What the brain doesn't stop, the body will do

originally Posted on Friday, January 20, 2012 1:29 PM

Over the last month, I've had some of my trainees experience a common but perplexing phenomenon.  When a person isn't aware of what weight is on the bar, they can lift it pretty easily, provided it's within their strength and technical capacity.  When they are aware of what's on the bar, they often screw the lift up.  


For example, last night someone was doing cleans and jerks and nailed 90% of his best.  he went to 95% and fell apart.  His words to me:  "I just kept thinking to myself that this was 95% of my best."  Conversely, a woman came to train yesterday and she hit a PR in the clean four times.  She usually trains in pounds and didn't worry about the weight on the bar, and she was working hard on her technique.  That focus on technique shut off her conscious awareness of the weight on the bar, and she did a great job.


We've each experienced those scenarios.  A more unusual one occured before Christmas when one of the College kids came down.  He struggled on a Monday to clean and jerk 105; one of his issues is his flexibility.  I had him, on that following Thursday, start cleans at 40 and do one power clean plus two front squats x 2 reps and told him to not rest between sets unless he had to; he was to go up by 5 kilos each  set.  He got to 80 and at 85 I had him start cleaning plus one front squat.  He nailed 105 and the total work took less than 10 minutes.


What is it about each of these scenarios and the brain?  Well, largely it's a conscious awareness of the weight and your perceived ability. when our first subject got to rest and consider the weight, he perceived that it was heavy.  And that thought- that the clean was heavy and almost his PR- ruined him.  Somehow, his mind clicked from just doing the work to being unable to do the work.  His consciousness turned him off.


In the second scenario, our friend was focused on her technique to the point that the weight didn't matter.  She moved quickly through her sets and did doubles at every weight, focusing on keeping her chest up on pushing her knees back when she pulled, then driving through her heels and pulling herself under the bar.  At no point did she stop because the weights looked like they were getting heavy.  Since she's used to working with pound plates, the green bumpers had little meaning to her and wouldn't interfere.  Instead of putting on the yellows, I just added 5s to the bar and had her keep going.  


With the final subject, I simply made him tired enough that he had to become efficient to keep lifting.  He moved so fast that his nervous system adjusted and his consciousness of the heaviness wasn't an issue; he had tuned his nervous system so that he did what was normal:  clean and squat.  


How do you organize your training so that your consciousness gets put aside?  A while ago, I addressed how to focus on doing positive things to overcome the stress of competition and approaching heavy weights.  In organizing your training, there are several steps you can take to overcome the "big weight" anxiety.  


Most important of all things you do is to focus on your body and not the weight you lift.  Your technique gets you where you want to be, not the other way around. So, when you snatch, start off with a pause at the knee to feel the position, then power snatch the light weight, then drop into an overhead squat.  By the time you get to 60-70%, you'll be squat snatching naturally and automatically.  a key here is to reduce your rest periods until you get to the heavier weights.  When I start working on the snatch, I'll do sets of four, then sets of 2, with little to no rest; I also take my time going up in weight- 10 kilo jumps (a little less than 10% for me right now).  I'll get to 90 kilos or so and be able to take a little longer rest and still have my psyche dialed in to the keys of the lift.


Other things to do are to always train with the biggest plates you have.  Use reds whenever you can; they will be there in competition and you should get used to them.  the time will come when you can load the bar funkily and not worry too much (yellow, blue, green to get to 110, for instance); until your technique becomes automatic, use the biggest bumpers practical to your purposes.  


One other thing I preach around my gym is "No missed lifts".  Make the lifts you're supposed to make, and the ones that are difficult will get made, too.  This mantra doesn't mean don't push yourself, it means push yourself and make the lift.  If you miss a lift, repeat it AND MAKE IT.  


Perhaps the biggest concern of all is to train with other people of like mindset.  You lift better when people are watching, and when they care about their own training.  It may be a bunch of guys on the platform doing the same weight you do and pushing you, or it may be a dedicated friend who just wants to push you.  At The Training Center in Delaware, I often didn't have other weightlifters training when I did, but very often there were serious powerlifters or bodybuilders.  Their seriousness helps your focus, and they're good to have around.  Be sure to not poison your environment with people who train badly, or people who don't want to improve.  Just because someone says they're serious doesn't mean they are.  


Your training should reinforce technique and reduce anxiety about performance by making the movements automatic.  Once the movements are the focus of your training, and once your body is used to moving, the weights will start going up and staying up. here are some keys for how you should behave in the room to ensure that your body is in charge of your lifting:


1.  Train with the biggest bumpers you can to mimic what you see in competition.

2.  Reduce your rest time to only what is necessary;  70% and lower lifts need :30-1:00 rest; 85%+ need 2-3 minutes or more.  Taking little rest at lower weights will help you make the heavier weights.

3.  Make your lifts.

4.   Lift with others who care about lifting and who strive to improve.



Lift Big.

Michael McKennaComment