Opinion

Finding Success in Missed Lifts: A Reflection on Competition

A few weeks ago, I competed in what felt like my millionth weightlifting meet. No matter how many meets I do, somehow my total remains the same. It’s become a bit of a joke that I end each meet with a total of 129kg, so much so that my friend teasingly suggested I snatch 30kgs next meet just so that I can clean & jerk 99kgs.

What a frustrating place to be: putting hours in at the gym and yet yielding the same results time and again.

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I can’t help but think about at quote I saw posted in a weightlifting group on Facebook the other day. It read, “Be committed to the process without being attached to the results.”

How does one manage to do that? How is it possible to continue to run into the same wall and not begin to feel irritated?

While our sport is one where the number counts, it’s also about so much more than that. There’s always a lesson to be learned in the gym and at a meet, and we’d be remiss to overlook that. This is about growth, and I’m not just talking about #musclegainz. Weightlifting challenges us on levels that run much deeper than just the physical. Anyone who’s ever missed a snatch (so quite literally everyone) knows this is a mental game. In fact, weightlifting is emotional as well. The numbers count, but so do the psychological and personal changes we experience because we weight lift.

If you follow anyone who competes on social media (whether they be local, national, or international competitors), you know that reflecting on the journey is a part of the process. In between all of the thank you’s to their coaches, fans, and friends, lifters leave clues about how they feel about their meet performances and what they’ve taken away from the day. Sometimes those novel-length posts are full of excitement and pride; sometimes lifters talk about disappointment and frustrations.

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My miss, miss, and make with 135 kg at the Nationals earlier this year After the Collegiate Nationals in September, I took some time off to address a knee injury. A week later, John had his stroke. Training was the lowest on my priority list. After a month or so, I started half-heartedly getting back into it, eventually hitting ~90% of my best lifts. Then I got the news that Coffee’s Gym was being closed. I had no coach, and I blamed myself for it being closed. Both of these were the recipe for a training disaster. The month leading up to Nationals, whenever I would work up on a heavy day, I would miss any Snatches at 130 or above, and above 170 on the Clean & Jerk. I would keep trying and trying after each miss, pretty much just practicing how to keep missing. Each time I talked to John on the phone, though, he would always remind me, “today isn’t the meet”. This is what I held onto going into the Nationals. Fast forward to Nationals, warmups go nicely until I miss my last one at 130. As soon as I missed it I instantly remembered what John would say in this situation. “That don’t mean shit, everyone misses their last warmup”. It took me three tries, but I managed to Snatch a weight that I had only clarked in the month leading up. I’m glad that I chose to compete. The numbers weren’t great, but the numbers weren’t important. Competing is very much a skill in itself, and there is a chance that life will deal me a rough blow before another meet. The next go-around though, I’ll be able to tell myself, “I’ve been here before”. The first time is always the worst. This experience also made me realize this: a good coach’s words will be carried with you for life. I am now at a one point where I know what to do with my training, and it is all very much thanks to John. It has been a trying time in my life, but I can finally look back and find the silver lining. One day I hope to touch the lives of others the way that man has mine.

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In truth, athletes should always feel some combination of the two. There is always something to feel proud of, and there is always something we could have done better. Knowing this is the key to developing as both an athlete and as person. The ultimate goal of sport is really to make us better versions of ourselves so failing to fully reflect on both the positive and the negatives is a missed opportunity for growth.

In my last meet, I only made two of six attempts. If I didn’t already have a vast number of meets under my belt, that alone would have dictated my feelings about the day and I would have gone home feeling as though my training had failed me- that I had failed myself.

But my competitive experience has helped me to grow in perspective. Instead of seeing four missed lifts and berating myself when watching the videos, I see segments of the lifts that went well and areas in which I can improve. For instance, I have been working primarily on reaching full extension from the power position during this past training cycle and when I roll the tape, I see that I executed this beautifully even in the missed lifts. These misses were stronger, more technically sound lifts than misses in previous meets. My training has helped me to progress in that area.

Why then, did I miss the lifts? Probably because weightlifting is simultaneously the most complex and simplest thing on Earth. But really, I missed it because of technical flaws in other portions of the lift that affected the bar path.

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“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash —— An unsuccessful Snatch competition left me disqualified for the Clean & Jerk. I just was not feeling powerful, tried reducing my opener a few kilos to 85 which is a very routine lift for me . . . but still came up with no lifts. I did everything I possibly could to prepare for this meet, it just wasn’t my day. This hurts, but I will not hang my head for long. I will get this ship turned around. #strengthfromstruggle

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I posted my fails to my Instagram account with a reflection on what I felt I did well and what I need to do better for next meet. Often, lifters show case only their best performances because admitting that we are flawed seems contrary to instinct. Having flaws indicates weakness, and ours is a sport of strength.

But what if showing our vulnerability is strength?

After posting my fails and analyzing what went wrong, two positive things happened. First, a friend of mine, Edward Baker of Coffee’s Gym fame, who is a far better and more experienced lifter than I, messaged me. He disagreed with my assessment of my lift. Yes, I was jumping back a lot on my snatches, but this was the effect, not the cause of the missed lift. To him, it looked as though I was starting with the bar too close to my shins so that I need to let it drift away off the floor in order to pass my knees. The entire bar path is affected by my start position and my body is moving in space relative to this flawed bar path. If I fix this, then the rest of the lift would be better. A miss might become a make with an easy fix.

Now there are plenty of people on the internet who want to give you lifting advice and truth be told, you shouldn’t listen to half of them. If you are going to listen to feedback from people on the inter-webs, you better be sure that they are a qualified coach who knows what he/she is talking about about. But if you a part of this sport for long enough, you’ll learn that the community is actually quite small and you’ll rub elbows with plenty of good coaches and Nationally-ranked lifters. When one of them gives you advice, take it and run with it. I haven’t quite recovered from lifting heavy recently and I’m already eager to get back into the gym to apply what Edward shared with me.

Secondly, posting about my performance gave me an opportunity to see how far I have come, even if there is still much further for me to go. I couldn’t help but smile when an Instagram follower I’ve never met took the time to tell me that she checks my feed for posts about training and that my lifting inspires her. If I were a Nationally ranked lifter, perhaps I’d be used to such flattery, but I’m not. In fact, there are women who can snatch what I clean & jerk. But that doesn’t stop me from working to be the best lifter I am capable of by constantly refining my technique and pushing to improve my maxes. The grind can be a lonely road. But knowing that somewhere out there someone is looking at me, noting my hard work, and feeling inspired is enough to make any gal feel like a champion, even if she missed a few lifts on the platform.

So what’s the take away? Put yourself out there. Get on that platform. Feel those nerves, know everyone is watching and that you might fail, and do it anyway. Everyone IS watching but they are also rooting for you too. At the end of the day, the only way to learn is by being willing to fail and taking that risk publicly gives others strength to do the same. And that is a kind of success that is far greater than any total can ever be.

For further reading on how to rebound when your meet performance isn’t matching your expectations and goals, check out this article.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.