Do you train hard?

It was my original attention to write a page on the principles and practise of how to undertake serious training for the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. I mean the sort of training that a person would need to do to compete at the very highest level i.e. the World Championships. My motivation to write such an article stems partly from meeting and wanting to help so many talented people in Weightlifting clubs and Crossfit boxes who, despite their love of lifting, seem to have doubts about their own abilities and what they could achieve. Furthermore, my motivation arises from wanting to see the standard of Olympic Weightlifting in Australia go forwards.

So instead of writing a laborious article on the principles of training for high performance, I have decided that what is first needed is a more “straight from the heart” appeal to members of the Weightlifting and Crossfit communities. If you have a real love for lifting heavy weights read on.

As a coach of some 30 years, I have often thought about what motivates a person to train consistently hard. It’s an important aspect of coaching to be empathetic with athletes, to try to understand their motivations and to look for ways to bolster their confidence in what they can achieve.

More recently in my coaching career, I have also reflected on my own history as an athlete and asked questions of myself as to why I relentlessly pursued my own training for a period of 12 years. Why did I endure 100-200 tonnes a week of weights lifted? Certainly money played no part in this. In my era, there was no likelihood of financial gain from being among the best in the nation at Weightlifting.

Let me start by describing, from my point of view, what hard training is in terms of the following simple values:

  • Persistent effort – displayed by hardly ever missing sessions, always maximising the value of each and every session, by being just as determined when training is not going well as when it is.
  • Intelligent application – constantly thinking about the qualities that make a great athlete, asking many questions and learning about your sport, finding ways to improve one’s weaknesses, taking responsibility for your own training monitoring and analysis, realising that training is more than just what you do during your workouts.
  • Self-discipline – avoiding activities that are harmful to one’s training, managing one’s diet, making an effort to get appropriate levels of sleep, turning people down when they want to lead you astray from your training effort (people actually do this!)
  • Courage and audacity – having the audacity to dream that you can achieve great things, to set goals well beyond your peers, and the courage to make plans that actually turn dreams into reality and to fight against all those who portray negative and defeatist attitudes.
  • Understanding oneself – realising the importance of your training efforts in your life’s journey, understanding that there is no failure when a person does their level best, accepting that everyone has doubts, fears and anxiety, and that it is the experience of emotion that drives us all not extrinsic rewards.

Now that I have set out the values above, I just want to say a few words about the struggle that I have as a coach to help people cross the great divide between ordinary training and hard training. It’s a struggle because it is really difficult to express in words the overwhelming benefits to the athlete. It’s a struggle because the task requires subtlety and patience, and it takes many months of athlete-coach communication. It’s a struggle because I see so many athletes with such great capability and it’s my job to find a way to help them circumvent all the obstacles in their path and to slowly raise their expectation of what is achievable..

My motivations for writing this article also include the concerns of many Australian coaches, including myself, that we need many more athletes to give serious thought to training for the Commonwealth Games of 2018 and 2022, and the Olympics in 2020. While Australia’s team prepares for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, there is a need to plan now for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and beyond. To some extent the die is already cast for the 2016 Olympic Games. In line with most nations, Australia will likely be accorded a quota of one male and one female for the next Olympic Games in Brazil. But with four years to the 2018 Commonwealth Games and six years to the 2020 Olympic Games, there is time for people who are in their first 2 years of training to reach the levels of performance required. However, there is no time to waste. If you should dare to dream of being an Australian representative at an Olympics or Commonwealth Games, your training needs to take on the values expressed above without further delay.

For those readers that might consider the prospect of training for high performance, its important to debunk a few myths about what it takes to succeed.

Myth 1: There are no magical programs that you can download from the internet to assure your success as an athlete. If you could download the training program of a world champion it would of course be very interesting to read but you couldn’t use it. For best effect, training programs need to suit the specific needs of the individual athlete. Athletes have different histories, levels of fitness, abilities, weaknesses, mindsets, life styles and more.

Myth 2People succeed in sport because of genetics. Of course, genetics is a very important factor but many athletes have exceptional genetic predisposition for sport. But that’s not what makes them succeed. Probably most coaches will tell you its very frustrating when people with exceptional genetics seem not to have the desire or the discipline necessary for success.

Myth 3: Weightlifters like Dimitry Klokov are genetic freaks. It would be true to say that he is an exceptional weightlifter but he is a product of Russia, a nation that has produced many world champions since the Olympics of 1952 and will continue to produce many more. John Lear, former national coach of Great Britain, was often heard to say that it would be harder for a weightlifter to be selected for the Russian national team than it would be to win the World Championship. It’s not helpful to think of top competitors in World Championships as genetic freaks and if you do, your cause is lost. There will be many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people alive in Australia with similar genetics to Klokov, and they probably have no idea that they do.

Myth 4: You need to start in early or mid teens to be successful in Weightlifting. There is no doubt that the teenage years are great for training. There are probably more natural hormones pumping around the body system than at any other time of life. However, another really important factor is that teenagers have the time to train as they are largely free of adult responsibilities. But if you are in your 20’s, you should not consider that it is too late to make an elite Weightlifter. Much depends on your history in sport and physical education. It is quite possible that someone who was very good in their school years at another sport may be able to transition to Weightlifting if they are in good physical condition. For example, sprinters, throwers, gymnasts and even divers might well adapt to Weightlifting with relative ease. Furthermore, early 20’s is still a time of life when absolute dedication is still possible.

So, do you train hard? Well, everyone likes to think so, don’t they? But there is nothing extraordinary about putting in lots of effort into your training sessions. Many people do this in many different sports every day. Extraordinary effort is when an athlete is not only highly consistent with their training but also displays the discipline to accomplish the needed daily routine of an elite athlete and works diligently at improving their own training process.

If you can do this, then may be we will see you in World Championships and Olympic Games.

P.S. if you are wondering whether I came to any answer about why I pursued my own training relentlessly, I did! It is because I believed in myself.