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Mindset and Weightlifting

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Perfecting the craft of weightlifting requires many components that need to be trained in order be successful in the snatch and clean & jerk. Well rounded programs will look at the individual’s weaknesses and where they tend to technically break down within the lifts and work to improve. Elements such as mobility, strength, power and appropriate technical drills to better develop sequencing/timing (I like to call this weightlifting skill work) are then added in order to produce better proficiency. For example, if someone struggles with their overhead position in the snatch we may include some thoracic, hip and ankle mobility drills, if someone has issues standing up out of their cleans a training block may have an emphasis on building leg strength by increasing the squat volume, or someone may have trouble staying over the bar during their pull and have a tendency to pull back early and hip the bar causing it to loop out, so the inclusion of various technical drills such as hang snatches, block snatches and pull work will be included to develop better extension patterning and timing.

One element however I have seen over the years get overlooked and undervalued within the realm of novice/intermediate weightlifters is mindset.  Anyone who has trained within the sport of weightlifting for an extended period (6+ years) will tell you, mindset has just as much importance as the physical preparation and those serious about their weightlifting need to spend time training their mind as well as their body. What goes on in your brain while you train, as well as away from training will largely impact your success in learning the art of weightlifting and staying in it for the long haul.

Now I am not just talking about the ability to train hard, be resilient, yes weightlifting requires grit, it is a sport that takes time to get better at, it’s a marathon rather than a sprint.  Mastery of a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice or the equivalent of 10 years, so you need to play the long game if your serious about your weightlifting goals. What I am talking about is the attitude and conversations you have in your head about yourself, how you train and towards achieving your goals within weightlifting. People typically operate from either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. If you apply a fixed mindset to weightlifting, you are going to have a hard time sticking around.

Listed below are some key acute faltering areas for athletes that best show the representation of the two mindsets. Which one are you?

CHALLENGES

  • Individuals with a fixed mind set will tend to avoid challenges as they feel it risks discrediting their natural ability. Being in a fixed mindset means that failure is absolute. Getting pinned under heavy weight isn’t just a missed lift, it’s evidence that they are not naturally strong, and therefore never will be.
  • Individuals with a growth mindset sees a challenge as an opportunity to get better. They will take the information from an unsuccessful outcome and use it to actively improve. They will seek out things that will help them to improve and will put in the extra effort.

OBSTACLES

  • Fixed mindset when confronted with setbacks will become anxious, they meet their fear of inadequacy in obstacles and tend to blame their failures on other external factors, rather than any shortcomings on their part.
  • a growth mindset doesn’t let obstacles slow them down and they will continue to push on despite adversity, there is always a way no matter what they are presented with.

EFFORT

  • There is nothing a fixed mindset individual hates more than effort and hard work. Effort means that the task doesn’t come naturally to them, which is an insult to their natural capabilities. Fixed mindset athletes like tasks they can complete right away and with ease.
  • A growth-minded individual sees effort for what it really is: a necessity to the path of mastery. They recognize that they may be the most naturally gifted athlete, but they won’t rise to the top without effort. They also know talent will only take you so far until you need to forge effort to realise it to its fullest potential.

 

How to Train a Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset is simply about becoming open to learning more rather than seeking approval or having unrealistic expectations towards your goals. It has having the conscious awareness to approach tasks with a positive and focused mindset and changing the conversations you have both internally, and externally with those assisting you to achieve your goals so that you can reach and develop optimal performance levels. Here are my 6 major tips;

Believe in yourself: This is by far the most important element, the minute you doubt yourself is the exact moment you have set yourself up for failure. Your coach will always believe in you, so make sure you install that belief in yourself all the time and not just seeking it from external validators such as coaches, friends, family or social media. Support is important, but only you and you alone can put it together once you touch that barbell. Positive self-talk and mental practice can go a long way at helping reinforce this. They day I snatched 70kgs for the first time in a competition I sat in the mirror the morning of the comp and spoke to myself as if I would speak to a client of mine. I stared myself in the mirror and told myself “Holly, today is the day, you WILL snatch red plates, you WILL snatch 70kgs, you have put the work in repeatedly, you are strong enough, you owe it to yourself, you deserve greatness and you will do this”. I went out at my last state competition in WA to walk away with two competition platform PBs that day and broke the state records. One of them was snatching that illustrious 70kgs I had been chasing for over a year and a half on the competition platform.

