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The Zen of Powerlifting

To me, powerlifting, deadlifts, etc is more mental than physical. I believe that powerlifting is 90% mental, and overcoming your mental blocks.

Raising your PR (Personal Record)

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To me, there are few things which are as satisfying as successfully accomplishing a new “PR” (personal record) in powerlifting (a new PR in deadlift, squat, dumbbell press– or whatever exercises you do).

For example with deadlifts– the interesting thing with new PR’s is this:

First of all:

Your body has never even attempted to lift such a heavy weight.


If your body attempts to lift that unknown weight, is it possible?


When your body successfully lifts that new PR-weight, what do you learn about yourself, your body, or your potential?

My basic takeaway after lifting weights for over 15 years (from age 15 to age 31):

There really doesn’t seem to be a limit to the potential of your physical strength. With enough practice and effort– you can ALWAYS become stronger.

Of course your progress might be faster or slower than other people. But that doesn’t matter– if you are only competing against yourself. You can go however fast or slow you want. However I feel the goal is this:

As long as you live, never stop getting stronger.

Or in simpler words:

As you get older, keep getting stronger!

405 to 500 pound deadlift

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For a long time, my goal in life was to deadlift “4 plates” (four 45-pound plates on each side of the barbell), which equals around 405 pounds in total.

I remember the first time I deadlifted 405 (age 29) my mind was blown. I remember vividly thinking:

Holy moly– if I can deadlift 405 — I wonder if I can deadlift more?

For such a long time, I was fixated on that 405 pound goal, and I never thought of going BEYOND 405 pounds.

What is the next level?

Jean Michel Basqiat
Jean Michel Basquiat

I decided to find out. I kept training as I normally did, and then I was able to add another 10 pound weight to each side of the 4 plates (425 pounds total). At that point I had this epiphany:

Holy smokes, I wonder if I can keep going– maybe hit 500 pounds one day?

Before I got to the point of being able to deadlift 425 pounds, I didn’t even think deadlifting 500 pounds. Meaning, the thought never even occurred to me. I almost wish that in the past someone told me:

ERIC — if you keep training hard, you should aspire to deadlift 500 pounds (or even more!)

So now, my current goal is to deadlift 500 pounds (once). Then once I hit that — then I will raise the goal to 600 pounds, then 700 pounds, then BEYOND!

Why is powerlifting zen?

zen powerlifting

My thought: With powerlifting– if you want to successfully lift a new PR, you must have supreme focus and concentration. 

I will try to illustrate what goes through my mind and body when I am trying to lift a new PR in my deadlift:

Shins close to the bar. Stretch out my hips. Mixed grip, grip the bar strong and tight. Breathe in and out. Hype myself up in my mind. No fear. “Light weight baby!” Super loud power grunt, then lift up the weight with all my strength. If I’m struggling, I yell out loud to myself: “Up! Up! Up!”

Then when I lock out, and am standing triumphantly, I will smile then lower/drop the weight.

A mental play-by-play

If I can illustrate what happens to my body and mind:

  1. Loss of sense of self.
  2. The best form is no form — I am strongest when I am not consciously “thinking” about whether my form is “good” or “bad”.
  3. Mentally I feel hyped up, yet super zen calm at the same time. This sensation is insane — I don’t ever feel this emotion or body-state manifested in myself besides when I deadlift or powerlift new PR’s.
  4. When attempting to lift a new PR, your mentality must declare to itself: “I will lift this.” There can be 0 ounces of doubt. If you doubt yourself, you won’t be able to successfully lift the weight.

Mental or physical?

I think the mind has a “limiter” built into our body. Thus, often the potential of our body is never fully expressed to the maximum.

For example apparently with running, when you think you can no longer run — you still can for many many miles. But your mind tells you not to, because there might be some potential damage if you keep going.

So let us say you ran 20 miles, and you literally feel that you’re going to drop dead. If you’re able to reprogram your mind to REMOVE that mental limiter, you might be able to run for another 2 miles (until your body actually does truly collapse). When you’re operating at the super super extreme end of things, of course you are “damaging” your body. But that damage is a NECESSARY component of growing stronger. In mental psychology, they call this “post traumatic growth”. Perhaps with muscles and the body it is the same — the trauma to our muscles, sinews, bones, and ligaments is what actually spurs our body to NEED to become stronger.

