11 July 2018

Berserker Or Zen Monk? Choosing The Path To Victory Means Knowing Yourself, Part 1

Every time I have ever run across an article regarding the correct mindset for success in the gym or in sport, it was written with a specific viewpoint in mind is right and any other is patently incorrect.  While I will state that I am unequivocally correct in my assertion, it's not because I pick one side or another.  The proper mindset when training and competing, whether you are headbutting the fuck out of the bar and have a latex-clad dominatrix punting your balls before a lift, the chillest bro anyone's ever seen carve up Jaws in Maui, or ice man-serial-killer-quiet, is not a question with a catch-all answer.  Instead, it's entirely dependent upon your personality and mentality.

Half of it is incredibly useful and half of it appears to me to be utter garbage.  the latter half made me wonder if I was just much more insane than I knew myself to be.

For years, I had wondered what in the fuck people were babbling about regarding the benefits of a cool head in compeition.  I've definitely gotten myself overhyped and gotten under squat weights with my legs shaking like my name is Michael J. Fox, but acting like your typical USAPL lifter and listening to some smooth jazz and speaking in entirely PG language never helped anyone do anything other than annoy me in an elevator to my knowledge.  In spite of this, people like Bradley Steiner and Frank Zane used to write about the evils of metal and aggression, and Vince Gironda would tear up memberships if people wore headphones in his gym.

At the same time, I knew I liked getting hyped the fuck up in the gym and before competition, Lattimer-in-The Program-style, that martial music had been used for millennia to scare the opposition and encourage the combatants, that certain warrior cults would whip themselves into a frenzy for success in battle, and that Muscle and Fitness, Flex, and Muscular Development articles always contradicted the fuck out of Ironman magazine's authors by citing studies showing that aggressive music increases performance.

Flower arrangement vs facial rearrangement.  
Holy shit, was I ready to riot at the end of this episode of deadliest warrior.

What aggravated me about this situation most is the fact that no one seems to be willing to concede that there is a middle ground, and as it's obvious to anyone with a working set of fucking eyeballs there is.  And that middle ground is very simple- Zen Buddhism, asceticism, and silence works for some people, while freaking the fuck out and running around like a maniac so hyped you're fucking bleeding adrenaline and testosterone works for others.

The Science
Getting Pyched / Getting Metal
  • In one study of twenty participants split between men and woman, their five rep bench press tested using "a free-choice psych-up, a cognitive distraction, and an attention-placebo."  Peak force recorded after psyching-up was 12% higher in the psych-up group than the distraction, and over 8% from the placebo.  Thus, the study showed that if you're a trainee with a year of training under your belt, your peak force on the bench when you're pumped the fuck up will be considerably higher than people who are, say, fucking around on their phone between sets or people who've done nothing to increase their focus, such as the people in Gironda's gym (Tod).
  • There is something to that old school weight room battle cry- it improves muscle activation and peak O2 and VO2 when busting your ass in the gym, and improved hand strength in one study by 7% (Chen, Welch).
  • Whether you get psyched by being happy or angry, either is a gift compared to being anxious or calm in competition (Rathschlag).
  • Fast music benefits people exercising far more than slow music and which was more helpful than no music at all.  The perception of exertion isn't reduced, but the length of the workout was (Thakari, Thakur).
  • Even if you can't listen to music when you're competing, listening to music while you warmup increases your power output significantly (Chtourou, Jarraya).
  • Music might be useful for fighters, Olympic lifters, and throwers.  Speed and reactivity in surgeons was increased significantly in those listening to music than not, especially where the surgeons played music they liked (Allen).
  • Music makes you more explosive- it improved the velocity of takeoff and force development in squat jumps in one study (Biagini).

Psyched or Chill?  It depends.
  • There was a hell of a lot of variability in a study on the performance of karatekas while angry.  Performance ran the gamut on athletes by performance and the intensity of anger.  "In best performances, the intensity of experienced anger was perceived as increasing the generation of energy whereas in worst performances, anger reflected an ineffective generation and utilization of resources (Ruiz).
  • Moderation seemed to be key in one study on the use of anger in rugby, and self-confidence is necessary for the control of anger and its effect on performance.  Importantly, however they found that "cognitive anxiety was a significant predictor of anger, while self-confidence was a significant predictor of control of anger" (Robazza).
  • Anger is indeed a gift, but one study showed that it was more a gift for extroverts than with introverts (Woodman).
  • Psyching up does not help performance in 1RM in the squat, according to one study (McGuigan).

