Written By: Kyle Fields- Co-Founder & Head Coach
"Programming" the mental side of weightlifting
Imagine this: You are about to take that big attempt that you have been training for. The whole gym is hyped up and cheering you on, you approach the bar, pull and…nothing. You leave the platform ashamed, coach is shaking his head and everyone else is throwing around the word “clark” like it’s a baseball at the World Series.
Creating a weightlifting program may be fairly simple, a selection of exercises, manipulation of variables like intensity and volume, technique and recovery, all with the idea of producing a desired response. In our case, a stronger snatch and clean and jerk can lead you in the right direction for improvement. However, one piece that is often overlooked is an athlete’s mental preparedness, ready for the new weights that he or she is working towards. There are a couple dead giveaways of this issue; like approaching weights from one attempt to the next in a different manner, abnormally longer set ups, self-doubt statements, and of course, clarking (starting the pull without finishing the attempt). If you are coaching an athlete, or programming yourself, there are some actions you can take to combat this issue. Of course narrowing down the reason for the weak mentality is ideal. Speaking generally, here are a few pieces to consider:
1). Recovery: Timing of heavy attempts is crucial. Some athletes have the ability to train at a relatively high intensity, potentially, even taking attempts close to or above a PR on a consistent basis. The reasoning for that ability is for another article, but one thing to consider is if that athlete is you or not. If it is not, be mindful of where you are in your recovery. If you are taking these heavy attempts with the expectation of achieving a PR, yet you're beat up from the last few days or weeks of training, you may want to look at the intensity of your training leading up to these attempts. My advice, become more systematic with your training and recovery time.
2). Increase your pulling strength & add back assistance exercises: This one may seem obvious (or not) but it can be tricky. One of the biggest reasons for “clarking,” is that the weight feels like a 1RM deadlift off the floor. While pulling is a staple in almost every weightlifting program, the degree to which varies. Specifically, the intensity of the pulls, paired with the number of repetitions of the exercise in a given period (day, week, block, etc.). The piece to consider is if your intensity is high enough. Without getting too much into the science stuff, pulling heavy, elicits a certain level of stimulation on the nervous system. Generally speaking, the intensity of the pull is going to alter the response. A few months ago I increased the average intensity of my athlete’s pulls and to put it simply, that increase is staying. (Keep in mind the recovery aspect!).
3). Build up confidence: In my opinion, the most difficult issue to fix is the confidence of a lifter. While it is important that the lifter works on this personally, there are a few things that can be done within the programming world. The first is building up the variation lifts; like blocks, hangs, powers etc. Building up these lifts often get the lifter in the mindset that if they can hang snatch “X,” then they can full snatch “Y”. Another tactic is EMOM’s, this forces the lifter to move at a pace that takes away the amount of time to process the weight on the bar. Often times after making a heavy attempt at the end of an EMOM, the same equation listed above is present. Or they PR during the EMOM, which is just as great. The last, is helping the lifter to create a progressive mindset. Preconceived ideas that a certain weight is “heavy” are catastrophic to a lifters progression. Often times they fall apart at a certain weight, not because they are not capable, but because they recognize it as a milestone lift. Visualization on the lifters part, as well as positive reinforcement from the coach is a great way to overcome that mindset.
As always, take a close look at what your needs are, athlete or coach. There are at least 100 additional factors that may contribute to the progress of a weightlifter. There is no “one size fits all” in weightlifting.