Thursday, August 30, 2012

Molding Your Athlete's Brain

Just like every athlete's mind operates differently, every coach operates differently. Even though athletes naturally possess free will, a coach can still have a significant impact on the mentality of their athletes. Depending on how early in their career an athlete starts with a coach, the athlete may experience a complete change in how they mentally approach lifting and even their general attitude towards the world.

Let's take a few minutes to dissect the way I coach my team as a whole, and various members of my team.

I personally don't believe in being a cheerleader for my athletes. I feel that positive reinforcement is necessary, but giving overly high praise for easy lifts can set up the athlete for bouts of depression if a high % lift is missed, possibly ruining the rest of their workout because they continue to dwell on it. Building up an athlete's confidence to an unnecessary high level can leave them in a negative mindset for the rest of the day.     (High highs = low lows)

 My athletes would tell you that I believe in "less is more" when it comes to dialogue between lifts. As stated in a previous article, the average athlete can hear about 7 syllables before they either start to glaze over, or over-analyze their lift and ruin it (paralysis by analysis). You can listen in some of the training videos for my cues (generally 1-4 words). These are cues we discuss when we aren't lifting so they know what I mean when I say them. Telling an athlete to "Use their hips" on a jerk is meaningless unless you have previously discussed what that is supposed to mean.

I was recently criticized by a recreational exerciser that I focus too much on teaching technique (sorry?) and I should instead focus on teaching them how to just muscle the weight up.  That mentality possibly explains why he is a recreational exerciser because without a proper baseline of form/technique, you are strengthening your weaknesses.

I am not a form Nazi, but I do believe that a slower introduction to lifts with proper form will take an athlete farther than jumping in headfirst and muscling the weight up. Not only will that not work in a competition (press-outs on snatch/C&J, and hitching on deadlifts, for example) it will also cause the athlete to have start back at square one anyway.

On certain days where we test maxes, I will offer cash incentives for lifters who PR ($1 per pound) and this can serve as a great motivator and inspire a little competition between the athletes. Especially in a sport like Olympic lifting where there are no real prize incentives in the sport itself. External motivators occasionally are a good thing, although I am of the opinion that constantly adding an external motivator will detract from the athletes personal goals of PR'ing for its own sake.

 Every athlete is different, and should be approached and coached differently. Anna responds to coaching differently than Zach or Jordan, and the cues and feedback must be changed as necessary. Some require lots of feedback; some will listen to what you say but won't even reply because they are so focused.

In closing, I consider it important to spend about 50% of my time offering short, positive feedback (not cheerleading), 45% of my time ignoring the small things that will just take time and practice to iron out, and 5% of my time offering negative reinforcement. I don't do it to punish the athlete or attack their person, but when all else fails, sometimes it can be necessary.

 A coach can be one of the greatest influence on an athletes approach to Weightlifting, and sometimes the relationship just won't work out, or it isn't what is best for the team. Keep the team mojo up!

Suzi has the mojo

Monday, August 27, 2012

Adrenaline & Mental Preparation

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld and Brandon Morrison.
Getting your adrenaline up during training can benefit you immensely. Though, some may seem to be as cool as ice on the exterior, while other look like a serial killer, hellbent on destroying anything and all that stands in their wake. 

Adrenaline is produced in the Medulla of the Adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream. It is better known as the “Fight or Flight” chemical, and can lead to superhuman strength.

The responsibilities of adrenaline include:

  • ·         Increased heart rate
  • ·         Increase of blood pressure
  • ·         Expansion of air passages in the lungs

However, people will react differently to having a spike in the “rage chemical” due to differences in body function.For me, I find that if I maintain a calm mind, my mind-body connection is a finer tuned machine than if I become Animal and start banging on things haphazardly (side note: Animal is a fine drummer, and the best Muppet). This especially holds true for benching, where if one thing goes awry, the entire lift very well could. There’s ultimately less musculature to save you than if something were to go wrong during a squat or deadlift.

Watch how some of the team prepares for deadlifts

Being able to focus more on the task at hand also gives me the ability to remember certain cues that may have been established previously. This could very well be the difference between making a lift and failing a lift.

Below, the Lift Big Eat Big Athletes defines how they go about approaching a big lift:

Mike Fierro:
When I approach the bar (or whatever it is) there is not a doubt in my mind that I'm going to make this lift. I don’t care if this is my 10th attempt of the day when I step up to it I'm ready to mess shit up. Leading up to it I like to listen to music, something with a big drop or breakdown usually sets it off. Dont judge until you try it but I once hit a PR on circus dumbbell from listening to Edge of glory from Lady Gaga. ha-ha. But usually once the music kicks in I get that weird feeling you have when you're about to get into a fight or you feel threatened...that’s when I know I'm ready. 
I try to not think about my form either. I find when I'm worried about a certain part of my lift I tend to mess everything else up. Even if I'm lifting with a partner and they are giving me cues on one of my weak points I try to drown it out because it will just throw me off. All in all I just stay confident, I try not to be fueled by anger but just get really psyched and keep in mind that somewhere out there someone is doing this as a warmup.