Vince Gironda probably screamed this at young whippersnappers in Venice Beach 20 times a day.

Chill the fuck out
  • Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is lower when athletes train in silence (Biagini).
  • Encouraging weaker training partners kills their performance, so keep your mouth shut while you're training partner is lifting (Irwin).
  • Relaxing music lowers heart rate and RPE in high-intensity cardiovascular training (Karageorghis)
  • Relaxing music lowers grip strength, but silence or exciting music don't do jack to improve grip strength, so whatever you do, don't train in an elevator (Pearce)
Thus far, it looks like the maniacs are taking it to the monks in our little "Deadliest Iron Warrior Sacrificing on the Throne of Crom" battle- just in getting psyched up and throwing in a yell or grunt when you attempt a lift it looks like you might be able to improve your force output by 20%, which is a hell of a lot.  Hell- we've all lost a pull because of grip strength.  Just imagine if you could get an extra 7% on your deadlift just from an old-school karate kiai.  If you've got a 500lb pull, you're instantly pulling 535lbs just from making a bit of noise.  Maybe all of this old school "meathead" shit isn't as worthless as whoever your favorite weaksauce evidence based coach might say.

My man might have been built like a Redditor, but that kiai might have put him into Bodybuilding.com levels of "super strength."

Frankly, there is not a lot of scientific evidence out there that silence or being a chill bro will get you to the next level in strength sports, but as I will show in part two, there is some anecdotal evidence in that direction.  As i said at the beginning, I obviously tend toward the "throw on the new Hate Diplomacy (which fucking slams), rip off my shirt, and terrorize everyone in the gym wearing a loincloth and bleeding all over the equipment," but one of the reasons I rarely interject my personal experience into these articles is that I want to give you guys the ability to make an informed decision on your own.  As such, Part 2 of this series will have the anecdotal evidence for both sides.  The list of shit I have in various stages of completion is absolutely preposterous, running the gamut from an extremely unique dieting style based on ancient history, John  McWilliams (the first guy with 20" arms was not in fact Leroy Colbert), Jon Cole, a few others 1950s guys you've likely never heard of, and Part 2 of the Training for the Apocalypse Series (Robot Rape and the Nuclear Option).

Until then, here's Bud Jeffries' take on the debate:

"It's an interesting topic. I've done it both ways. I've actually come to a place where I feel like those are both doors to the same room so to speak one from the angry side and one from the calm side. Today I actually view them similar to the way the Chinese view Qi Gong. With the berserker style being a hard chigong and the calm stop being a soft chigong. I grew up in the old school powerlifting gym and American football atmosphere rowdy and slapping and berserker type. Later I'm adopted a more calm style through the influence of martial arts that really more so from the years I spent performing as a professional strongman. In a three-year time span I did literally 1000 anti-bullying shows in schools. Each show had about 6 feats of strength.  
Now what you doing a show isn't max effort usually but you still have to be able to immediately give a person strength and go right back to talking without missing a breath. To do that you need to be in shape but you also need to be able to harness and immediately get to the mental place to do a feet of strength at the snap of a finger and then go right back to the flow of speaking. I think both are useful at the appropriate time but I also think you get more mental training out of learning to be calm and immediately turn on and off your adrenaline / mental power. I have found that stronger when I remain calm and then immediately go into action versus spend a lot of time doing psyching. The problem with a beserker style is it tends to burn up a ton of mental energy and you start to become dependent on it. In other words I want to be able to spring into action at a moment's notice without having to spend 5 minutes getting my head together and banging on the wall. I think it can be a good thing for young guys because they almost like a learning process they need to go through. And sometimes they have a lot of anger they got a harness and get in a positive direction instead of unleashing it in stupid ways.  
The problem I see with using a berserker style long-term is that you develop your own Pavlovian response. That means this if you're teaching yourself to be angry all the time that starts to flow outside of the gym as well and every time you walk into the gym you immediately get that overly tense response because your condition to it. This is going to sound weird but I have actually found on strongest when I'm laughing. I think that comes from a place of add a lot of background of focusing so I can be focused very quickly and still actually display other qualities. But I also think when you laugh you you gotten past any kind of fear with a thing, or past taking things overly serious which I have the tendency to do in regard to lifting, and into the pure joy of what's going on and I tend to respond best to that. When I was young I be mad for days if I missed a lift. Now I simply go on and make it later. kind of like this I want to condition myself for that endorphin response and happiness to be built up through my workout instead of to get there through going through a hard mental place and being exhausted. 
Still have that absolutely intense desire that comes with the berserker style but it just comes out in a much more calm use of energy and maniacal laughing way, haha."
Allen K, Blascovich J.  Effects of music on cardiovascular reactivity among surgeons.  JAMA. 1994 Sep 21;272(11):882-4.

