Self-Care for Better Training in Weightlifting

It is the eternal problem in training for high-performance Weightlifting that, despite the athlete’s motivation to push forward for improved performance, they are held back by frustrating injuries. It may seem to the athlete that they have reached a limit in their ability to train, a “red line” so to speak, and doubts about making further progress become stronger and stronger.

This article will discuss the factors that an athlete needs to consider when they are making strident efforts to reach higher goals by training harder. The effect of additional stress on the individual can have negative consequences unless coping strategies are consistently employed.

In the first 2 years of experience in Weightlifting, training load rises sharply as sessions increase in frequency and duration, and the content of training increases in volume and intensity. However, if the athlete follows sensible guidelines, the overall impact of the training load is relatively easy to manage. The athlete will likely suffer minor injuries and soreness from time to time but because training is typically 3 days per week, issues dissipate without too much concern.

In years 3-5 of training, the motivated athlete will move to 4 or 5 days per week training and increase the amount of work in each session in an effort to improve. But with each passing year, the athlete will begin to perceive that they must train harder and harder to achieve smaller and smaller gains. It will become apparent to the athlete that there are limitations to how hard they can train despite their desire to be better. The athlete will now be lifting impressively heavy weights and training begins to take a more significant toll on the body.

At some point, perhaps around 4-5 years of training, the motivated athlete may begin to perceive that there are limits to the amount of training they can endure. Their performance goals seem to demand even higher levels of training and attempts to push training further result in levels of physical and psychological stress with which the individual can barely cope. It may seem to the athlete that they have reached a “red line”, beyond which they cannot go.

The athlete, and indeed the coach may compare individuals in terms of where the “red line” sits. Some athletes seem to be able to endure more training with fewer problems and as a result rise to higher levels of performance. These differences are worth exploring but a lack of research on training loads of sub-elite Weightlifters leaves only the possibility of conjecture.

Coaches are often in a position where they believe a gap exists between the present level of training and the level needed to reach the athlete’s goals. Bridging this gap becomes a persistent need and all manner of strategies are put to the test. It is tempting to push the “red line” higher by increasing the frequency and volume of training. Such a strategy might be labelled “more of the same”. There is little accessible research data that helps the athlete or coach to assess this gap. “Shooting in the dark’ is a phrase that is quite applicable in this situation.

It is common to think of “the gap” as additional training effort needed on a consistent basis. However, the gap could well be greater diligence on self-care and the organisation of one’s daily routine. The above illustration provides some clues to where greater diligence could be the key to closing “the gap”. These aspects of self-care and commitment to training are very likely to explain the differences between individuals as to where their “red line” sits. For example, athletes who reach the highest levels of performance are very attentive to their nutrition, work on flexibility more than once a day, and strive to be regular with sleep to maximise recovery from training. They also very rarely miss a training session.

Beginning athletes and athletes with lower aspiration levels will likely see “training” as something that happens in the gym at a certain hour of the day. But for the more serious athlete, training is a 24/7 proposition. Athletes who reach higher peaks of performance feel that being “in training” is about how they behave on a consistent basis. Yes, high-performance athletes have lives outside of training and must go to work, attend school or university, and fulfil family responsibilities. However, they also manage more than adequately to undertake “self-care” activities. The higher the athlete pushes their “red line”, the more they must attend to nutrition, sleep, and body maintenance activities to avoid the collapse of well-being that is not common among athletes training 5 or more days per week. In the modern age, a major threat to athletes is the accessibility of entertainment media on sleep. Increasingly, research shows that the incidence of sleep deprivation is major health concern as it becomes harder and harder for athletes to disengage from digital media. There is also the disruptive influence of technology in training sessions as well.

As the athlete grows in experience and seeks higher performance goals, it is likely they will take incremental steps to increase their training load. Ultimately, the motivated athlete will feel that training is not simply something that happens in the gym, but becomes a life effort that is constant and unceasing.

In attempting to achieve higher performance goals, the more serious athlete must increasingly engage in self-care activities to depress the levels of stress associated with increasing training load. These self-care activities help the athlete accomplish better training, push the “red line” further and stem the incidence of injury and over-training.

I need to know your mind

As your coach, it is always my wish that I can help you to take steps forward to improve your athletic performance in the competition arena. I feel reasonably certain that performance improvement is what you seek and that you expect me to support and guide you to achieve this objective.

My coaching experience, and indeed my experience as an athlete has brought an understanding that, beyond the initial happy days of being a beginner, performance improvement becomes increasingly difficult the higher the goals you seek. Inevitably, performance improvement comes at a cost, and whether you are willing to pay the price will depend on your level of motivation, your resilience and your self-belief. I will work, to the best of my ability, to develop your confidence that if you expend the energy and effort needed, be more exacting in your training process, you will continue to set new personal standards of performance in the competition arena.

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Auto-regulation in Weightlifting Training

Auto-regulation or self-regulation is an important but not widely understood concept in coaching. For those who might read this post, auto-regulation might be defined as the ability of the athlete to regulate their own training rather than be dependent on the coach to give directions. Of course, for each and every athlete, auto-regulation lies on a continuum between total control by the coach and total control by the athlete of their own training agenda. In the initial stages of learning Weightlifting, the athlete is highly dependent on the coach. However, within 3 years perhaps, the athlete should be able to pursue their training with considerably less direction from the coach. Then if an athlete has 10 years training experience, and has reached a high level of performance, they may largely expected to self-regulate including taking responsibility for the development of their own training program.

