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ACTIVATE or fail

Updated: Jul 5, 2018

Jonathan focus before a 290 deadlift

Me in my final Activation - 252,5 kg Squat

Last weekends Europeans in Schleusingen made me aware again how crazy our sport is. We train for months at end to have 3 attempts at the Squat, Bench and Deadlift - which last each 5 seconds - totalling 45 seconds on "throwing out your best" or as we say in dutch "knallen". On top there is the anxienty of not making a single valid attempt on one of the lifts - which means you "bomb out" - and are out of the contest and cannot perform the remaining lifts (for which you trained months on end..) anymore...

So how do I cope with this ? I must admit I in a masochistic way love this feeling to "to try to be there when required". It forces you to truly "live in the moment" - total single minded focus on the next lift at hand. There is no past, there is no future - only now. Not the past lift, not on the lift after next one. Just simply only on the task ahead and imminent. Sometimes spectators ask "what will be your secondf lift (while you are on your first"... My answer is always that there is no second (better) lift if I first do not make this one.

One of my athletes showed big cunyos last competition by missing 215kg squat and just jumping to 220 and making it. He told me and himself that the 215 felt light - but something must obviously have gone wrong - and he was sure to make 220 if he did all as trained - with good dynamics. We did not debate what went wrong - we just repeated with keywords what a good squat look like .(core tight, 1 second down, dont "brake" at the bottom, go deep, come up like a two-staged saturn rocket...and enjoy the upper part and sense the PR is imminent ...)

I always hope to get 9-out of-9 (ie all good lifts) - but in a weird way the mental aspects of missing a lift and going at it again, without getting negative, insecure, defient or blaming your self or the "circumstances" is secretely why we go to contests.

The ability to totally focus and "go at it again" with small adjustments - activate a bit more, go "inside" a bit more, visualise how you will succesfully do the next lift - is what makes out the experienced athlete. I usually walk around like an icebear before an attempt. If I need to activate more - like I had at the DM in Plettenberg where I missed my 172,5 kg PR on bench in 1st attempt - I repeat in my head that there is "no way" that I am leaving here without a PR, and that there is no logical reason that I cannot do the lift - if I really put my mind and body to it. If I need more focus to clear my head more - I might occasionally ditch an ammonia cap these days. Important to know is that I don't focus on what I think I did wrong in the 1st attempt - I focus on what I usually do right, ie what the best lift I can make would look like. Analysing what went wrong is a negative thought - and there is no time for analysis and big adjustments anyway. If the lift did not work - you probably did not executed what you trained for 1000 times - so it was not your optimal lift.

I have seen athletes go completely off by listening to people on what they did wrong and trying to make a big change... stance, grip, gear ... making changes is for the gym and it will take weeks or months to change a habit. At the contest CHANGE NOTHING.

Also hugely important is to not have youself be thrown off by external aspects. They play shitty music - German Schlager vs Rammstein ? The deadlift bar is shitty, The referee is picky on dumping the bar after a deadlift, It is hot in the room, the referee bitiches about your thumbs over grip when squatting - and you know you are right that it is allowed... some chatty guy cannot stop taking to you between lifts ...BLEND IT OUT. Focus on the lift. Checking out the facility - asking question and filing complaints - should have been done before the contest - ideally the day before at weigh in.. on the day itself - take it like a man - and do what you are there for. Bitching and getting annoyed will cost you a massive amount of kgs. IF IDEAL IS NOT OPTIMAL - OPTIMAL MUST BE IDEAL.

Having a buddy near you how understands how you "tick" and what you need / what you do to activate is hugely important. Someone slapping you in the face or squeezing your earlobes - while you just need someone to tell you "you will do it" is a big problem. I am that type - I love having someone around who radiates calmness and says just a few words to put me at ease - and a encouraging slap on the backor butt will do just fine. No heavy slapping around needed. Of course it is fun to be asked to do this for someone. At the last contest a 140kg class athlete asked me to help him activate. His routine was to be slapped fiercfully on teh back to get the adrenalin going - just before going on the platform. I had great joy in actually being allowed to slap him - with my 123 kg bodyweight - so hard that an ordinary person would break in half. I never get a chance to do that legally in real life.

Being over-activated is just as bad as being "under activated". When you get the gorilla out totally - you will most likely make technique errors and get 3 reds very often... learning how to activate "just enough" - is an art in itself..

Just before an attempt I try to always have identical routine toput on my wraps, sleeves, out on magensium ... that is very "focussing" and familar wherever you are - that part is "on you"...

At the very last moment while being at the bar - I also have always the same final activation routines .. on squat grab the bar with right at the ring, then

left hand, then pull chest to the bar, look at bar and take 3 breaths, go under the bar .. etc etc. For bench I have a similar "each time the same" approach. Those 2 lifts I really nail in terms of activation.

My problem area is deadlift. The pre-activation up to the platform is fine - but when being at the bar I have many process fluctuations . .which also creates different setups every time. I might yank it off the floor in one go, I might hold the bar in low position and have 1, 2 or 3 or 4 -- (whatever) yanks to create tension . .and still keep breating a few times afterwards (or not) before I pull... I need to really work on that.. and I will. I am sure this will propell my pull from ok weigths (260kg) to the real mccoy (280-300kg).

It is fun to keep learning do much about one self through this sport - and I am 100% sure it rubs off on all other real-life areas where doing a real good job at the right moment is of importance. Nono - I am not thinking of what you are think of right now !

I am gald that last year at 55 years old I went back to school - to the uni of Nijmegen to study SportsPsychology. It has helped my a lot to be a better athlete and coach - as it helped frame my emperical knowledge.


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