Get Control & Focus for Technique in Weightlifting
You’re probably bad at more than one thing when it comes to your weightlifting technique. That’s not a value judgment, it’s just a fact I’m pretty confident in due to many years of coaching. You’re in good company (mostly).
The problem with this aside from the obvious is that you find yourself about to lift, or during a lift, with your mind spinning out of control trying to organize all of your thoughts and cues and points of focus, and wind up doing none of the things you’re trying to do.
3 Cues Max!
For years, I’ve encouraged lifters to give themselves a maximum of 3 points to focus on during any given rep, but those 3 must each be in their own distinct phases of the lift: one before you start, one during the lift, and one as you’re finishing. For example, you may cue yourself to set your back arch properly in the starting position, push straight up through the whole foot during the lift, and to continue holding your overhead position forcefully while waiting for a down signal. Remember, that’s the absolute maximum—even that may be too much for you, at least some of the time.
First, you need to prioritize your problems, and you need to be ruthless. My rule on this is simple: start with the first and the worst. You need to prioritize the biggest, most egregious errors for what should be obvious reasons, but also because often the more minor peripheral errors are products of the big ones and will be resolved automatically along with them, while being impossible to resolve on their own.
Likewise, you need to prioritize earlier errors over later ones for the same reason—later errors are very often caused by earlier ones, and resolving the source is the best (or only) way to fix them.
Next, you need to reduce any cues you decide to use to the absolutely most streamlined form possible. Remember that a cue isn’t an instruction or description—it’s a reminder of those things. You need to know and understand what it is that’s happening and what you need to do in response, and then create a cue that reminds you of that action. Ideally, this is a single word, but a few can work. Using the previous 3 examples, back, whole foot and tight should be all you need.
Some lifters truly believe certain words work better for something than others, but I’d argue that’s because they’re misusing or misunderstanding cues and they don’t actually know the physical action they should be doing, and consequently are relying on the word itself to inspire the right motion. By all means, use what’s most effective, but if this describes you, fix it.
This is all well and good, but what about when you’re freaking out and can’t even get enough control over your mind to stay focused on any cue, let alone the right one? Or you keep coming back to thoughts about how terrible you are, how you always miss your snatches above 85%, how you haven’t made any progress in a year and the new guy PRs every 20 minutes?
Pick the one most important cue and use it like a mantra. A mantra is simply a word or sound you repeat to yourself in order to reduce distraction and improve focus—and just like when you use it in meditation, using one in this situation will help de-stimulate your brain and help you relax enough to get control of yourself. Endlessly repeating whole foot to yourself may sound ridiculous, but give it a shot—with practice, you’ll find it makes an enormous difference in your ability to block out distractions, negativity and self-doubt… all while conveniently reminding you of what you need to do technically.
Get even more out of the practice by combining your mantra with related visualization during your rest before the set—see, hear, smell and feel what it is you’ll be doing if you follow your cue properly. As you get better with time and practice, you’ll be capable of shutting the entire world out and turning off the part of your brain that keeps getting in your way. Practice before you need it, so it’s a comfortable and effective tool when you do.