Aaron Jannetti:
The mental game when approaching a 1RM attempt is a battle for me. A battle to stay calm enough to focus and hit the subtleties in technique but amped enough to get the body ready for a new personal milestone. I focus big time on my breathing and good positioning from the get go. On the outside I keep calm cool and collected before a tough lift, on the inside I’m screaming a big "F*** Yeah BABY! It's ALL LIGHT WEIGHT!!!!" When I hit that big lift, the inner being takes over full time!
 There are days when it's necessary to channel that anger and take out some angst on the bar, but day in and day out I have much more success when I keep a mellow mind and a cool head. It may be a 255lb clean today, but tomorrow it'll be 260 and that's all that matters.... on to the next one!

David Chow:
When I walk up to attempt a new PR my mind begins to crunch the numbers.  I tell myself...I just hit a new snatch balance PR for 245 lbs. and I know I can snatch pull 275 lbs. so going for this new snatch PR of 240 lbs. is going to be a piece of cake. Another example is if I just hit a new front squat for 355 lbs. and I can clean pull 350 for reps, a 315 lb. clean is doable.  The assistance lifts give me the confidence to go onto the platform and concentrate on execution and aggression.

Stehpanie Garibaldi-Ainsworth:
 Before I even approach the bar I usually stand like 5 to 10 ft. from it and stare and visualize a successful lift for about 15 secs.  Concentrate on the fast, smooth techniques and transitions into each pull.   I then start to rock side to side on my feet, and start make open close fists with my hands to get the blood flow going through my body all the way up to my fingers. Breathing comes next. Breaths start to get rapid, while by body is moving back and forth and warming up preparing for the lift.  I then walk up, body's warm and mentally focused and I fucking KILL IT!!!!  Damnit I want to lift!! Grrrrrrrr

When I get ready for a max lift I go into a full of Rage -mindless state of mind..Focusing on one thing: PICK THAT SHIT UP DAMNIT!!!!!!.I Walk up to the bar like I'm going to punch it in the soul, sometimes shake the snot out of it -- grunt a lil -gotta show it who's boss (pretty sure that’s my Napoleon complex) -- then I DOMINATE the heck out of it and visualize the end result: That Cheshire cat / crap eating grin on my face from nailing it-- and the ultimate feeling of making my Coaches PROUD :)
I Chase that euphoric feeling of a these lifts weekly to set new PRs!!!! It’s my drug of choice and I love feeding the addiction...
So in a nutshell I -- I prepare by getting mad at the bar -n scare it off the floor.... Rage and blank stares fuel my Max Lifts... Oh yeah. And then there's my favorite part: "being able to hump the weights at the end" :)

Marshall White:
Before I approach a lift I try to calm myself as much as possible. I don't want to get too psyched up and waste energy. I also feel that remaining calm enforces my confidence that I am strong no matter what, that basically I don't even need psyche ups to lift big weight. I don't visualize the lift because i feel that if the weight is big enough or potentially dangerous there is a chance my mind will turn a good visualization into a negative one. I calm down, take big breaths, force my mind to go blank then rip into the lift with ferocity.

Talia VanDoran:
What goes through my head as I prepare to tackle a max attempt? As a wise man once told me, "keep it simple, stupid." I don't get caught up in the techy scientific bullshit that does nothing more than distract me from what I actually need to do; pick that shit up damnit! I take a deep breath, approach whatever it is that needs to be taught a lesson and proceed to show it what a BOSS looks like.
 Too many times what you prepare for in your head is not necessarily how a lift will play out. There are a plethora of elements that can interfere with your "perfect" preparation. I'm not saying be an ignorant asshole, just don't over think yourself out of a PR. Get your shit together and do what you came to do. It's more impressive to roll with the punches than beat yourself retarded before you even start.

Fletcher Pierce:
In any lift, or any training session, I try to focus on a set of 3 commands to help eliminate excess mental chatter in the seconds immediately before I move a heavy weight. However, when lifting a max weight or a new PR, I make sure to run through the lift in my mind several times. When I make the move to the bar I say my three commands (usually consisting of tight back, stay over the bar, and push forward) in my head. 
Because of the natural tendency for lifters (me specifically) to overcompensate and pull with their arms, I add in two extra thoughts at the last moment, elbows out and arms like ropes. This helps me remember to finish the pull and not use my arms to get extra height on the bar. Keeping my arms loose also help improve the turnover speed, which is an issue I have, and helps give me the best chance of making a successful lift.

In the words of Streaky..."Honey badger don’t give a SH**T".....Well in my own words, L-TRAIN don’t give a SH**T!!! As I approach a PR or a new lift I think to myself "chyeaaa this ish-nish is going up, or ima get this sh$#t"....If I don’t get it, I try and try again. I’m used to training at my threshold most of the time anyways so I pretty much know if I’ll get a lift or not. If I don’t, then I keep training until I get it. Next stop....Another PR!!!