How to Survive Weightlifting in 3 Simple Steps

Six weeks ago, I competed in a tune up meet at the Cap City Open in Virginia, during the middle of a cycle, completely un-peaked, and went 5 for 6 at a bodyweight of 74.80kg with an 89kg snatch, and a 118kg clean & jerk. The one lift I missed was a clean & jerk attempt at 122kg. The lift would have given me a PR competition clean & jerk and a PR competition total. I was on top of the world. I thought to myself (and everyone around me, because let’s be honest, I’m not quiet ever and I’m only occasionally shy), “Man just wait for Nationals. This cycle is only halfway complete and I’m attempting PRs!”

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At about that same time, I started writing an article with tips on how to improve in competition. I told the Editor of BarBend, David Tao, that I wanted to wait until I lifted my personal record competition total before I made it public. I had zero doubts about it happening on May 27, 2018. Well, if you watched the 75kg session of the National Championships, then you already know that it did not happen for me.

So, as I sat around sulking (consuming every disgusting calorie in liquid and sugar form and forcing myself back into the gym because it’s the only thing that pulls me out of these slumps), I realized that there’s nothing else to do except to be okay with it. This was my 13th Senior National Championship (specifying because I have lifted in 1 Youth, 3 Junior, and 5 University Level Nationals as well). I’ve bombed in 3 of those 22 opportunities. (Don’t judge me; or if you want to that’s fine, just don’t tell me about it.) I’ve also earned medals in 17 of those 22 competitions. In this cycle, I completed 118kg (or more) in the clean & jerk successfully on 7 different days throughout the 12 weeks with only one miss at that weight. On competition day, the day that I needed it just once, I failed. Not just once, but 3 times.

When you bomb, people always say things like “Oh, its ok. It happens to everyone”, or “You’ll get it next time”, and for the most part, I believe this to be true. (P.S. If you’re reading this and new to weightlifting, a bomb out is where you miss three lifts in the same event. You must complete at least one snatch and one clean and jerk to post a total. You can, however, win medals at National events in a single lift if you complete one of the top 3 weights for that lift.)

Regardless, instead of giving you my article on how to improve in competition, I am going to leave you with three tips to survive a decade of ups and downs in this technical, beautiful and complicated sports of ours.

Step 1: Celebrate (or cry) because either way, a new day is coming (also because this too shall pass is overstated).

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Coach Nick Saban (I hope he doesn’t need an introduction, but if you live under a rock, he is the head football coach at the University of Alabama and arguably one of the best coaches of all time) has what he calls the 24 hour rule. He says, “Enjoy your success on Saturday or wallow in your self-pity for a maximum of 24 hours, and then get back to doing all the little things that you need to do to win.” I honestly couldn’t agree more.

The funny, frustrating, and flat out truth about weightlifting (or any sport, really) is that you just never know exactly how it’s going to play out. You can do every little thing “correct” with training, and nutrition, and psychologists, and sleep, and sometimes you still just have bad days. (I say “correct” because everyone has a different opinion on that, so it’s really what works for you.) I’ve had my best training cycles followed with my worst competitions, and my best competitions after terrible training cycles. Some days it’s just not there, and you take what your body and mind are willing to give you. Other days the extra strength is unexpected, although always welcome. (Please strength Gods, send us more of these days). Regardless, the bad days make you extra thankful for the good, and the good days are surely coming, but the feeling of both wins and losses can only last so long before you have to move on. The improvements you are asking for won’t happen unless you make them happen.

Step 2: Reflect on the entire situation. After all, it’s all about balance (and I don’t mean in your feet.)

The beauty of weightlifting is that it’s a living, breathing organism, and the same as with any relationship, it has its ups and downs. Some days you are best friends and some days you want to strangle each other. The relationship takes continuous work; and the same as with dealing with any woman, it’s a must to react to the mood for the day. This concept is somewhat easier to digest on training days because you have plenty of those. One bad day won’t define the entire cycle, and your coach will usually adjust the program to allow for other opportunities to bring success. Bad days in competition hurt a little worse. We don’t compete very often throughout the year, and with only 3 attempts in each lift, there are limited opportunities, so it can feel like a waste when they don’t go well. Again, those competitions don’t define you. (Saban has a 6 total National Championships. How many has he lost? Exactly. Doesn’t matter.)

My suggestion is to step back and reflect on the entire process. What went right, what went wrong and then communicate that with your coach. Don’t do it the day of the competition, because emotions are too raw, but also don’t wait a week. For me, 48-72 hours is the perfect time frame. You want the experience fresh, but free of intense emotions. Then, come up with a game plan to make it better, and don’t throw everything out the window. Think hard; something went right even if the numbers didn’t show it. (My warm up jerks were fire!) I promise, as bad as you feel, your coach feels the same way. He or She did not put in hundreds of hours making corrections in hopes of things going wrong. As a stated before, weightlifting is a very personal, living, breathing relationship, and it needs constant attention.

To keep yourself in the sport, alive and thriving, takes continuous work and adjustments throughout all aspects that have an influence on it. In the downtime, find a balance with activities that are not detrimental or unproductive, but low stress and help you keep your sanity outside of lifting.  

Step 3: Respond with a game plan and trust in the process.

If you show up to train, give it your best effort, and put this on repeat, you’re 10% there. Congrats! (Just kidding.)

Weightlifting is hard, and training can seem tedious and repetitive at times, but obviously very necessary to excel. In reality, the sport is repetitive. Watch a session. The goal is literally to repeat the exact same movement three times with the only difference being the amount of weight loaded onto the barbell. Then you move on to the next lift and try to repeat the process.

I believe that most sports are somewhat mental, but, in my opinion, weightlifting is a 90/10 mental to physical sport. The biggest barrier is almost always in your mind. I’m not saying you can clear your mind of all negative thoughts and then become a world champion tomorrow, but what I am saying is that you already possess everything you need to improve. If you put in the training, the biggest hurdle is in your trust in the process and belief in yourself. Just wait for it. Your day is coming.

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

Featured image: @lukycharms

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