough to develop the size necessary to get really big.
Although I've never read any scientific studies on the subject, it is my belief that the mind is designed to protect the body from harm. One of the methods it does this is to send out signals to stop doing an exercise when the pain gets too severe. It is just like putting your hand over a flame. After a couple seconds of this insane practice, the mind will be screaming for the muscles in your hand to get the hell out of there.
If this is indeed the case and the mind will always protect the body from harming itself when severe stress is induced, then how can we push ourselves past these normal limits to go beyond the pain barrier? Having experienced this breakthrough on a personal level, I have a few ideas.
First of all, you are going to need some help. I really think it is (almost) impossible to train your mind to block out pain and to keep pushing the body past it's normal limits. In order to break through the pain barrier, a coach or training partner is essential.
I was "lucky" to have such a training partner when I was only 16 years old. Rich was a true maniac and I will be forever grateful to him because he showed me how to reach deep down inside myself and train with unrelenting intensity while simultaneously ignoring my mind's signal to stop. Rich pushed me with all the enthusiasm of a sadistic drill instructor until I often literally lost my lunch. Our training sessions were so over the top in intensity that it wasn't long before I had acquired the ability to shut out my mind and push my body to the absolute limit.
Had it not been for Rich and our incredible training sessions together, I truly doubt if I would have ever been able to push myself that hard. Being able to train with that kind of intensity takes practice, desire and LOTS and LOTS of balls!! It's having the ability to push yourself to the limit no matter what else happens. If you collapse, then you collapse, if you pull a muscle, then you pull a muscle, if you die, then you die. I know this all seems a little extreme to some but if your goal is to push yourself to failure, then you must learn to shut the mind off while training.
After having gone through the experience of training my mind to train my body to the limit, I can now automatically push myself to failure while working out. It's almost as simple as turning on a light switch. Whenever I want to push a set to failure, I turn the switch on in my mind and go until my body collapses. More tips on training "Past the Pain Barrier" next time in this column.