The Mental and Psychological Side of Weightlifting

In any area where we are hoping to self-improve, both short-term and long-range goals are needed. If your long-term goals clearly contribute to your most important values and your philosophy of life, they should be more motivating. Good goals are fairly hard – they stretch us, but they are achievable by taking small steps at a time.

The Mental and Psychological side of Weightlifting

We need to understand that sports like Olympic weightlifting and functional fitness (like CrossFit) reduces stress in many esoteric and practical ways. Physiologically there is no doubt that high intensity workouts, like Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, raise the levels of our “happy feeling” hormones, dopamine and serotonin.

So many people who have never lifted before after a few weeks of training see a dramatic increase in strength and stamina, amongst other attributes, and start to see a difference in the mirror in a short time. This leads to improved self-esteem, which can lead to all sorts of positive changes in ones life.

The first step is self-awareness

The first step in managing emotions is to become more aware of how you feel. In the sports world, I have often seen coaches ask their players, pre or post-performance, “How do you feel?” This is an invaluable moment. It allows athletes the opportunity to be mindful of their emotional state and gives them the opportunity to make adjustments, if necessary.

Confidence comes from thorough preparation and from previous success; this powerful combination of confidence and trust allows athletes to surrender to the moment prior to the performance. By doing so, the mind becomes calm, the body relaxes, and the athlete is then free to fully engage.

What is important is being grateful for the opportunity to train and compete, and finding enjoyment in the process. It is this positive expectancy that leads to successful experiences. In general, especially in sport, we get what we expect. It’s your mind’s attitude.

Emotional management in sport

There are two keys to emotional management in sport; first, the balance between awareness and acceptance, and second, engagement. Peak performers need to learn to accept what they feel, and normalize these emotions. Awareness and acceptance of the emotional state experienced at performance can keep the emotions from escalating and negatively impacting performance. Once flooded with anxiety, the type of self-talk generated in this moment only works to intensify the emotional experience, condemning the athlete to remain unable to perform optimally.

To be engaged in the performance is to be fully focused on the process of performing. This is critical because it keeps the mind on the task at hand. The mind can only focus very well on one thing at a time. However, we live in a high-stress society, and we’re used to multitasking to manage the many things we need to get done.

The best advice is to be where you are. When you are at work, be fully engaged at whatever it is you’re doing; when you are on a date, be fully “there” with your partner; and when you are training or competing, be in the moment and focused on the tasks at hand.

You will inevitably experience moments of distraction. Sometimes these distractions will be internal thoughts and emotions. Other times these distractions come from within the performance environment. The key is to be mindful and once you catch your mind wandering, gently redirect your attention back to the appropriate focus cues. Learning to improve focus takes consistent, dedicated practice. There is no better way to practice than choosing to be where you are and then mindfully refocusing as needed. I think a quote by a coach I learnt a lot from, Selye, best demonstrates this, “Fight for the highest attainable aim, but never put up resistance in vain.”

In order to find out who we really are as athletes, we must first recognize the beliefs that obstruct the journey. Strive to discover who you are to better understand who you can be and what your potential is. If you can tolerate this and have a strong mental capacity of potential disappointment and frustration, and everything else that is difficult about falling short of your goals, that picture of who you are as an athlete becomes clearer. Stay on your path and goals. Never give up and you will reveal your true potential.

Mental toughness

Sport, especially notable with Olympic weightlifting, is a physical and mental challenge; maintaining high levels of concentration while remaining relaxed, with the confidence to succeed, is a skill essential to long-term performance in any sport. Possessing “mental toughness” while training and competing under extreme pressure and duress is especially important to success at the high performance levels. At the same time, these mental skills can also enhance the individual’s experience in everyday life.

There are three important elements in the psychological preparation of Olympic weightlifters: fostering an appropriate motivational climate, building mental toughness, and developing discipline and commitment. Sport psychologists have identified two features of motivational climates: goal-oriented and task-oriented.

A goal-oriented climate emphasizes the end result of training. In Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, a goal-oriented climate is easy to understand: the end result of training is to lift more weight or to achieve the best time or score. However, to achieve these goals, a task-oriented climate is required.

A task-oriented climate emphasizes the training process. This can range from development of proper technique to simply enjoying the challenges of training. A task-oriented climate is particularly important in the initial stages, while more focus can be placed on goal-orientation as the athlete becomes more competitive.

To develop mental toughness for success at elite levels, training programs should include key mental components identified by sport psychologists; concentration, confidence, motivation, and handling pressure. As an athlete progresses through mental training, they will evolve from having fun and respecting opponents, to visualization and self-awareness, to goal setting, relaxation, and positive self-talk.

To develop mastery, these basic skills are then tested in increasingly difficult competitive environments. Above all else, training Olympic weightlifting develops discipline and commitment. These are important traits beyond weightlifting in itself, as they will prepare the athlete for success beyond their competitive career, into any path they choose, as well as promoting the importance of physical fitness, and by default, health, throughout your lifespan.

Socio-cultural aspects

The socio-cultural aspects of sport are also significant and must be managed through proper planning. Athletes are socialized through their sports, beginning at the community level, as seen in CrossFit, and eventually their participation could lead them to a diverse array of multicultural experiences, notably if they pursue international competition.

Managed correctly, these socio-cultural experiences can be valuable in broadening the social understanding of athletes, including their awareness of ethnicity, culture and national diversity.

Sport socialization must also address sport subculture to ensure general societal values and norms will be internalized via sport participation. In addition, coaches must guard against certain group dynamics which create a culture of abuse or bullying. Ethics, respect, integrity and virtuosity within training should be integrated into general training and competition plans at all stages.

Conclusion

Approach every training session like it is an Olympic event. This does not mean you have to push yourself to the absolute maximum every session – understand what relative intensity is. It means that confidence, focus, a positive attitude, and proper execution of your training plans are the goals in every training session. These mental attributes make a champion, and it allows the body to reach its full potential.

Have you ever considered all the points brought up in this feature? What mental or psychological techniques do you employ to reach your full potential?

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