Everything is Always the Same

Posted on Monday, April 16, 2012 3:03 PM

“ At the peak of tremendous and victorious effort…while the blood is pounding in your head, all suddenly becomes quiet within you. Everything seems clearer and whiter than ever before, as if great spotlights had been turned on. At that moment you have the conviction that you contain all the power in the world, that you are capable of everything, that you have wings. There is no more precious moment in life than this, the white moment, and you will work very hard for years just to taste it again.”


-Yuri Vlasov



In all honesty, working out/ training is no longer the sole focus of my life.  It hasn't been for years, if ever.  But there was time when It meant more to me than anything else except being a Father.  Now, I have financial concerns, family concerns, property concerns, etc. and my personal gym time is at a premium.  As a result, I need to make the most out of that gym time.  A large part of optimizing my training is being in the right mindset for my work outs.  When I started training again back in November, I realized that I couldn't focus on my lifting like I wanted to.  I was, literally, just working out and going through the motions in the weight room.  I was having fun in there, and getting in there three days a week, and that was good enough.  But I realized how difficult it was going to be to get back to my old ways of always being ready to lift and getting the focus required for good performances.  This is how I felt:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHDdqubE7zQ


I started to think about my thinking.  I remembered working at the online bank and thinking about lifting all day- feeling the movements in my body, twitching while I visualized them, imagining what the heavy sets would feel like.  So I tried to think this way, to remind myself to think about lifting during my day.  Sometimes, I'd give myself a few minutes and just think about my training that night, about how it would feel.  Gradually, I've gotten back to the point now where lifting is often, if not always, int he back of my mind.  My next workout is always there, my next meet, and more importantly, my next PR- I've started feeling able to lift heavy again, even if that day is in the future.  


Before I describe ways to start getting into this mindset, I'll describe what this mindset feels like.  The zone, after all, is a delicate place:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsjBVQ6Kk4E&feature=share.  And to get there, you must always live close to the zone.  The zone is one of confidence, self-assuredness; you can show off without being cocky.  When you approach the bar, your approach is standardized and you know you can make the lift; you know by the way the bar feels you can make the lift, and you know when you start you can make the lift.  And the self-assuredness conveys to you confidence in making minor adjustments to fix the bar if the lift is wrong.  The zone also feels like you're apart from the others lifting with you.  Even on a  crowded platform, you have your own space, where the distractions don't reach you.  furthermore, there's a trust between your mind and body, knowing that one will back the other one up.  and having success in a zoned workout makes getting in the zone easier and makes extending the zone easier.  It's cool shit:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOGEyBeoBGM&ob=av3n


So how do you get to this state of performance, to this state of emotional excitation but not emotional chaos?  Well, the answer is to make everything the same.  If each workout is, in the Platonic tradition, merely an echo of the perfect workout, and if each lift is an echo of the perfect lift, then how do we, as lifters, find the internal resources to have good workouts on an extended basis?  Simple- and the answer is always simple- we extract from the workouts and the lifts those qualities which most closely resemble the ideal.  Once you do a good lift, take a moment to yourself, just a moment.  let that lift sink in, let the PHYSICAL MEMORY of the lift hit you.  And find in that physical memory one or two cues that you can make your body do to remind you of your good lift.  Whether those cues are the feeling of openness in your shoulders, whether it's the contraction of your adductors, or whether it's the speed of the turnover, or whatever you did that you can remember and replicate.  And before you do your next lift, sit down and use your mind/imagination to make that feeling happen again.  You'll feel more confident going into the next lift.  


Once you have that feeling, start thinking about it during the day.  Schedule it on your iPod or whatever, but as often as you can, shut the world out except for that feeling and make yourself feel it.  For me, it's the lower back being tight and able to fire, and my shoulders feeling fast and loose.  


Now, here's the hard part- once you make yourself have that feeling, and you have sense of emotional attachment to that feeling, don't let that emotion go.  Make yourself carry it around, and if you lose it, stop and find it again. The emotional attachment to the physical cue and memory will help you get into the zone again.  As you practice this skill, it'll be easier to do and to achieve.  


Let's take a moment to talk about visualization.  Visualization, even for those of us who are visual learners, isn't effective because I can see the movie of a lift I'm going to do in my mind.  In fact, I can rarely see the lifts I dream of making or focus on making or even plan to make.  What happens when I successfully visualize is to feel the moment of success.  When I first started watching videos of lifters (throwers/ wrestlers, etc.) I would try to envision myself doing the moves or lifts, etc.  transferring that image into a productive lift was fruitless.  What helped me improve by watching videos was imagining what it felt like to hit those positions.  Too often I work with people who insist that they must know precisely what happens before they can do it, but they refuse to understand how that knowledge is actually transferred.  I hear "I don't know" but what they mean is "I don't understand".  Successful visualization is an exercise in empathy, not sympathy. Anyone with a degree in biomechanics can tell you the components of a good lift.  But just because you know what the angles are doesn't mean you can lift well.  What you need to understand as an athlete is how the lift feels, how those biomechanics work to create tension in the first pull and smoothness in the transitions.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P16QYhc3Aw0 (one of my first experiences in visualization and a good take on how visualization affects production).  


Again, practicing this type of visualization makes it easier.  And transferring this visualization to the platform occurs by doing the movement and remembering what you visualized when watching the video.  "Yeah, this pull from the ground is exactly what I think Zelyx Rivera feels like when she snatches" is the thought to have in the bottom, not "I wonder how I can do what Zelyx does, she's stronger than me."  Zelyx, Alexyev, Rigert- they all do the same thing you do.  They do it with more weight because of practice and genetics.  This sport is about the movements, not about the weight.  The weight is a by product of the efficient movement.  


What, though, do we do to get the nasty thoughts out of our head?  First, let me tell you the truth:  everyone gets nervous about some lifting.  Doing well matters to all of us who do compete, it's in our nature.  How you avoid those nasty thoughts is what we need to focus on.  Here's a take on sports and spirituality which starts to help:  http://www.ru.org/sports/spirituality-the-hidden-side-of-sports.html


And here's an interesting take from this week's This American Lifehttp://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/462/own-worst-enemy  Listen to  "Act One: Aces Are Wild".


The analysis portion of "Aces Are Wild" gives insight into why I don't want you to visualize technical aspects of lifting.  Just feel good.


So, to push the fears out of your head, I'd like to simply say don't have them in the first place.  But there are also ways to keep them from coming up.  Reduce outside, especially verbal, anxiety.  reading or writing too much seems to mess up my head.  Detach yourself, too, from chatter in the gym.  These people are your friends, they like you, go have some wings with them afterwards.  Sit around and have a beer.  But lifting is for lifting.  Chatter increases outside influences.  Also, when you approach the bar, remember the visualize the physical.  What you do rives the bar up, focus on the feeling good.  


Some other practices I recommend are meditating or napping right before the workout.  Relax, take a 10 minute nap.  You'll feel better.  Get yourself into the zone by having a clear line between your day and the gym time.  Arden Cogar, Jr. does Tai Chi and Meditates before he trains.  http://www.practicalstrengthfortrainers.com/2012/04/interview-with-Arden-Cogar-jr.html


The point of this meditation is to demarcate your gym and your life.  When you go into the gym, everything every day must be the same.  every lift, every competition lift, every stretch.  it's all a shadow of the goal, and if you keep emphasizing the good shadows, you'll find the white.  


Michael McKennaComment