Ask Greg: Dealing with Chaotic Warm-up Rooms in Competition
Patricia Asks: I recently competed in a meet where everything was super hectic. The warm-up room only had 4 platforms (there were 26 lifters in my session), there were children running around screaming, someone got in a fight with their coach—it was all very distracting. Do you have any tips for blocking these things out during a meet? I'm also a new lifter and I still get super nervous at meets. Any tips on how to calm nerves would be helpful too. Thanks!
Greg Says: Welcome to the new era of American weightlifting! So many good things and improvements have arisen in the last few years with the sport’s growth, but it also means that situations like this are increasingly common due to big local meets and also more people with no familiarity with basic competition etiquette and the like running around. You might think it’s common sense to not allow small children to run wild through an area crowded with people lifting and dropping big weights, but you’d be wrong as you just discovered.
First, the good news: If you accumulate experience at meets like this, you’re eventually going to be pretty unshakable because you’ll become inured to the noise and chaos. So keep in mind that this can actually be beneficial. One of the biggest problems newer lifters have when transitioning from the local to national level is the change in environment, namely bigger crowds and more distractions. You won’t have that problem. Most national level competition warm-up rooms will seem like day spas compared to that meet.
Now, how to actually cope with this kind of a situation. Above all else, you need to be relaxed and flexible. Being wound too tight and totally rigid with your plans is a sure way to have a bad day. Flexibility involves being willing to adjust your warm-up weights and timing slightly to accommodate the 4-5 other people on your platform; adjusting openers slightly to account for unexpected changes in time due to weird attempts, misses, people who don’t know what’s happening slowing the meet down, etc; what kind of bar and weights you’re warming up on; and the platform you can use, i.e. you may not get the one you want.
Be friendly and accommodating, but also be assertive during your warm-ups. Don’t let the other lifters and coaches screw you over by staying silent if they’re trying to jump in right as you need to take a lift. The majority of lifters and coaches are fine waiting 20 more seconds for you to go, and the ones who aren’t need to learn they’re not superstars who get to do whatever they want.
Keep your cool by paying attention to your body—breathe deeply and periodically force your shoulders to relax and sag. Close your eyes and visualize your next lift, whether it’s on the platform or in the warm-up room—keep your focus on what YOU are doing and going to do.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Even if this is a big meet for you, remember that it’s not life or death. You’re not going to get murdered or divorced if you don’t make the exact total you had in mind. View it as a challenge that has the potential to make you a stronger, tougher, more resilient athlete and person, and take pleasure in that. And as part of all of this, let yourself laugh about it. There are few better ways to relieve tension than laughter, and it’s a great way to get over whatever is happening and get back to your baseline. Personally, I would have laughed my ass of at a coach and athlete getting into a fight in the warm-up room—what a couple of morons.
You can wear headphones and blast your own music to shut out the noise, just be careful you’re paying enough attention that you don’t miss being called to the platform. If you can, warm up on a platform farther away from the marshal’s table and competition platform so it’s a bit less crowded and chaotic. Sit facing a wall rather than out into the chaos of the room. As much as possible, create your own space and world, but stay in tune enough to be present when you’re needed.
Finally, the single best thing for reducing nervousness is experience. The more meets you do, the more routine the experience will become, which means you’ll naturally have less of emotional reaction to it. Good meets will help build your confidence, and bad meets will help build your resilience. They’re all useful.