Andrew, Evan.  8 legendary battle cries.  History. 21 may 2015.  Web.  4 Jun 2018.  https://www.history.com/news/8-legendary-battle-cries

Biagini MS, Brown LE, Coburn JW, Judelson DA, Statler TA, Bottaro M, Tran TT, Longo NA.  Effects of self-selected music on strength, explosiveness, and mood.  J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul;26(7):1934-8.

Chen CL, Yu NY, Tang JS, Chang SH, Yang YR, Wang L.  Effect of yelling on maximal aerobic power during an incremental test of cycling performance.  J Sport Sci.  2016 Dec;5(4):456-61.

Chtourou H, Chaouachi A, Hammouda O, Chamari K, Souissi N.  Listening to music affects diurnal variation in muscle power output.  Int J Sports Med. 2012 Jan;33(1):43-7. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1284398.

Coombes, Kevin Flanagan.  The Irish war cry and what it meant to the Celtic tribes in battle.  Irish Central.  6 May 2017.  Web.  4 Jun 2018.  https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/the-irish-war-cry-and-what-it-meant-to-the-celtic-tribes-in-battle

Gibbons, Phil.  Craziest facts about Viking berserkers, history's hardcore Norse warrior-shamans.  Ranker.  Web.  16 Jun 2018.  https://www.ranker.com/list/viking-berserker-facts/philgibbons

Hughes GM, Rudin-Brown CM, Young KL.  A simulator study of the effects of singing on driving performance.  Accid Anal Prev. 2013 Jan;50:787-92.

Irwin BC, Feltz DL, Kerr NL.  Silence is Golden: Effect of Encouragement in Motivating the Weak Link in an Online Exercise Video Game.  J Med Internet Res. 2013 Jun; 15(6): e104.

Jarraya, M., Chtourou, H., Aloui, A., Hammouda, O., Chamari, K., Chaouachi, A., & Souissi, N. The Effects of Music on High-intensity Short-term Exercise in Well Trained Athletes. Asian J Sports Med. 2012 Dec; 3(4): 233–238.

McCoy, Daniel.  Berserkers and other shamanic warriors.  Norse Mythology for Smart People.  Web.  16 Jun 2018.  https://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/others/berserkers-and-other-shamanic-warriors/

McGuigan MR, Ghiagiarelli J, Tod D.  Maximal strength and cortisol responses to psyching-up during the squat exercise.  J Sports Sci. 2005 Jul;23(7):687-92.

McManus, Mark.  Muscle mind hack #2 – Use music for more muscle and strength!  Musclehack.  10 Jun 2009.  Web.  4 Jun 2018.  https://www.musclehack.com/muscle-mind-hack-2-use-music-for-more-muscle-strength/

Paul, Annie Murphy.  Does Listening to Music While Working Make You Less Productive?  Time.  12 Sep 2012.  Web.  4 Jun 2018.  http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/12/does-listening-to-music-while-working-make-you-less-productive/

Pearce K.A. Effects of different types of music on physical strength. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1981;53:351–352.

Rathschlag M, Memmert D.  The influence of self-generated emotions on physical performance: an investigation of happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness.  J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2013 Apr;35(2):197-210.

Robazza C, Bortoli L.  Perceived impact of anger and anxiety on sporting performance in rugby players. J Sport Exerc Psychol.  2007 Nov;8(6):875–896.