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The Meaning of “Push”

In the context of Olympic Weightlifting, a well-designed training program will provide the athlete with guidance on how to structure training across the week and make suitable changes to this structure on a weekly basis in the lead up to a competition. A really neatly prepared and well thought out training program can have a positive effect on the athlete. It reduces the likelihood of common issues that occur when athletes follow very loose training guidelines or none at all. Here are a few of the issues that a well-designed training program should minimise:

  1. Spending far too much time on exercises preferred by the athlete, and little or no time on exercises not preferred but often most needed.
  2. Going too heavy too often, which results in loss of form and well-being, and the occurrence of injuries.
  3. Failing to vary the training load sufficiently from day to day
  4. Performing exercises in an unhelpful order
  5. Using time poorly during training sessions

But training programs also have significant limitations and without sufficient understanding of these limitations athletes can be disadvantaged.

Pushing beyond planned percentages is an absolute necessity in the training processes but it must be done with a great deal of care and control. The training program, no matter how thoughtfully designed, can never predict the state of well-being of the athlete on any given day. For this reason, the work prescribed by the training program has to be subdued, respectful of the athlete’s physical and emotional health and not too ambitious in its goals. The written training program with its specification of exercises, sets, reps and intensities can never be regarded as anything more than a broad framework for guiding the athlete. Continue reading

I want you to be a great athlete

By Leo Isaac

People often imagine that the life of any great athlete must be a joy to live but the truth is probably, that it is not. Sure, there are moments of ecstasy when all the athlete’s efforts come to fruition but this belies the agony and heartache of the long journey that precedes.

Rising to increasingly high levels of performance involves day-to-day supreme effort not just in training but in life generally. It is a case of constantly striving to be better and this requires a high level of organisation of one’s time and energy to perform every last possible act that will benefit your sporting performance. Few athletes will take their sport to this level, maybe because of a lack of understanding or simply because they reach a personal equilibrium where they feel appropriately rewarded for their time and energy input. However, there are always a small number of athletes who are driven by personal factors to strive for higher achievement, and to dream the dream of being a great athlete. For such people, sport is an obsession in which their thoughts are focused every hour of the day. Probably, no-one starts out this way but simply evolves slowly over time until they are recognised by their own communities as an unstoppable force. Continue reading

Dealing with anxiety in Weightlifting

For the athlete in Weightlifting, the final 2 weeks before a major competition is a difficult period in which athletes often have a tendency to conjure up all manner of self-imposed roadblocks, issues and limitations. The anxiety produced by the impending competition sets off questioning thoughts about the need for more technical and strength work, and to continue training hard to the last moment. It’s a kind of investment protection issue. The athlete may conclude that they just need to invest more energy and effort in training so as to protect what they have already invested so far.

Surprisingly, the timing of the last maximal session before competition day seems to vary considerably as a result of different belief systems of coaches and athletes. The variance will likely be between 7-21 days before a major competition. Why such a difference in beliefs should exist is a question worth asking but is not the subject matter of this article. Instead, this article attempts to address the anxiety issue that many athletes suffer.
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Mental skills in Weightlifting

It’s 4:00am, the day after an important local event and my mind is too active to sleep. I arrived home yesterday after a 14 hour day of coaching and organising the State Championships in the sport in which I have devoted nearly half a century of life – Weightlifting. Sitting by the home fireplace, I began at last to read and digest the many messages received from competitors, some excited by their performance and some desperately upset. Some messages are easy to answer, some will have to wait as the needed communication is challenging and requires careful consideration. This is the usual situation.

Striving for excellence has always been a modus operandi for me. There is always something more to learn, something more to achieve. However, an important part of going forward to is to reflect upon one’s past, the successes, the failures, the pivotal moments, the opportunities won and lost. Such reflections, however, often occur at an unseemly hour of the day, hence here I am, before dawn, writing this post. Continue reading

Fundamental Change in Weightlifting

At a coaching symposium held at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra,  in October 2017, I gave a presentation titled “Can Australia be competitive in Weightlifting?”

The main purpose of this presentation was really to get people thinking about strategies that would make a real and significant difference to the High Performance program and improve Australia’s competitiveness on the international platform. A secondary purpose was to get participants to identify and discuss the “elephants in the room”, those barriers that we know are there but find it very difficult to talk about.

Developing new innovative strategies, and “thinking outside the box”,  is really quite a hard task. There is always a tendency within organisations to keep doing the things we do because it is what we have always done. In short, it is easier, time saving and seemingly less risky to re-deploy familiar old strategies rather than invent new ones. But there is always likely to come a time when a drastic re-think is necessary, and courage needs to be summoned up to go in a different and unfamiliar direction. Perhaps that time has come. Continue reading

A proposal for a club development program

This article proposes the development and implementation of a club development program across the nation. The proposal looks at what the national body can do to promote club development and how a framework for club development can be implemented with little cost. The objective of this framework is to signpost important steps that clubs can take to develop increasing capability and be rewarded for the effort.

At the outset it is important to recognize that clubs are the main constituent part of the Australian Weightlifting system that delivers the services, equipment and facilities needed to participate in the sport. Clubs are of course highly dependent on the ability of coaches to introduce many others to the sport (in a variety of roles). Therefore in consideration that a club development program aims to provide assistance to clubs, the need to give coaches a helping hand is at the heart of it. Continue reading

Continuous Improvement in the Training of the Athlete

The task for the athlete and the coach is to work together to continually improve the training process of the athlete over many years. It is highly probable that when this continuous improvement process comes to a halt, the athlete will no longer improve.

From day 1 in the training process, the athlete learns how to train to develop good technique and athletic ability so as to improve results. Initially the learning is fast but as the months and years go by, the rate of learning slows as a result of fewer opportunities to learn something new, or perhaps incorrect assumptions that all the knowledge needed has been learned. To make further improvement then, the athlete and coach must work harder to find solutions to the perfection of the training problem. Continue reading