Lessons in focus

I gleaned a lesson or two about being focused from this year's ECG lifting camp. It was noted that I approach the bar in a similar way every time, identifying the technical cues I needed for each rep. The illustrious coach Joe Hanson spoke about how you need to make your world a very small place and shut out everything but the task at hand. Leo talked about visualizing your lifts in your head. Recently I've been pondering the difference between how we prepare for our lifts in training and in competition.

What goes through your head when everybody's watching??
Training lifts are easy. You'll always get another shot, and there's nothing really on the line. It gets to be very comfortable to approach every rep. But when the weight gets heavy, and especially when we are standing in front of the judges, we often change course. It's hard to teach yourself to lift 150kg the same way you lift 50kg. Add in the pressure of a meet and people start to try to make adjustments, think about the weight, and often imagine themselves missing.

For example, many people like to laugh and relax in between sets in training. Even up to maximal weights, banter is common. There's no lead up to each training session; usually people just show up, get warmed up/taped up and lift. But on meet day there's that weigh-in two hours prior. After that many people immediately start getting themselves psychologically ready or sit alone in the corner or otherwise withdraw into a hole wearing headphones. During warmups everything is serious, and by the time they go out to the platform their adrenaline levels have been so high for so long they're often a little tired. Sometimes between attempts they'll pace back and forth or jump up and down, as if they need to be even more pumped up. Many times they're angry as they grab the bar, as if it's them versus the weight.

This approach might make sense if that's the way you normally train, but when you lift one way in practice all the time that's going to be the way your body is most adapted to lift in a meet. You'll already have that extra adrenaline just from being in a meet situation. If instead you act like now this is Serious Business then you're asking your body to do something it's not used to. I can't tell you how many people go out there like they're angry at the bar only to miss or even bomb out.

Ask yourself what a confident person would do. Confidence is the key, and it is what you need to transfer the most of your training to competition. A confident person wouldn't expend inordinate amounts of energy to psyche themselves up; they would be relaxed and ready to do what they've trained to do. A confident person smiles, and they are cool and collected. A confident person is able to control their adrenaline levels to bring them up when necessary and back down afterwards. A confident person can walk out on the platform, see the lift happen in their mind's eye, and walk up to the bar and execute.

This, I think, is an ultimate goal for a lifter. I have always tended to kind of blank out when I touch the bar in front of the judges, so I developed short, personal, reminder cues for myself that I can repeat in my head. It keeps me grounded to my technique, because anyone can lift hard.

At the camp meet I think I may have had a bit of a breakthrough. Even though I have my cues, I'm still involuntarily affected by the excitement and I lose a bit of control. This camp, though, I took Leo's talk on visualization and applied it to my training and meet lifts. While still repeating the cues, I now go through the entire lift in my head. I see and feel what it's like to execute the lift correctly. I'm working on refining the timing, but I had some of my best lifts when I imagined the technique and then immediately lifted the bar the same way. At the meet itself I saw the lift happening, repeated my cues, and pulled. With some allowance for the exhaustion from the past week, I think I did a good job! Come Nationals four weeks from now I expect to be peaked, technical, and ready to lift all-time PRs.

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