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.

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