Updated: May 14, 2020
Spend enough time in the gym and you’ll hear coaches say things like, “stay patient”, “push longer”, “trust your legs” etc… But what exactly do they mean, and why it is so difficult to do? If this a common cue you hear, the lifter is pulling too early. This action of pulling too early can be seen if the chest is already vertical as the bar passes the knees, if the athlete bends their arms before they reach triple extension, or if the athlete never fully extends their knees and just tries to sneak under the bar. If you notice these flaws at lighter weight, then there is no way the heavier weights will be any more forgiving.
It seems like a no-brainer, wait until the exact moment when you are supposed to switch the knees back under the bar, transition into triple extension, and then pull the body down. “Staying patient” reminds the lifter to not rush through the push and to keep pressure through the feet until the perfect moment. Easy right? The concept of it doesn’t seem all that difficult, but the minute the athlete is put in the position to execute all that understanding is thrown out the window. There becomes a disconnect with the mind and body that is reflective in rushing the lift. The athlete either shuts their brain off entirely or is thinking about something else that can create this impatience. Some of it is the ability to be physically strong in the various positions of the lift itself i.e., below the knee, above the knee, and the top of the drive. However, throughout my experience as a coach and lifter, a lot of it is often more mental than anything else.
Because the sport of weightlifting is mentally demanding as it is physically, you’ll often hear more experienced lifters say, “It was heavy, so I had to go” or other explanations such as “I know, I can do it when it’s light,” or “I know where the position is, but I can’t seem to do it.” It’s difficult to be patient when you’re tired and the bar is heavy. Your mind begins to creep in, and you think to yourself, “fuuuuuccck this is heavy”. In that moment of self-doubt, there’s no way you’ll be able to get the bar up. Rather than trusting the strength of your legs, your body surrenders and pulls too early. It is a difficult flaw to correct when your mindset becomes the disconnect. If you’re practicing with a PVC pipe, you know how long you need to push to the top of the drive, but once it gets heavy your brain automatically thinks that there isn’t any more room to push and so it must be time to extend.
This is of course only one side to the mental game involved in weightlifting, but having the ability to self-talk through a lift is often necessary to ensure a successful lift. You have to be able to control the thoughts in your head during a lift in order to allow your body to get through the movement. If you begin a lift thinking negatively before you even start, then subconsciously your body is going to begin manipulating the technique to make it easier. This will inevitably end up putting you in a bad technical position such as getting back behind the bar or throwing your head back instead of staying vertical in triple extension which creates a ripple effect and forces your body to compensate in other ways to try and make the lift.
So, what’s the solution? Aside from the obvious answer to get stronger in the lifts and their positions, self-talk is crucial. When I say self-talk, that doesn’t mean you should talk to yourself throughout the entire lift to make sure you are doing everything correctly, trust me that never ends well.
It means reminding yourself of one thing you need to do to make it successful. Visualizing the lift itself is a great tool to help create a connection between the mind and body. This tactic is used more during training sessions in preparation for a meet. It takes time to practice yourself performing the lift correctly and is not something to begin the day of the competition. Once you have mastered the visualization aspect, then you can take and apply that with a cue to tell yourself as you execute the lift.
Whether it is right before you set-up for the lift or as you begin pushing the bar off the floor, think “stay patient” and as it gets heavy trust that mantra until you hit that moment when it is time to drive the bar upward. Training with different pause variations and hang variations will have reinforced those positions, building strength and confidence to fight through them when the weight gets heavy and your body is tired. Proper training coupled with visualization and self-talk to reinforce that patience will allow for a successful finish because your legs will able to produce the amount of force needed for the bar to ascend with enough height for you to pull underneath it.
One of the best things my husband has ever said to me came after I bombed out and missed all three of my snatches in a competition. He told me I looked so angry while I was lifting, trying to be something I’m not. He reminded me that I perform at my best when I am myself, having fun and staying relaxed. When I went out for clean and jerk I decided to put a big smile on my face as I approached the bar. It instantly put me at ease and I thought to myself, “just have fun”. And you know what? I went 2/3!