A reporter allegedly once asked John D. Rockefeller “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” The same concept applies to weightlifting, but there’s a difference between being happy and being satisfied. We are never satisfied in weightlifting; it’s the game you can’t win. The minute we set a new PR, we always want to lift more, but not being satisfied is different than not being happy. Happiness is a choice. You make that decision, and in doing so, you set yourself up for future success. The following are few tips to stay positive on the days when PRs seem like they will never come.
1. Win the Day
7x USAW World Team Member, Matt Bruce, used to tell me “there are going to be many more bad days in weightlifting than there are good, but the good days make all those bad ones worth it.” By ‘bad’ he meant that you aren’t going to PR every day. Years and years later I’ve realized that just because you can’t PR every day doesn’t mean you can’t still win the day.
Personally, it helps me to go into the gym and not put any expectations towards an actual number. I’ve found that when I go in with a certain number in mind, I either leave disappointed because I didn’t reach that goal, or I sell myself short and shut down mentally after that number is achieved. Either way, it leaves me with nothing but a training number at the end of the day.
Instead, try going into the gym with the expectation of leaving it more knowledgeable. Go in with a goal related to improving your movement pattern. Try to fix something (even if it’s small) and the better technique will lead to the bigger numbers.
2. Release Yourself from Pressure
On days you feel beat up and tired, use the time to reinforce correct movement patterns under fatigue. Forcing yourself to try and lift a weight closer to your true maximum and missing multiple times will only build mental and physical fatigue. Don’t put yourself in a position to burn failure into your mindset. Misses will happen, but limit them and move on.
Instead, train your body and your mind to make lifts by attempting what’s in your wheelhouse for that day. A correctly executed sub-maximum lift that feels like 100% on a day when you’re tired will transfer with the technique necessary to hold the positions at a PR attempt when you are fresh.
This also works the other way, which is why it’s so important to have a coach that can make those daily, weekly, and monthly adjustments for you. Some days you will feel better than what is prescribed on your program. In early February, I was training in D.C. with Cara Heads Slaughter. We had a prescribed lift around 80%ish in the split jerks. I went into the gym with the goals of staying tight in the core and improving my foot placement in the catch. Let’s just say mission accomplished. I won’t tell you where we stopped, but we crushed that goal and I got better technically as well. The following day Cara talked me through some adjustments to make sure I didn’t totally wreck myself for the upcoming days and weeks of training.
Let your coach make those adjustments, but on days you feel great, don’t forget to still train the mental side. Use it as a tool! Build your confidence with heavy weights by moving them properly. It doesn’t serve you to move in any other way (trust me – I’ve been there – and bad habits are way harder to break). Days you feel good mean you get to move heavier weight; it doesn’t mean you have to PR here either. Always lifting with the goal of precision and accuracy will continue set you up for long term success.
3. Squash the Negative Demon
Practice overcoming the little demon in your head that tells you it feels more natural to do it wrong. And even better, practice overcoming the same negative mindset that tells you that you aren’t getting better. If you are in the gym, and you’re putting in consistent time with positive energy, than you are getting better. Trust the process. Just because we don’t PR everyday doesn’t mean that day isn’t coming.
Besides, if it were that easy than everyone would do it. The real winner in weightlifting is the athlete that can keep their composure and battle through for the long haul.
Finally, if you really can’t shake the negativity, my advice would be to move on from the exercise for the day. Some days things really aren’t working and the negative self-talk is doing more long term damage and zero positive reinforcement. Give yourself a break and move on to something less mentally taxing, but understand the true meaning of this and use it sparingly.
When you leave the gym, be happy. You should have learned something and you just did something you love to do. The Olympic lifts are impossible to perfect. There’s always something to work on; always something to get better at. It’s the game we can’t win. When you PR, you don’t have to be satisfied, but be happy. You’ll want just a little bit more. That’s what brings us back every day. Learn to love the process and you’ll be happy.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image: @sam_poeth on Instagram