Ruiz MC, Hanin YL.  Perceived impact of anger on performance of skilled karate athletes. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2011 Jun;12(3):242–249.

Thakare AE, Mehrotra R, Singh A.  Effect of music tempo on exercise performance and heart rate among young adults.  Int J Physiol Pathophysiol Pharmacol. 2017; 9(2): 35–39.

Thakur AM, Yardi SS.  Effect of different types of music on exercise performance in normal individuals.  Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013 Oct-Dec;57(4):448-51.

Tod DA, Iredale KF, McGuigan MR, Strange DEO, Gill N.  J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):599-603

Welch AS, Tschampl M.  Something to Shout About: A Simple, Quick Performance Enhancement Technique Improved Strength in Both Experts and Novices.  2012;24(4):418-28.

Woodman T, Davis PA, Hardy L, Callow N, Glasscock I, Yuill-Proctor J.
 Emotions and sport performance: an exploration of happiness, hope, and anger.  J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2009 Apr;31(2):169-88.


  1. More than music, something like Steve McGranahan's approach has been helpful to me

    1. Like Mack in the Program, I guess. I can see how that would be helpful for contact sports. The whole "You can't do it/c'mon bitch style of in-workout motivation just makes me hate my training partner," haha. I don't get into that at all. Spite's a good motivator but it's something that has to be used sparingly, I think.

    2. It's certainly not something you'd have going on mentally for ninety minutes or whatever.

      Getting your buddy to call you names is absurd, but if I'm struggling I think about times I've been beaten up and that sort of thing.

  2. I've been having a lot of robot rape problems so I'm looking forward to hear what your thoughts are on it. Im very sore right now.

    1. Not a lot of give in their metal dicks, that's for sure.

  3. If im not angry in the gym im angry outside of it. I have found being "angry" while i lift to be extremely psychologically therapeutic. However I believe if u can hype yourself up for the entire gym session instead of just a few bits of it then ur going to have a better workout in every way possible.

  4. Great stuff. One thing I think is that you can't judge what's happening internally with the external showing. Some people need to scream and get slapped and just work into an external frenzy to get their head wrapped around the lift. Other people, it's all internal. Visualization, music in the headphones, etc, they look calm, but again, are working themselves into a frenzy. But in both cases, what is needed is an absolute frenzy. For a short thing....a lift, a set, etc., where you want to kick ass, you have to be in a kick ass frenzied mindset. If you're going longer...a 10k run, something endurance based, you need to start off in a calm state.

    1. Definitely depends on what you're doing, because even before the study I could tell you that getting overhyped is disastrous on the squat.

  5. That dieting article sounds the absolute tits, I'm looking forward to it muchly.

    1. It's bulking/cutting with a different sort of flair.

  6. I wonder what has Marx to say about berserker vs. mnonk debate. Where's Steve?

    1. He awakened me with an article about a Crossfit gym with some marxist slogan, so he's busy with that. He's of the opinion nihilists would make good communists, which I agree with if good communists just means "they do what they're told at gun point with no complaint." And I think that's the definition of communist.

    2. I think we can say there is a time and a place for the different approaches. When I competed, I would always have a right old shout at the deadlift bar. I would frighten that bar, it was afraid of me. Its metal atoms were shitting themselves and I was in a state of frenzy. Everty comp I did I walked away thinking why the fuck did I not put more weight on the deadlift bar, but easy to say after the event. So ever the dialectician, which is the key to understanding reality, there are pros and cons, yay and nays, opposing forces and the like at play in every process. Reality is process, transformation, becoming...And Jamie, even if I disagree with your negatives re communism (I share most of them rejecting all the so called communist regimes post 1920s as state capitalism) I understand your concerns I think. By incredible coincidence a few days ago I actually penned a brief "definition of a communist" to quote your good self...

      What is a communist?

      Communism seeks the abolition of all classes. We see that as being only possible if the essential product of capitalist society, the working class, takes all the power which, at the moment, is in the hands of the capitalist ruling class, and expropriates the capitalists of the means of production. But to do so it cannot simply capture the capitalist state, it must create its own organs which are open to the entire working class.

