At the most basic level, The Cage is nothing more than a 30’ x 20’ chain link enclosure with heavy rubber flooring that contains barbells, dumbbells, plates, a monolift, a bench press, and a deadlift platform. But to many, The Cage represents so much more. There are hundreds of sanctioned powerlifting meets spread across a dozen federations nationwide, but being invited to lift in the Cage—considered by many to be the “Super Bowl of Powerlifting”—is a major goal and honor for any elite powerlifter.

While the events in The Cage are exhibition only, with no officially recorded lifts, this does not deter ambitious lifters from seeking a spot on the official roster year after year. For the up and coming athlete with exceptional ability, this is their opportunity to let the powerlifting world know who they are and show what they can do. For the established athlete, putting on a one-of-a-kind show is a way to give back to the fans. In either case, the athletes try to lift as much damn weight as they possibly can, as many times as they can.

The Cage separates those on the inside from everything on the outside. These elite powerlifters, who can crush inhuman amounts of weight, just don’t look like they belong out there with the regular folks. So it’s easy to conclude that the chain link enclosure creates a kind of zoo, separating these Animals from the rest of us. We gawk at their feats of strength as if they were wild creatures. The truth is The Cage is more of a sanctuary for these lifters, not a prison. But perhaps most importantly, though there is a fence, it is merely symbolic. After all, The Cage allows fans to enter and meet the athletes. It may be a cage, but it’s one with an open door.

The game of weights is a mind game. You win when your mind overcomes matter. Matter is not just the physical body, but it’s also all of the external distractions. In The Cage, you’re surrounded on all sides by people standing and yelling, the music pumping loudly, and the MC talking in the mike. It feels like you’re in the Coliseum, preparing for battle. The circus around you is both a blessing and a curse. Even at a standard powerlifting meet, though there might be fewer people and much less noise, you still have the pressure to perform. How are you going to focus under these circumstances? How do you tune out the internal and external noise? Take a look at the Animal athletes right before their lifts. They aren’t looking at the audience; they aren’t posing and taking selfies. They are laser focused on getting down to business.

Pete Rubish, arguably one of the best young powerlifters in the world today, used to hype himself up for his lifts with anger. He would stir up a hornet’s nest of emotion to get going. That wasn’t sustainable, so he now uses calm to block everything out except the weight. It’s as if there is nothing around him. Being calm and focused helps when plans change. Pete had originally planned to deadlift 660 lb for 15 reps without a belt, but as the Arnold drew closer, he decided to increase the challenge to 735 lb for 10 reps.

Then, as if by fate, on the Friday before his event, Mikhail Koklyaev from Russia entered the scene and challenged Pete in The Cage. No one has ever come close to Koklyaev’s achievement of pulling 800 lb for 9 reps with dead stops. Although he is a dominant force in strong man, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting, he was coming off of a tricep tear and surgery. Pete knew this was a great opportunity for him to keep up with a legend and all he had to do was push himself harder than ever. Piece of cake.

During his event and much to his disappointment, Pete didn’t make it to 10 reps. On his eighth and final rep, as he knelt on the ground, he knew that it was the last one. He had given it his all and there was nothing left in the tank. He wanted to go to absolute failure so that there would be no second guessing, no wondering if he could have gone one more. It didn’t matter that he was in The Cage. He would have approached his lift the same way in his old basement.

Pete Rubish with Mikhail Koklyaev

See, Pete knows one important fact, something that separates elite lifters from weekend warriors. Every single time you put everything you have in the lift, you’ve earned the weight you get to lift the following week. When the going gets tough, you focus on one thing at a time. This is Pete’s mentality. He looks at every single lift as an opportunity for the future. It’s the same way he looks at meets too. He focuses on them one at a time, simply seeing only what’s in front of him and always trying to achieve an overall PR. Lifting is his passion so it’s not difficult for him to find motivation to be in the gym and train 5 days a week. There’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.

With this kind of mindset, know this—you don’t have to fly out to Columbus and stand in The Cage to experience this kind of intensity. You can bring the idea of The Cage with you wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. At your local gym, shut out the TVs and the idle conversations. If you’re in your basement, resist the pull of your phone, chores, or the demands of family members. Visualize The Cage in your mind and ignore the many thoughts that prevent you from focusing. These thoughts will sabotage you with doubt and weakness, telling you that you’re tired and you’ve done enough, or that someone else is better than you. We all have areas in our lives that could use motivation and focus. Push out the distractions. Learn to “cage” your inner Animal and work like nothing else exists.