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Weightlifting is a sport that demands a great deal of mental fortitude and skilled control of the mind in order to achieve the necessary physical tasks in training and competition consistently. Some athletes naturally possess exceptional mental control, focus and intrinsic motivation, while others must work over time to develop their abilities (1). Mental preparation will not on it’s own turn non elite athletes or weightlifters into an elite one. But the mental game and prep for athletes is an important factor for reaching peak performances (2). Eitherway, athletes will benefit from actively improving these abilities further (1).

Mental Preparation

What is mental preparation? It can have different definitions, but the study of Brewer defines the following: “Those cognitive, emotional, and behavioural strategies athletes and teams use to arrive at an ideal performance state or condition that is related to optimal psychological states and peak performance for either competition or practice” (3). This has to do with the state of mind, an arousal control, visualizing or imagery, the skill to concentrate and self-confidence (4). The way you think will also determine how you behave. We all experience mental barriers at some point and it is about breaking through them. This requires experimentation and practice and depends on each athletes on which method they prefer.

Here are some guidelines that Greg Everett sums up in his book for organizing and developing effective mental habits for athletes combined with some of my thoughts in this:

1) Positivity for productivity

Not only is positivity a general state of mind, it can also be an approach to considering and responding to circumstances with specific purpose. In weightlifting, it is the deliberate intentional control of the psychic response and framing of training, competitions, and other related elements that constantly stimulates focus, drive, and progression, reducing distraction and discouragement. This does not mean that this kind of positivity should change someone’s basic personality. Rather, it means a framework for managing daily difficulties and thus demanding maximum productivity. It is about the ability to replace passive and useless hopes and wishes with a consciously chosen action and a proactive attitude and strategy in order to carry out goal-oriented tasks and also achieve rational goals.

2) Prepare for workouts

It’s good for atlethes to know which movements (C&J / Snatch) they can expect when coming into training the next time. Because of this you than can already spend time thinking about it before you come to the box. You can think about what your goal for the training is, setting up a plan and visualizing successful lifts. In this way you can also keep in mind how to schedule your training if you’re also planning to do WODs in the big gym. And in this way you can think about the energy you’re about to give in the next training. Dont even think about maxing OLY lifts when you have done 1 or more trainings before or have maxed out the day before, maybe even the week before. Further, athletes need to perform at least some basic visualizations of the most important parts of the upcoming training and lifts.

3) Reframe the negative positively

Some days trainings don’t work out the way we would like. There are two basic options how to deal with it: You can feel completely defeated and worsen the situation or approach and redesign the situation so that improvement can take place. The point is that it is a conscious consideration that you can make to change problems into possibilities and to move forward. The first part of this is using failures or mistakes as motivation instead of criticizing and becoming desperate.

The second part is using these negative things to create clear and specific goals and strategies to fix the problem. For example, if the lifter had a bad Clean & Jerk because the barbell was flying in front instead of going up and close in proper position, he/she can be in anger shortly but then moves on to improve. The athlete should take notes of what the coach was queing and make a list for his/her journal and also keep in mind for the next training. In this case the lifter might write down that he/she needs to focus on pulling the elbows up and outside everytime for the next time doing a clean in training. Or if it helps, just write down one quick small word that he/she can think of every time doing cleans. Whatever it is, or fits just for you, it needs to be simple and objective. Writing of saying ‘well next time I really need to clean better’ is vague and useless. Why? It keeps the negative negative by focusing on what was done wrong instead of what you are going to do right in the future. Finally, make sure it is positive what your thinking/writing/doing next time. That means actions to do, not actions to do not. Focus on HOW you are going to do things next time and not on how you should not do things the next time!

4) Journal notes

Like already mentioned, take notes and write down a journal of your training. This is a serious fundamental. Many athletes take notes and put measures in BTWB, and that’s a good thing. It is a critical part of training and should be considered an absolute necessity for any serious athlete. But it should not be the only objective; how many trainings you’re doing and what weights. Also subjective things like how did you sleep, how you are feeling and what the training did with your feelings and energy, etcetera. Three things that can help you with your trainings and mentality:
Write down what you are proud of from today’s workout, what do you need to work harder on next time and what are your goals for the next training.

5) Celebrate success

Weightlifting involves a lot of hard work over long time of periods with just few significant successes. It’s important to celebrate successes when they occur. High five each other (well not now in these corona times :P), be proud on yourself, your buddies and fellow oly members. Write it down on our whiteboard area, post it if you like on social media. Be proud. However, it is important that the athlete is aware of his success but remains driven to improve and motivate himself.

6) Appreciate the process

Keep in mind, the process of training is an experience of every hour of every day for years. Results are few, irregular and infrequent but if lifters only can be happy with results, that lifter will rarely be happy and maybe even lose motivation or quit. If instead you learn to appreciate and enjoy the process, you will keep your motivation and remain more constant and reliable. Working hard and consistent will bring you satisfaction and you will recognize accomplishments yourself. By habitual emphasis on the kind of positivity described here will help make this appreciation of the process natural.

  • Everett, G. (Januari, 2016). Olympic weightlifting: A complete guide for athletes & coaches.
  • Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2014). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology.
  • Brewer, B.W. (2009). Handbook of sports medicine and science, sport psychology.
  • Papaioannou, A. G., & Hackfort, D. (2014) Routledge companion to sport and exercise psychology: Global perspectives and fundamental concepts.