Being a Weightlifter vs. Lifting Weights

Originally Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 2:57 PM
I've wanted to address the psychological aspect of weightlifting for some time now, and today I'll begin.  I have many athletes who want to be weightlifters.  I have others who like the discipline of lifting and want to improve their technique.  I have still others who just do what they need to as a part of their program.  Some, however, are discontented.  They want to be a weightlifter, but they don't approach the sport as such.  I'm writing this column to address some of the ways to make that transformation from someone who lifts weights to someone who is a weightlifter.

The simple difference is that a weightlifter is someone who does the movements and focuses on them rather than focusing on putting weight overhead.  Anthony Hernandez is hopefully coming by this Saturday, and he is a weightlifter:

He's also an example of my first characteristic of a mentally prepared lifter.  When Anthony trains, he doesn't mess around with the bar.  He lifts it and puts it down, and if the bar has bounced a bit off center, he moves his body and does the clean or snatch with his body just a bit off center to the platform, but centered on the bar.  Why does this make an impression on me?  Because it doesn't matter where the bar is.  The bar doesn't care if it's off center.  Your mind might, but tuck that weak part of you away and just LIFT TE BAR.  A snatch is a snatch, and your body should do the same thing no matter where the bar is, no nonsense. Just snatch the bar.  I started becoming a weightlifter and not just lifting weights when training with Jason Gump in Moorestown about 10 years ago, and guess what?  He did the same thing.  

Here's a video of Jason snatching 150kg in training (Thank you, Carissa Gump)  Jason was a 94 kg lifter and competed for the USA several times, including a brave showing at the 2003 Pan Am Games.  While I have some good stories about Jason, one of my favorites is for one Saturday morning when several of us were in the gym.   We'd been there for an hour or so when Tom dropped a 190 kg squat.  Jason had just walked in and been lazily putting on his shoes, and said something smart-ass to Tom about the miss.  Tom said: 
"Why don't you put it back in the rack for me and I'll do it again?"

Jason said "Okay" (really, he isn't a man of many words) "I'll do it for $10."  I threw in another $10, because JASON HADN'T WARMED UP.  Gump approached the bar, looked at it for a minute or so, got set over it, and cleaned it and put it in the racks.  Jason weighed about 95 kilos.  That's a double bodyweight, un-warmed up for clean (he'd done 200 and 205 at this time in competition, but missed the 205 jerk, I believe).  This act illustrates my next point:  You can do it.  Jason didn't worry about lifting the weight, didn't consider how much weight was on the bar, he just knew he could clean it, and he cleaned it.  Trusting himself, trusting his body, Jason was confident. 

Developing confidence to this extent isn't easy.  It's a process of repetition and trust in yourself built day after day for months and years.  Establishing confidence starts with routine.  Your routine should consist of the necessary; shed useless actions and habits and streamline your preparation.  Your warm-up should be simple and effective,  maybe a few loosening up movements.  You can do mobility work later and throughout the day; when you go to lift, do the most important stuff and keep it simple (doing mobility work throughout the day is actually a much better way to get bendy than to cram it all in at one time before you train).  Pavel Tsatsouline has a good warm-up which consists of starting at your extremities and wiggling your toes, rolling your ankles and wrists, moving up toward your knees and elbows, until you finish by doing some hip circles.  Throw in some bodyweight/ Asamov Squats and some hip flexor stretches (yes, you do need them) and you're golden.  A warm-up like this is simple, helps you focus, and doesn't require you to use mental energy.

When you lift, make sure you know what the program is, get your weights written down, etc. before the session.  If your coach is telling you what to lift, just lift what he or she puts on the bar.  Your job is to lift, not think.  At this point, you should make sure that you approach the bar not in relation to the platform, but in relation to your body.  If the bar is off center, move your feet.  You are the center; the platform doesn't matter.  You do.

Next, take the bar and lift, and focus on the feeling of the lift.  You cannot see yourself moving the bar.  You cannot think about punching with your hips or pulling big.  If you think these things and can react to them,  you're too slow.  Stop thinking and move fast.  Strong feet, squeeze the bar off the floor; push violently with your legs, rip it from the hips, spread the bar at the top of the snatch and jerk and punch your elbows in the clean.  Remember what felt good from that lift and emulate the feeling.  If you replicate that feeling, everything else will follow in order.  Every snatch, whether 40 kg or 140 kg, should be a snatch.  Never just put the bar overhead.  When you do pulls, feel the bar.  25 years ago I read a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He said to put your mind in the muscles when you train them and learn what they do.  Get to know them.  I want you to do the same thing.  Learn your clean, learn your squat, so that your body does it every time.  Building this good repetition increases your confidence.  I want you to simply focus.

So, our mantra is: 
No Nonsense
You can do it

One final point I want to make about hitting big weights or goal weights in the training room is that the weight doesn't matter, the body does.  I have an athlete who is outstanding physically.  She is incredibly gifted.  She rushes through the lifts, though, and gets to 90 and misses them every time.  Why?  because she's worried about getting to 90% and doing it.  She needs to focus on the snatch, do right thing at the right time, and she'll do those 90% lifts every day.

I have a couple more athletes o worry about the weights on the bar.  Please stop the worry.  Trust yourself.  Focus on what needs to get done with the lighter weights, and your lifts will come along.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Read the above post and ask questions.  Remember:  

No Nonsense
You can do it

Michael McKennaComment