Get out of your head and just lift the weight || Coach Wes Kimball

Many times as we approach a lift we become our own worst enemy.  Our minds fill with anxiety, fear of failure, and perhaps frustration as we try to accomplish the task at hand. Our intentions are good, but the inability to control our thoughts many time impedes our physical capabilities. Today, I’m going to go over a couple of “mind tricks” I’ve developed over the years to help in one of the most common scenarios we see in the gym: lifting weights.

My general rule of thumb here is the heavier the lift, the less you can think about what is happening.  An example of this would be on a back squat if I’m lifting below 80% I’m going to be focusing on allot of elements of the lift.

Is my breathing sequence correct?  
Am I tight through my core?
Is the weight distributed correctly in my feet?  
Am I “spreading the floor” with my feet so my glutes are involved? etc.

Even in an exercise as simple as the back squat there are several moving parts and conscious effort needs to be directed to the movement to make sure things are on point. However the trick is stripping away that conscious thought as you get heavier and heavier.  At 80-90% you can only focus on 2 maybe 3 elements of the lift, and once you get into the 90% to max zone you simply have to trust your training and focus all you mental effort into one thing. In our back squat example your focus should 100% be on being as aggressive as possible.

The problem is athletes, and especially novice athletes tend to approach this backwards. They go into “autopilot” and pay little attention to weights that are light and “easy” as they build to the heavier sets. Then once the bar becomes heavy enough to “notice” the athlete begins to over analyze and micro manage the movement. By the time max loads are reached fear, self doubt, and anxiety have taken over. Resulting in the athlete’s thoughts impeding their ability to reach the speeds necessary to perform a maximum load.    

While our example above is a back squat this concept becomes more important the more complex a lift is. In simpler slower lifts (squats, deadlifts, etc) you can get away with more conscious thought at heavier loads, than you can in more complex faster lifts (snatch, clean & jerk).  That’s why when I coach an Olympic lift my cues to my athlete become simpler the heavier the weight is. I might start with something like  “stand longer, and keep you shoulders over the bar” and then move to cues like “tighter”, “more legs”, “more aggressive”, “big throw”, etc.   If athletes are trying to think of multiple individual actions of the lift then they are for sure going to be moving to slow to be successful.

In closing, here are a few tips to keep your focus simple during a lift:

  1. Visualize don’t think.  Before you step up to the bar visualize what a successful lift will look and feel like.
  2. Focus on single word actions.  Fast, close, aggressive are all “thoughts” that can be beneficial at max loads. If you can’t say it in the time it take to do it then it’s most likely to complex a thought to be helpful.
  3. Practice. Conscious thought and effort is very important in mastering lifts just not beneficial at max loads. This is why we program submaximal lifts often, so you can practice doing things correctly and your body reacts appropriately when the weight gets heavy. So don’t blow off the light sets, and don’t try to go heavier when it’s not prescribed. Use that time to practice all the various components of a lift and be disciplined enough to make them picture perfect.