As I’m writing this, it’s August 3rd 2015.
You know why that date is significant? Because some of the most important Olympic weightlifting competitions in the United States are coming up within the next couple of weeks. From August 9-13, the IWF Masters World Cup is being held in Dallas, Texas. This is the biggest meet in the world for master athletes (35 and over). Immediately following this barn burner, the US National Championships are happening, also right in Dallas. We’re currently in the pre-Olympic year, which means the best lifters in our country are approaching their lifetime peaks as they fight for a chance to go to Rio.
In other words, hundreds of really strong weightlifters are hitting the platform within the next 14 days to attempt the biggest performances of their lives. You can almost feel the intensity in the air when you interact with the weightlifting community on social media.
Yesterday, I got an email from a lifter I know. This guy is competing in the Nationals next week, and it’s his first high-level meet. He asked for some advice, pointers…basically any tips I could give him that might lead to a successful competition.
Some of you might be in the exact same boat as this guy. Your first time at the big show is coming up next week. Or maybe you aren’t going to the Nationals or World Cup, but you’re preparing for another competition. Maybe it’s your first meet. Maybe you’re going after American Open qualification. Maybe you’ve been thinking about competing for a long time, and you’re still deciding whether you want to pull the trigger and go for it.
I’m writing this to everybody who has a competition platform in their future. Whether it’s national, international, or local…this article is for you. (I’m actually cheating a little bit, because I’m directly copying some of this from the e-mail I sent to my buddy earlier today)
I’ve competed in 112 weightlifting meets in my career. 33 of them have been national or international competitions. At most of these, I’ve either won or contended for the top medal positions. So I know how to compete. I’m very good at it. And I want to give you some tips that’ll make you good at it as well. These are specifically directed towards lifters who are in the beginning phases of this business. These could be either local lifters who are getting ready for their first national meet, or athletes who are approaching their first competition…period.
Actually, I think these things apply pretty well to anybody who’s still trying to master the art of competitive lifting, regardless of how long they’ve been at it.
Understanding: First of all, there’s a difference between being a good weightlifter and being a good competitor. People who can go to the gym and lift well are good weightlifters. People who can get on a competition platform and lift well are good competitors. If you’ve ever competed in this sport, you understand how different those two things are. They’re obviously connected, but one doesn’t equal the other. Almost everybody I’ve ever coached in a weightlifting meet has described it as one of the most nerve-wracking experiences they’ve ever had, and also one of the most thrilling and rewarding.
Planning: Before you lift in a meet, you need to have a solid idea about what your competition attempts will be. You’re only going to get six of them (3 Snatches, 3 Clean and Jerks). There are two types of lifters in this department:
- Lifters who plan to make six successful attempts.
- Lifters who plan to make their opening attempts and be happy with those.
You can probably guess which one of those groups you should join. Why in the hell would you spend months training for a competition, and then only plan to be 33% successful on the platform? I don’t get it… Anyway, make sure your openers are sensible weights you've made consistently. The biggest thing you'll notice at meets (especially big ones) is how far they throw you out of your normal comfort zone. The conditions and procedures are going to be different from anything you've been used to. And you don't want a situation where you're trying to adapt and adjust to an unusual environment with the pressure of some insanely heavy opening attempts hanging around your neck. I'm not saying you have to open with tiny little weights that are drastically below your normal level. I'm saying you don't want your first national meet to be a situation where you're taking foolish risks. So plan out your attempts with your brain, not your tattoos.
Competitors: Don't pay any significant attention to your competitors. If it's your first national meet, you're probably not a medal contender, and plenty of people are going to beat you. A lot of lifters piss down their legs in their first meets because they're too worried about where they're going to place. If you're not competing for top spots in your weight class, your placement isn't really a huge priority. Making six lifts and performing well is what really matters. So don't think too much about the people you're lifting against. I actually think you should maintain this mentality all the way up to the top levels. I definitely did my best lifting when I was thinking about my job instead of the people around me.
Field of Vision: Before your session starts, take a few seconds and stand on the competition platform, looking out at the view in front of you. You want the platform view to be familiar when you walk up there for your first attempts. Just get a visual sense of what's in front of you. You don't have to meditate out there or anything.
Relaxation: I always did my best lifting when I kept myself in the "this is just another meet" mindset. It's easy to start getting caught up in all the hype and craziness of the biggest-meet-in-the-country thing. But personally, I always competed best when I was relaxed. I think you're more relaxed when you view the meet like it's no different from a workout at the gym. The best suggestion I can give you is to simply make the whole thing "just another day at the office."
Breaking the Law: If you go out partying after the meet is over, don't do anything illegal or life-threatening. It took me a long time to figure out that part. Rental car companies will actually hold you responsible for damaging their cars. Seriously, they’re not kidding. Hotels are the same way about their rooms. And bartenders don’t like it when you reach over the bar and start pouring your own drinks.
Listen, there’s a reason why I’ve competed so much in my career. Competing is a lot of fun. I like to test myself in the hardest possible conditions, and I love performing in front of a crowd. When this stuff gets in your blood, you start to crave it. You reach a point where you want to be in the action, even if you know you might not win. There’s just something inside that drives you to the battle. Warriors go where the war is.
Plus, one of the best things about competition is that it hardens you up. If you compete long enough and really push your limits, you’ll have some rough days. You’ll have failures. Being forced to deal with those failures makes you tougher. That toughness will carry over into your life, and you’ll be able to handle other challenges easier than most people.
I love it. I absolutely love what that platform does to the people who have the guts to step on it. Best of luck to all of you.