      Before this happens, communists, those who have the foresight to see its necessity and actively seek to bring about this working-class power and expropriation, gather as revolutionaries in a revolutionary organisation which is distinguished by the fact that it seeks to propagate within the wider working class the perspective of the abolition of capitalism, not its reform. This means the end of wage labour, money, production of commodities for the market, and the division of the world between competing fractions of the ruling class, i.e. the end of the nation state system.

      Thus, the brief description of the communist has two facets.

      Firstly, the ruthless critique of the entirety of the capitalist world, every existing power, the totality of its political and economic relations. The communist cannot support in any way any capitalist formation, in power or not, any capitalist project, realised or planned.

      Secondly, the communist supports only the absolute power of the working class expressed through its own organs. These have been revealed in the revolutionary attempts of the past as local council type structures which centralise through recallable delegates to higher bodies. This means as communists we reject the capitalist structures of representation whereby parties or coalitions or even individuals take on power for various periods of time and are not subject to recall. We reject any separate power, including that of the revolutionary organisation itself.

      These pillars, which essentially boil down to contributing to the project to realise the power of the working class unmediated by any separate power, define the communist.

    3. Red pill communism, blue pill capitalism, and that's your lot.

  7. I for one strongly support latex clad dominatrices punting men's (And pre op transwomen's) balls in gyms.

  8. This post reminded me of Tom Martin, whom I believe was a British lifter that broke one of Ed Coan's deadlift records while back, and looked calm as a Hindu cow the whole fucking time.

  9. Being able to shift from relaxation to tension quickly is rather emphasized in karate, and your mind can usually tell right before the punch lands whether it is going to hit hard or not. Too much external anger and overtension, and your movement will be all over the place along with the power generated. Upon a good punch it feels as if your eyes drill into the target, vision narrows into a tunnel, body tenses appropriately and then the roots propel the body mass towards the end of the "triangle". Despite the pre-tension, the movement must begin from a state of relaxation, which probably has to do with "dimming" of the nervous pathways if being kept lit for relatively long periods of time artificially. The feeling is similar when overhyping oneself in lifting, as then all that inflated confidence is actually laced with doubt, which likely ends up dooming the whole attempt.

    1. I drank a fuck ton of caffeine some time ago and felt fearless when squatting. Although i relaxed and tensed up constantly i might as well couldve been fucking berserk the whole time.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Gironda - "I’ve tried everything. I ran a lot. Anything I do I give the best I’ve got.

    I ran with guys that belonged to the L.A. Striders club and with other athletes and stuntmen. I actually ran a half mile in 2 minutes and two-tenths seconds. It took Gene Mozee, supposedly a good runner (high school, college) 6 months to equal.

    I didn’t claim to be a runner, though.

    Running is fine if you do it for the pure joy of expression. On a dusty road with Meadowlarks singing in the fields on both sides and it’s a bright, sunny day.

    I’ll run, but I’m not going to drive myself into the ground. Once it starts to get painful I’ve got enough sense to back off.

    First of all, what is the big argument all about? Cardio-vascular result is the main point.

    I’ll put you through 4 exercises, 12 reps, 4 different sides to a muscle, no rest and I’ll teach you something about cardio-vascular. I get runners in here that throw up on this cardio program.

    Respiratory and heart building. By the way, these runners throw up after a Circuit of ONE!

    Remember O.J., the great football player? He even had trouble getting through 3 circuits. He couldn’t for a long time.

    It’s tough, but it works and works quickly to improve physical efficiency, blood pressure and burns fat.

    The people that just rely on running or the ones in here that run too much are incredibly inefficient in so many areas of fitness.

    If you want to train for a cardio-vascular reason you need for a medical reason or a physical activity that requires this efficiency, which is all bodybuilding’s all about – if done properly.

    Bodybuilding is not so much a sport as it is a form of therapeutic medicine. Bodybuilding prepares the body for ANY sport and can be tailored for specific needs. Or it can be done “cosmetically” just to look good. Or for general health."

    Maybe not quite the extreme anti cardio stance that the stereotype suggests?

    If you are doing his really fast paced weights routines, you will get a good cardio stimulus, but most of us are not and I think in any case, direct cardio work is useful. A bit of a grey area, not knocking either side of the argument, but you tick your pick and I do cardio, sometimes more, sometimes less.