T Nation

State of Intensity - The Dark Stimulus (long)


I was very hesitant to post this b/c it may possibly be misconstrued as psychologically destabilizing or harmful but I’ve found this to be an effective and useful way of getting into a “state of intensity”, not completely unfamiliar to some but worth repeating for the uninitiated. USE SPARINGLY!

In fact, I just set a new 3rm bench pr tonight that I’ve been stuck at over 4 mo and I’m so PSYCHED I want to share this…and all it took was a new level of AGGRESSION and manipulation of some internal and external stimuli.

Light stimuli
I’m sure people here have used movies, T-mag articles and real-life heroes with inspirational alpha-male characterics and themes to get into the mood to workout(Rocky,Predator, Rudy, Body for Life j/k. It worked well when I was beginning and works well with positive attitude and mindset…but I hit a 2-3 yr plateau w/ sporadic progress…so I experimented.

Dark stimuli
Since 9/11, I’ve been using darker visualization strategies or movie situations to force my aggressive emotions and intensity higher. This is beyond Shugart gut checks and merry xmas bob…etc. I mean these days I get so RAGING MAD that my hands start shaking and scraping at the sides of my legs, I start getting involuntary facial twitches and my eyes go bloodshot and teary almost like I’m crying. I imagine myself in disturbing and terrifying situations and ask myself, what would I do?..kinda like recent Atomic Dog article on technological traps…


Here are some examples:

  1. mom trapped under girder in 9/11 attack when I’m deadlifting
  2. I’m punching scumbag that just raped my girlfriend as I benchpress
  3. I’m chasing down child molester as I perform squats or windsprints.
  4. I’ve been shot and I have 20-30 seconds of strength left before I die to kill the bastard that…etc.


I picture actions and motions that resemble my current lifting movement.

In the gym:
I ask myself would I just TRY and bench 3 reps (throw 3 punches)if someone just killed my family and spit in my face? HELL NO! I’d throw 3 devastating punches that would shatter his face, his skull, my hand and every atom in between…and then I GO AND MAKE MY 3 REPS.

Yes, these are EXTREMELY disturbing and negative to the point of being psychologically TOXIC… but nonetheless, for very short periods of time (45-60min workout), THEY WORK AMAZINGLY.

This is Yoda/Morpheus “doing and not trying” philosophy taken to an extreme.

for example: Tonight I just watched Casualties of War w/ Michael J. Fox an older movie where these scumbag soldiers rape and kill this little girl (local civilian)and try and cover it up. I actually thought I could feel my blood boiling all the way to the gym! Would I let one of these assholes breathe another breath if I had a chance to make a difference? I had an IMAGE of a staggering Vietnamese girl w/ multiple stab wounds trying to get away from these f’khead rapists FLASHING in front of my eyes right before I started each set. You bet I kicked ass in the gym tonight.

Hit the damn weights like your life, your family, kids and everyone around you depends on it.

Let your sense of honor and dignity within you explode and RAGE against the dark!

Works for me.


btw: Oh yeah, to answer everyone’s lurking question: NO,I AM NOT USING STEROIDS…but Halo and a-bombs ain’t got shit on me!

In the words of one of my idols, Dr. Evil, “riiiiiigggghhhtttt”…;o)

Jeez Ronin (great movie with a car chase BTW…haha), that WAS disturbing. I can see how thinking of morbid stuff like that would piss ya off and psych you up for a lift, but damn…I don’t personally like to think about my girlfriend getting raped. But hey, if it works for you, more power to you…;o) Congrats on the new 3 rep PR btw!!

whatever works…

Very lucidly written. . .you admit openly that it has the potential to be psychologically toxic.

Some of my best workouts have been when something just made me angry. . .when I might have been planning a rest day but I got so furious I just HAD to lift or run until I had beat the anger out of myself. But I have enough stress in my life. . .I don’t need to compound it by imagining more.

I’m curious though. . .how do you feel (emotionally / psychologically) after the workout in which you go all psycho- intense? Does it differ from you you feel emotionally after a non-psycho workout?

Sounds pretty tough on your CNS. Better give it lots of time to recuperate.

its a good stress reliever at least, I feel the same way Ronin good stuff.

baldscholar -

Nowadays, when I have a workout where I effectively get into “state”, I feel a sense of satisfaction and self-control if not mastery after I’m done. I feel like I can conjure up emotional states from good to bad and back at will. I think hypnotists call these “anchors” which I’ve stored in my memory. These situations are almost lifelike in my mind when I call upon them. As far as CNS effects, it usually takes me about 30-45 minutes for my muscles to stop twitching and facial muscles to relax.

When I don’t get into “state”, I can tell immediately. My eyes won’t go bloodshot, my hands are steady. Even my brother will tell me “you’re head isn’t in the game, start concentrating bitch”. I’ll still perform an ok workout…but I won’t feel that feeling of unstoppability where you absolutely KNOW the weight will move so you set new PR. I leave feeling the usual endorphin pump but don’t have the sense that I let the animal w/in me out.

It wasn’t always like this though. For about a year when I started this, I used to be a moody sourpuss for about an hour before (kinda like Mr. Furious in the movie Mystery Men), during and after I hit the gym which was a departure from my normal, optimistic and relaxed self. Until then, I had relied on basic NLP, self-affirmations and various other intensity techniques w/ diminishing returns. Then after awhile (around 9/11), I noticed I could create a sort of “bubble” in my reality (I visualize Terminator time warp) and step in and out as I began my warmup sets, I think I got idea from Anthony Clark. I didn’t have to stay pissed the whole the time. I just step into my imaginary bubble and crouch for about 30-45 seconds or longer seeing myself burn w/ anger before I hit the weights.