Without a need for your body to get stronger, you won’t get stronger.

So perhaps if you’re attempting a new PR every single week (I try to raise my PR by 5 pounds every week), you’re telling your body:

Okay, next time we’re going to try to lift something even heavier than this. So brace yourself, eat a lot of meat, rest and recover — in order to take your body to the next level!

Why don’t more philosophers deadlift?

I wonder:

Is there a connection between physical power and mental power?

I believe so!

It seems to make sense– willpower is easy to manifest and see when it comes to physical strength. You can generally always push your body and muscles a little harder than you think you can.

Then it seems if you’re trained to mentally always push your body physically, certainly this mental willpower can also manifest itself with philosophical ideas, and creative art making.

Epiphanies after football practice

In high school I played (American) football (outside and inside linebacker). I recall that my most creative ideas on writing always came to me after intense football workouts.

During an intense football workout, I’d have all these creative ideas flowing in my head, that I desired to write. Then when I got home, I’d furiously write/blog on my desktop computer.

Even the same is now: after an intense workout at the gym, and hot sauna, I have all these beautiful creative ideas swimming around in my mind, desiring to be expressed and written and published. Same goes after an intense massage (theory: stimulating muscles = stimulate the mind?)

Same goes with getting good creative ideas when taking a shower, or while you’re walking.

There certainly must be a deep rooted synthesia between body, mind, thinking, ideas, creativity and the power/will/desire to make art!

Empty your mind, fill your body.

I believe that many of our mental disturbances and depressions are rooted in the physical.

For example, we all know that alcohol and weed are “depressant” or “downer drugs. If you’re feeling mentally depressed, it doesn’t seem to make sense to also consume substances which make your body “depressed” as well. If you’re feeling mentally depressed, it doesn’t seem that smoking a lot of weed is a sustainable way to overcome your mental maladies. Perhaps better to do deadlifts and powerlift at the gym instead.

Why am I the only naked guy in the sauna?

When I am using the hot sauna, it is a unique opportunity for me to clear my mind, and actually have the opportunity to think.

Consider the benefit of the sauna:

  1. No phone or external stimuli distracting you.
  2. Slightly dark. I prefer to close my eyes when in the sauna, and just allow my mind to wander.
  3. Quiet. No people talking– a chance to let your mind think.

After working out, I always use the hot sauna in my gym, take a shower and go in (buck naked). I will usually stay in the sauna for anywhere between 1-5 minutes (however long I want to).

In terms of how long I decide to stay in the sauna isn’t by timer or anything else. I just go in, sit or stand (whatever I am in the mood for), and then let my mind wander and clear out/empty. And usually by the time I get 1-2 interesting ideas, I will just leave, shower up, then head back home.

I’ve even experimented going to the gym twice a day (once in the morning or afternoon, and once in the evening)– working out and using the sauna twice! It seems this has been an effective way for me to come up with more ideas (a good ‘ideation’ strategy).

So if you have access to a gym with a hot sauna– highly recommend you signing up and trying it out!

Icy cold showers

It seems that embracing the extremes (really hot sauna barbelled with really icy cold showers) is very good for your body and mind.

I think in the last 4 years or so, I’ve only taken 2-3 warm showers. Otherwise, always ice (the coldest setting) — even in the winter!

This is the benefit:

One of the best ways to become stronger is to learn how to endure the cold. And when I take icy cold showers, I usually only do it for less than a minute or two. This means, my exposure to the cold isn’t that long (although intense). Perhaps this is a good ‘hormesis’ strategy (for more on hormesis, I recommend reading

I think modern living has made us soft and weak. Most of us cannot really endure any sort of physical pain or discomfort. From a practical perspective, nobody has ever died from taking an icy cold shower. There is really 0% chance for you to either harm yourself, catch frostbite, or whatever– by taking an icy-cold shower than 1-2 minutes. Thus by exposing yourself to icy cold showers, it seems that it is an effective way to build tolerance/resistance to pain. If you can endure an icy cold shower– you can technically endure anything.

