It’s very common for lifting weights to open up all sorts of emotions, not all of them joyful.
I’m in my 8th year of competitive lifting and I know all too well the ups and downs; from the ‘first love’ beginner flush of PBs every month, to the slog and grind of trying to make progress year after year while younger, stronger types zoom past you.
So here’s how to keep it fun and stay a happy weightlifter!
Focus on the process not the outcome
When you go to lift, focus on what you have to do, not what’s going to happen in the end.
For example, if you are about to attempt a heavy squat, don’t think about whether you are going to make the lift, focus on what you need to do in order to execute it.
It might be pushing your chest out, or driving your knees out, or simply putting lots of energy and determination into the lift.
If you are present in the process and give it your best, you are more likely to be successful than if you focused completely on the end result.
Ironically, in order to achieve this, you must accept that you might fail the lift. Which leads on to…
We’ve all heard the quotation, ‘you must fail in order to succeed’. But really think about this for a second.
What happens when you attempt to do something new? Chances are, you’ll fail it the first time, if you are doing it properly. This is because the correct technique takes practise. However, the more you try, the closer you get to success.
Where most people scupper themselves is by trying at all costs not to fail. Ironically, trying not to fail often results in bad technique, as your body attempts to get from start to finish by any means possible – not the most efficient way.
So getting comfortable with the idea that you will fail, and often, is the easiest way to avoid frustration in the gym.
It’s very difficult to remember a whole host of things, especially in a heavy lift. Instead focus on one aspect of technique at a time.
Use drills or partial exercises to practise aspects of technique, so that when you get to the full lift, you can commit to the technique without really thinking about it.
Some people are ‘high detail’ people: they need a lot of information about the activity before they’ll try it. This isn’t always a bad thing. High detail people can develop a very sophisticated understanding of a movement, particularly in verbal terms.
However, coaches don’t like to give a lot of detail about movements up front because it can fry people’s brains while they are learning.
So if you are a ‘high detail’ person, get used to attempting movements without a lot of information up front since it can result in overthinking and getting frustrated.
Often the root cause is fear, and requesting a lot of detail is a method both of procrastination and trying to feel more comfortable. Recognise when you are doing this and above all, do what your coach tells you to do.
This is a learning curve for people who are used to thinking things through before acting. I say this as a (former) high detail person myself. I’ve learned to ‘let go’ of needing all the information before I try something.
Never ‘compare and despair’
One of the worst thieves of joy is to compare yourself to others. This is rife in the fitness world, particularly in competitive environments like lifting clubs or Crossfit.
A bit of friendly competition can help power you to new heights. But always measuring yourself against others can lead to unrealistic expectations, frustration and even falling out of love with lifting.
Focus instead on what’s new and good with you. And remember there are many ways to measure progress, not just your PBs in a select few lifts. Personally I love it when I achieve a mental breakthrough, regardless of the weight on the bar.
Here’s another reality check: no-one cares as much about your lifting as you do. So if you’re not paying attention, celebrating and patting yourself on the back, don’t expect anyone else to either. People will be happy for you if you are happy for you.
Be self aware
Just as in life, it helps to be self aware when pursuing lifting long term. Another way to put it is: be honest with yourself and accept the person you are (but positively, don’t put yourself down).
Here’s an example: if you often get frustrated when training, think hard about why this is. Ask your coach and allow them to be honest with you.
Getting frustrated and swearing or kicking the wall when you’ve missed a lift is often a display to mask embarrassment or shame. And this shame has come from the lifter setting themselves some unrealistic expectation (I should be able to lift this weight easily, everyone’s looking at me etc). When you let go of these expectations, you can shrug off failure instead of conspicuously letting everyone else know how disappointed you are with yourself.
Common traits that are not conducive to productive training are: being defensive; making excuses when you can’t do something; blaming something else (the programme, the heat etc); doing yourself down; remembering only the things that went wrong and not the things that went right.
Training is a lot about accepting who you are as a lifter and working on that. Be positive about it, but treat it as a base to be built on.
Note: I owe a lot to my coaches over the years, especially Giles Greenwood and Mike Causer, but also numerous other wise old coaching heads I’ve taken advice from. Listen to your coach!