Today, I can rest, socialize if need be (insanely hot goddess), hide my boner, then crouch and conjure up anger from the ground (in my mind) and take care of business…and when the set ends, my painful grimace subsides into a smile while I check out the babes.

I just hope this helps out people that have hit a plateau b/c I know how much it sucks.


You forgot spiders and those door-to-door Mormon guys…
Now THAT shit freaks me out enough to lift even more than elveneyes!


well, I don’t know much about the dark intensity but I do know about the light intensity.

just joined a powerlifting gym. the freakin guys there yell the shit out of you. the motivation is unbelievable. and you know what? a weight that was previously immovable goes up.

I’ve tried the dark intensity stuff, but it’s a bit difficult for me to engage myself in one of those situations and imagine it as a momentary reality. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been pissed off to a point where I want to kill someone. Of course, I felt like I could bench press a car. But I just cannot find a way to repeat such an emotion in the gym.

I guess this is what separates some of the big lifters from the not so big lifters.

Ronin, great post. I wish more people could learn to deal with their anger and frustration in a healthy manner. I look around and see people letting their emotions get the best of them all the time. Most of the time it’s passive-aggressiveness or road rage, but anger is a powerful thing. Many people turn to drugs and self-destructive behavior.

I developed an anger problem about 9 years ago when my stepmom broke up my family. I’ve hated this woman since the day we met and the feeling is mutual. It just so happened that I was a 17 yr old kid who all of a sudden had no parental guidance. The anger I had was a constant stressor and I dealt with it by drinking, getting in fights, and blowing off all responsibility. Then I discovered weight lifting. I learned to channel all of my rage into my workouts, and it totally changed me. My family and friends noticed that I was calmer and more easy going, plus I started to like what I saw in the mirror. I rarely lose my temper and now I can let most things roll off my back.

Not only do I feel refreshed when I leave the gym, but I can be a better person to the people I care about. You leave it at the door. How many people do you know that take all of their anger out on their loved ones?

Like you said, there are so many things in the world that add fuel to the fire. People deal with things in different ways, many of which are effective, but lifting is my outlet of choice and I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.

I would suggest not doing this during sprints because each step is submaximal and the net force applied to the ground is the force produced by the agonists minus the force of the antagonists. Shutting down the antagonists can only be achieved by relaxation. I think lifting is obviously a very different story.

Interesting post.

Mounfor, lifting is NOT a different story.

In order to reach a Bench Press Max, your back musculature needs to relax. If it doesnt relax, it adds to the resistance the chest is already trying to lift. It also inhibits the chest so that motor units dont fire with the intensity they would otherwise.

Anger is the most powerful motivator around. Look at Military Bootcamp.

It also spikes up cortisol levels very effectively, minimizing lean muscle gain if you’re trying to bulk up (also aiding in excess fat gain), or increasing lean muscle loss if you’re trying to trim down.

Put a cork in that cortisol. I agree with motivation, but getting into such an incredibly aroused state will only work for a short period of time before you’re overworked because you severely exhausted the CNS. Once you are overworked it can take weeks to fully recover, and it aint pretty. I know from experience, as Im sure many do.

There’s a reason why most [sane, normal] people dont live their life in an incredibly aroused and angry state - or even just a tiny portion of it on a regular basis. The reason seems to be that it is SEVERELY taxing on your nervous system.

See, this incredibly aroused state is your BACKUP resource, to be used only in case of an EMERGENCY. It’s your survival mechanism which your body didnt develop to be used on a regular basis. From a survival standpoint, emergency after emergency after emergency just doesnt happen. If it does, you can kiss your lucky stars good bye. It’s not like someone will kill your sister today, tomorrow your mom will die, 2 days from now, your house will be burned down, 5 days from now, the mormons knock on your door to convert you, 6 days from now, your daughter is gang raped, beat unconscious only to be abducted 2 days later to be sold as a porn slave overseas, and 10 days from now your boss fires you, your car burns down and you’re forced to file for bankrupcy; 12 days later as you walk down the street 3 men beat up your best friend and his girlfriend forcing her to have an abortion…

See my point? That’s not your normal operation mode, simply because your body cannot tolerate being in an emergency mode on a regular basis without completely breaking down, turning you into an insane man in a mental ward who sees Peter Pan and likes to hang out with Pammy and Saly [ the two big Oak trees out by the Porch].

My opinion is that this mode will ultimately:

  1. Raise cortisol levels too much, causing excess lean tissue loss, and/or excess fat gain.

  2. Cause Overworking of the CNS, the worst type of overworking, since it requires potentially long times of recovery ranging up to several weeks. Not to mention deep fatigue and a disinterest in normal activities.

  3. Its not your body’s normal mode. In the end, other consequences may show up.


Well, I haven’t seen Peter Pan yet…but I do notice that my shadow has gone AWOL the last few months…maybe it ran off w/ that palm tree that was heckling me. Stupid sago.

Sane is good, normal is underachieving…advanced T-men are better than that. If anybody can, we’re probably among the few who are neurologically qualified enough to wield a DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD like this technique.

Good stuff on CNS description and effects, all newbies should read, it is a very draining technique…but so is pushin’ the same damn numbers for months on end.

Maybe I should rephrase my first recommendation : USE VERRRRRY SPARINGLY.

oh yeah, I always use an antagonistic prestretch on my bench in between sets to relax my back muscles…a habit I kinda stumbled upon intuitively over the years, its well described somewhere on this site. People should give it a try.

If anyone has any other ideas for jumpstarting the fight/flight response w/out associated cortisol release…let me know.