Written by travis mash
This is a question that is fresh on my mind! How do you become a champion? My friend Donnie Shankle and I had that conversation last summer. Donnie is a several time National Champion, a Pan American Team Member, and a World Team Member. He was the second ranked lifter in the United States in 2012, and he has every intention of Olympic Glory in 2016. He had a great take on the answer. I am going to go over what he said, and then I am going to add my two cents. Donnie was talking about becoming an Olympic Champion in the sport of Weightlifting. Some of it will apply to Olympic Weightlifting, but most of it will apply to all champions. At the Mash Compound, I work with hundreds of elite athletes including Jon North, Olympic weightlifting hopeful, Tommy Bohanon, NY Jets Fullback, at least fifty Division I Collegiate athletes, and thirty or more Nationally ranked Weightlifters and Powerlifters. We are constantly asking this question, coming up with better answers, and applying the answers to our athletes.
Donnie’s theory for weightlifters to become Olympic Champions is as follows. They must know their minimums, they must know their maximums, train in a positive group environment, and a fearless attitude. Let me explain! Donnie is used to Bulgarian programming, and he was actually coached by Ivan Abadjiev, the famous Bulgarian coach that led their country to several Olympic Medals. In the Bulgarian System, the athletes basically max out in the Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Front Squat multiple times per day.
1. The first key was to know your minimum success in each lift. For example, you maximum Snatch might be 170k, but on any given day you can make 160k. That means 160k is your minimum. A lifter’s goal is to move the minimum closer and closer to the maximum while raising the maximum. The minimum is normally what a lifter would choose to open up with in a meet. If you can get your minimum within 5 kilos of your maximum within the last two of training before a meet, an athlete should know at that point they are ready to set a new personal record in competition.
2. A lifter needs to know their maximum of course because that is what they are capable of at that moment in time. An athlete is constantly trying to improve that maximum effort in training, but the ultimate goal is to set new maximums in competition. Donnie has an awesome take on the process of making a new maximum. Just pulling on a new maximum is a win. Then maybe a lifter pulls and attempts to go under it, and then gets spit out. Then a lifter catches it, but can’t stand up. Then finally the lifter catches the weight, stands up, and slams the bar to the ground in triumphant success. I have watched Jon North and Donnie complete the entire process in one training session.
3. A positive group training atmosphere is without a doubt a very important part of the equation. Athletes need a group training environment to thrive. That need each other for several reasons. First weightlifters are in a constant state of hell, no doubt. They are training hard two times per day every day. Most programs are going to purposely take them to places that their bodies aren’t used to. Coaches want to put their athletes in a state to where the body has to adapt, compensate, and improve. To obtain this result, volume is increased to insane levels to cause this adaptation of the body. Then towards the end of the training cycle, volume is dropped, super compensation is the result, and athletes become stronger than ever. Athletes need each other for support during these high volume hell periods of training.
Athletes also need each others to compete against daily. When one athlete does well, other athletes will rise to the occasion to match their success. This is the nature of competitive athletes, and they need this type of atmosphere. When an athlete witnesses another lifter Snatch 170k, then 140k no longer seems like a big obstacle. Weightlifting is such a mental sport. If you read my lifter Jon North’s blog then you know what levels of darkness that these men and women live in daily. The barbell and gravity are their enemies, and they need a team environment to overcome this darkness.
4. Weightlifters that want to be Olympic champions have to be fearless. There is no way around it. The sport of Weightlifting will teach you to be fearless, or it will help you find another sport. No coward will pull themselves under a 300lb Snatch! That bar might kill you, and if you are scared, forget about it! It won’t happen! A fearless attitude is something that I watch for in all of my athletes from as young as seven years old. If an athlete is truly fearless early on, then they will be fearless for life. If an athlete isn’t fearless at first, they can grow into it, but the older they get the harder it becomes. Here is a test! When a weight is so heavy that serious injury could take place, how do you feel? Are you scared? Do your palms sweat? Or do your senses seem to heighten? Does your heart beat stronger? Does everything seem to slow down? Do you feel alive? If so, you can become a champion.
This is where Donnie stopped, but I have come to add a few more to the list. True champions take this list a little further. Champions are goal oriented, masters of the mundane, and they look after the little things.
5. I have never met a champion that wasn’t extremely goal oriented. Most people have goals, but champions live their goals. They dream big! They write these dreams down, and then they formulate a plan. All champions are extremely committed to reaching their goals, and they will not rest until they have reached them. I can promise you that nobody accidentally becomes great. It is a purposeful, relentless, and determined road. If you are not goal oriented, you are not serious. Period!
6. Champions are always Masters of the Mundane! They master the little things. Nutrition, recovery, stretching, soft tissue, sleep, mobility work, and more are all mastered by champions. Everyone goes to practice, so it is up to the champions to find all the variables. Are you taking the right supplements? Are you getting enough rest? These are questions that you have to ask yourself.
7. The last point to being a champion is taking care of the details of recovery and nutrition. While things like soft tissue care, nutritional counseling and passive recovery means may seem like luxuries, they are really a must to maximize your training. Making the time for a contrast shower, or having the extra money for a nutritionist will require some sacrifice, you might have to forego some time out with friends or some other nice things in life, but sacrifice is a huge part of competing at the highest level.
Becoming elite in any sport is an extremely difficult road. It isn’t for everybody. This is a list that you can match yourself against, and see if you have what it takes. As an athlete are you really willing to do what it takes? Most people want to be great, but only a small percentage of the population is really willing to do everything that it takes. I am blessed enough to coach several of these champions. The making of a champion is group effort, and at Mash the entire team is prepared to go the distance to help our athletes reach their dreams! For more information about our athletes, our Learn 2 Lift Seminars, our products, or services, go to www.MashElite.com. For any questions, email me at [email protected].