Failure is opportunity: Look at failure and struggle as a doorway to improvement, approach each failed or messy rep as simply feedback, it is information to help you work out what is still missing rather than a direct link to you and your ability. We will never be good at new things, but over time, rep by rep, we can become good. It won’t happen overnight, and the good waves of form will not always hang around, but when you look back 12 months later you will see the improvements! How you handle yourself when things aren’t going in your favour tells me as a coach more about you than what your best lift time bests are. I have bombed out at two major competitions so far over my 6 years as a lifter, I was a favourite for podium placings in BOTH and one was an international competition as well. I wont lie, bombing at comps isn’t a pleasant feeling, but what is important is moving past what happened, using it as feedback as what needs to be changed/worked on and then putting the work in. In my instance, it was in fact mindset which needed to be addressed, in one comp it was placing too high of an expectation on myself and the other was a fear of failure which low and behold lead me to do exactly that. Both those moments were opportunities to learn and since then I have worked on changing my mindset around competition.

Leave your ego at the door: Most of the time we get in our own way in the quest of weightlifting success. Let the barbell humble you most of the time, respect the barbell and respect the process. Don’t get me wrong, its important to take praise and give the ego a little stroke when you do achieve some big personal bests and break past obstacles, but don’t let ego dictate your training, you will only open a door to frustration and emotionally driven responses when things don’t go your way or don’t go to plan in training sessions. The high moments will be few and far between the longer you stay at it with weightlifting so appreciate them for what they are rather than the frequency. Novice lifters will hit PB after PB in their first 1-2 years, but around year 3 the grind becomes real and you will need to work harder for those PBs. These peaks and troughs are the norm in weightlifting, the longer you’re in it, the longer you have to chase for even a 1kg PB on your snatch (trust me, it took me 12 months to do exactly that at one time). Try to approach training sessions by focusing on what the body needs to do rather then what the weight is on the bar. Lighter programmed sessions should be viewed as sessions to refine technique and harder sessions are opportunities to test your body and see if the hard work you have been putting in is driving you in the right direction. Not hitting load targets in sessions doesn’t define who you are, it just tells you and your coach what still needs working on that’s all. Just remember, if after all that you still need an ego check, just remember there is a 13-year-old Chinese girl most likely out lifting you on her quest to make the Chinese Olympic Squad, you do this for fun and enjoyment don’t ever forget that!

Be open to feedback: Feedback from a coach is not a personal attack. It is easy to get so personally invested into our weightlifting that when constructive feedback is given it can be perceived as negative feedback. What you are feeling will always be different to what a coach is seeing. Body awareness as a lifter takes years to develop in knowing exactly where the barbell is during any moment of the lift and knowing where your errors in your technique is coming from. That’s why weightlifting requires coaching. Even the most advanced lifters don’t always know why lifts feel “off” or why they miss, and a coach can see what you cannot feel and provide precise and direct feedback to resolve the technical error. Chances are they have been in your shoes and know what your experiencing so trust the advice and feedback they give you.

Appropriate Goal Setting: Try not to set goals that are based around numbers (outcome goals), especially if you are a novice lifter! It is important to set goals both for each session you do and as well as quarterly and yearly goals but aim to make them process goals. For me, I like to set goals for each session that typically focus on technical elements or mental elements for my process goals, so for example, I am going to focus on continuing to shrug upwards as the bar passes my hips today during my snatches regardless of what weight is on the bar. I also prefer to make my goals more performance based, so for example I want to be able to clean & jerk but the end of a 3 month programming block with better proficiency, the weight may be a routine 80/85% but I want to see that my technique is cleaner.

Find joy: You need to find joy in weightlifting, find joy in the mundane elements of training, find joy in the routine practice of mastering your skills, find joy in the hard sessions not just in the good sessions. After all, it’s a difficult skill to learn so make sure you enjoy the process and what its teaching you along the way!

My recommendation on books to read if this in an area you wish to delve into it more:

  • Mindset by Carole Dweck
  • Mind Gym by Gary Mack & David Casstevens
  • Talent Code by Daniel Coyle