Be Strong, Be Kind

Strength coach, trainer educator, writer, mom to three awesome kids, pie enthusiast. Creating monsters since 2009.

The Lift is the Battle

Mike McKenna

While we’re only exercising and not facing the threats that the USMC, the other lesser branches of the military (Chuck and Gabe, that’s for you), and First Responders face daily, we still battle with ourselves to get into the gym in the first place, to eat right, to stretch, and to the workout; put your personal battle into perspective and just train. This battle, however, often causes anxiety. I’ll define this anxiety as the distance between achieving goals we’ve set and doubting our ability to achieve those goals. In order to manage this anxiety, I like to break the situation down into manageable components. Building confidence in these discreet areas leads to overall confidence, which diminishes anxiety and lead to improved performance.

I call this process winning the situation (credit goes to the former Glasgow (DE) High School wrestling Coach Mark Vettori for the actual term). In lifting, winning the situation means controlling positions. If you get set up over the bar correctly, you win that position. Pull correctly every time- another win. Drive your legs through the bar, punch with your hips, pull with your fists from the hips, punch your elbows through, all wins. Each position can be strengthened, and lifters learn to trust the positions and then become more confident in the lift. By focusing on discreet variables which an individual can control, the individual translates those variables into a full, successful lift. How, though, can an athlete control herself in each situation?

The answer to winning each small situation is focus on a positive movement or condition. You can’t control the weather, the wind, etc. You can control your hand position on the bar and where the bar is over your feet. Start there. Grasp the bar confidently and quickly, get your hands to feel right. Then adjust the bar in position more or less over your first metatarsophalangeal joint (Laurie, tell your students that stuff they learn is needed for general life): put the bar at the bottom of your big toe. Perhaps consciously point your thumb knuckle at the big toe joint. This process will become automatic, and lead to confidence. This position naturally allows you to SIT DOWN and arch your back, which naturally allows you to pull the bar toward your body by straightening out the legs and pulling your scapulae together while flexing the lats. All these movements are discreet and POSITIVE. Positive in the sense that you are DOING something. By doing these things the lift will be better. By doing these things, the lift will feel right, and you will have confidence in your lift. A little psychological swagger as you go into your second pull.

The positive action in the second pull is to go FAST; again, though, anxiety arises. Well, here are the positive actions you can take during the second pull: push through your heels until your legs are straight, punch with your hips, and pull with your fists from your hips, and watch this before you train: I summarize this process in the word BOOM.

The last part of the lift is often neglected in my opinion. Once you went BOOM, the lift is not done. You need to secure it overhead. Anxiety in this phase of the lift arises due to the heaviness of the bar, the imminent moment of success or failure, and your individual desire for achievement. At this point in the lift, there are still positive physical actions to take which enable a successful lift, but there is also a moment of transformation. The positive physical actions to take here are to keep your back tight, get your elbows through/ up and to spread the bar when you catch it. At this point, this culmination of the lift, the climax, the point of highest tension, a transformation must occur in the athletes mind. It is at this point in the lift that all the positive physical actions taken turn to achievement, and achievement eliminates anxiety.

This transformational moment is critical in the development of the athlete. Anxiety and doubt at the beginning of the lift serve as a measure against which we can better the lifting. Overcoming the self doubt and anxiety is the true goal of lifting; achievement is the by-product of the overcoming moment, what the Ancient Greeks called Agon. The agony of the lift is not when it’s overhead, not when you pull from the floor or explode your hips violently, but when you go to secure it overhead. Right there you become successful. Again, success occurs when you make the conscious decision to finish the lift, when you handle the greatest moment of tension and anxiety and successfully overcome your self-doubt.

Here, Pyrros Dimas fights to keep a double bodyweight snatch overhead. This is the moment of agony, of FIGHT, which we must embrace and overcome. This is the critical moment of lifting, the moment of success. 
In order to keep these emotions from hindering, rather than helping, our lifting we must self-determine the lift. We must enjoy the process of lifting itself, and not merely want the achievement. Enjoying the process, involving yourself actively in overcoming anxiety, physically acting to push doubt away, builds your relationship with the bar, and thereby builds up your confidence. As we become more confident in the lifting, we push the weight up and increase, again, our anxiety; we overcome it again, and then add weight. This process is the goal of my training, the goal of competition; the transformation itself must be embraced as the focus, and not the achievement. Achievement is a by-product of the process and the transformation, the victory over ourselves, our coming out on top in the agony of lifting.
Pyrros Dimas shows us what it’s like to win that battle, and by doing so daily for years, he brought home Three Olympic Golds and a Bronze. Those results are the by product of the battle, not the battle itself. 

Michael McKenna is the owner of McKenna’s Gym in New Park, PA. Mike is a senior USA Weightlifting coach as well as a USA Track and Field Certified Coach. Mike instructs a variety of individuals on general strength and conditioning as well as teaches clinics on Olympic Weightlifting and Strongman. Mike also competes in strongman and weightlifting having earned the the Bronze Medal at the 2003 American Open and the 2010 Master’s National Weightlifting Gold Medal. Additionally, Mike is a NCAA Division 1 letter winner in Track and field (Hammer Throw) and has coached state and conference champions in wrestling and track and field

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