Furthermore, whenever I am angry (I literally feel hot headed), I take an icy cold shower to the max. I literally feel myself feeling ‘cooled off’. Not only that, but it is difficult to “feel angry” when you’re trying to survive the icy-cold shower.

If you’re new to ice-cold showers, this is what I recommend:

  1. Start off with super hot showers. Then for the last 30 seconds or so, switch it to full-ice.
  2. Keep playing with the ratios of time spent in super hot shower vs cold. Eventually, just go straight-in cold (no hot water at all).
  3. When you get to the point when you’re just taking icy cold showers straight-up, put a lot of conditioner and shampoo in your hair. Your only mission is to de-soap and de-conditioner yourself with the icy cold water spraying on you. When you don’t have any more shampoo, soap, or conditioner on you, (quickly) exit the shower! I often use this trick when I’m trying to brave taking a cold shower during the winter-time (I did this a lot during the brutally cold winter in Berlin last year).

Furthermore, many studies seem to suggest that taking cold showers (or cold exposure in short bursts) helps stimulate your body to burn off fat, increases your metabolism, and also helps you to wake you up in the morning, or help you fall asleep at night.

I actually fall asleep better at night with icy cold showers instead of warm showers, because I need my body temperature a bit lower before falling asleep. And taking an icy cold shower in the morning is equivalent to a triple-shot of espresso.


I read some study online that getting intense body massages (the painful type) stimulates ‘mitochondrial biogenesis’ (stimulating the development of more mitochondria in your body — which are the ‘power-houses’ of your body).

The science or the explanation behind the theory might be bunk, but I can certainly say that during and after getting super-intense massages, I get all these epic creative thoughts, and also my body feels more vigorous and powerful.

My favorite part of living in Vietnam was getting a massage at least once or twice a week (sometimes three times in a week!) I think the difficulty in America is the fact that massages are quite expensive. In Asia, a good massage is only $10-12 an hour. But then again in the states, I’ve been able to find some good Chinese massage places that do a good job for around $20 an hour (not including tip).

Let’s say you can find a place that does an hour massage which costs you $30 in total ($20 plus $10 tip). Getting a massage might be the best ‘bang for the buck’ you do for yourself, because for that small price ($30– which is the price of a mediocre dinner in America) will:

  1. Re-invigorate and rejuvenate you
  2. Help you come up with epic ideas
  3. Remove muscular tension and pain

Also after getting a massage, I feel ‘happier’, more joyful, more exuberant, and a new reason to live!

I recommend everyone to get a massage AT LEAST once a week. This might be a better use of your money instead of going to a bar, a club, or even using the money on expensive foods/alcohol/drinks/drugs.

Conclusion: Prioritize your body first; your mind will follow.

When it comes to mental depression and mental illnesses, etc– I think we’ve got it all wrong. Rather than trying to diagnose the brain as the source of the ‘problem’– perhaps we should target the body and diagnose the body instead (mental problems as a physiological matter, not a mental one).

I cannot speak for others, but I know for myself– I have generally felt the most mentally depressed during the times when I didn’t have the opportunity to walk much, when I stay indoors and home all day, when I don’t have the ability to workout, interact with strangers, expose myself to extremes in heat-cold/climate.

And most of these above things are physical-physiological.

  1. Sun/heat exposure
  2. Cold exposure
  3. Walking (also exposure to fresh air)
  4. Lifting heavy weights
  5. Interacting with strangers (hormonal changes which happen to your body when interacting with other human beings in public places).

Also, if it is your goal to become more artistically or creatively productive, perhaps you should become more ‘productive’ when it comes to your body. Spend more time going to the gym, lifting heavy shit, walking, being outdoors, exposing yourself to extremes in climate, and becoming physically stronger.

And of course ultimately– only you know yourself and your own body/mind. Keep experimenting on yourself, and figure out what works best for you!


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