Written by Marisa Inda
Really successful athletes are not only great physically at their sport, but they have a winning mindset that allows them to dominate. I believe this is what sets them apart from those that have great gym lifts, but can’t seem to pull it together come meet day. I asked some of the top female athletes in the IPF to tell me what their mental cues were during competition and I found a lot of commonalities among us:
-Bigger Reason to Win, Not Just for Ourselves
-Staying in the Moment
One of the things that I’m pretty good at come meet day is being mentally tough. I’ve only gone 9/9 one time, so I’ve had to overcome misses and come from behind wins on several occasions. I’m not proud to say I’ve missed my opening squat attempt more than a few times, but I never let that mentally break me, and in a weird way those misses forced me to learn how to become mentally stronger. Once you admit defeat you will be defeated, so don’t let doubt take over.
I have anxiety like most people before a competition, I have expectations of myself and most of all I just want to win. I want to win because I put in the work and for all the people that support me-for the time Chad has invested in coaching me, for my kids that understand and cheer for me when I’m away, and for their dad who steps up to take care of them so I can pursue my passion. When I win they win and I want to make them proud.
Before a big lift, I visualize success and then shut my brain off and let my body do what it’s been trained to do. Typically, before deadlifting (because that’s usually the lift that decides who wins) I let out a yell as I walk onto the platform and say loudly “let’s go,” to remind myself to do what I’m capable of doing.
When I miss a lift I quickly put it behind me and focus on my next attempt. This is when Chad will come over and give me reassurance and one key cue to keep in mind. If he notices I look particularly frustrated he’ll say to me, “I am the strongest tiny boo,” and ask me to repeat it back to him. As silly as that may sound, sometimes you just need to remind yourself that you are good enough and say it out loud and with conviction.
Heather Connor (@stayfit_with_heather) 47kg IPF world Champion:
Before a big lift I tend to think about my family. They’re my biggest supporters in this sport, so before every lift I’ll always receive a text from them saying how proud they are of me. Last text I sent to my mom before my final deadlift at IPF worlds was me saying “I’m about to bring home the gold.”
If I miss a lift, I tend to tell myself that we are still in the game, that I will make up for it in the next lift. The moment I have doubt is the moment I lose focus-confidence is key.
I always take one lift at a time and don’t worry about what the other person is doing. I take each comp as a new learning experience on what I can work on to better myself as an athlete.
Liz Craven (@lizpowerlifts) Austrailia’s #1 Ranked Lifter:
I picture myself nailing the lift, all I think about is the feeling and the timing-not cues.
I get really nervous and doubt creeps in but I just let those thoughts wash over me, they are there for all of us. I try to turn the nerves into excitement. I think “I want to test myself.” “I’m Liz Craven, I get all my squats”.
Think of all the reasons why you will do well.
I get really hyped too easily so I try to breathe and calm down. I lift best when I have time to think of my cues.
I also lift best when I’m feeling kind of cocky/confident so you will see me nodding to myself, I’m thinking, “I got this, this is mine.”
It’s also best when I don’t think about numbers or total, I just handle one lift at a time and focus on getting that right. As I set up is when my actual cues come in, my ritual that makes it the same every time.
When I miss a lift it can be very hard to turn it around after and to not let that feeling of doom creep in. When I missed my second squat at Worlds 2016 I went out the back a bit shocked. Then I got angry, all that was going through my head was “This is not how this ends” “I’m Liz freaking Craven and I can squat this” I went out there furious and nailed that squat.
I remember my girl Megan missed her bench and when she came back she just looked defeated and like she wanted to cry. JP was coaching her and I said we have to do something. We both ended up doing a Braveheart speech telling her she was a gangsta, to put her headphones on, put her best music on and go out there and fight-she did and she nailed the lift.
So my advice is find that inner fighter in you and think “this is not how this ends”
Don’t think “I’m Liz Craven” though as we only need one of those in this world.
Kim Walford (@trackfu) 72kg 6x IPF World Champion:
I remind myself of the importance of proper body position under the bar, remaining tight, taking in air and holding it, and finally I visualize myself completing the lift.
Miss a lift: If technical, I remind myself that I’m strong enough to get the lift and that I need to fix whatever aspect of technique I missed on the next lift.
If strength: I tell myself my body wasn’t strong enough at that moment, but it will be next time I attempt that weight.
Jen Millican (@jenmillican): 57kg IPF World Champion:
On meet day, I tend to lean on verbal affirmations for myself, particularly if I start fearing an attempt or having doubt. If my mind starts to go in the direction of fear or failure, I’ll often repeat one line to myself over and over until I’m walking on to the platform. Depending on the meet/goals/training cycle….
“My name is Jennifer Millican and I am champion”
“Jennifer Millican, 8 for 9” this one I used after being red lighted for an opening bench attempt.
In any event, make or miss, I always want to keep my mind moving forward. Try to have a short memory and focus on one attempt at a time.
“All I have to do is make this one lift, right here, right now, I need to win this one single lift”
Maria Htee (@maria_htee): 57/63kg #1 Canadian Lifter
Like most athletes, I still get nervous before every competition, regardless of the size of the meet. It’s a combination of pressure and expectations I put upon myself, and the excitement to get on the platform and show how hard I’ve been working to improve. I am very calm and collected, and remind myself anytime I’m feeling anxious that “it’s not life or death, it’s just powerlifting”. My mental preparation occurs during every training session, and begins to sharpen in the last few weeks before meet day. I have full confidence in knowing exactly how I’m going to move those weights. Of course, it doesn’t always go perfectly the way you had planned, but I make no excuses and put my heart into every attempt. You must have no fear, no second guessing, and 100% trust in yourself and your coaches.
Bonica Brown (@bubblypowerlifter): 5x IPF Raw/Equipped World Champion:
When I’m getting ready for the platform I close my eyes and visualize past experiences. I imagine I’m in my comfort zone-my gym, my squat rack, my bench, my deadlift platform. It’s another awesome day in the gym working out and there’s no pressure or worries. I close my eyes and I think about the best times and repeat the best times. I like to think about the walk out on stage.
Jen Thompson (@jenthompson132) 63kg IPF World Champion:
Right before I go out I give a yell. I do this because it takes my mind off of everything but the lift. It clears my mind. Then I yell. ” It’s my weight, let’s go!” I’m telling myself I got this no matter what. When I say “let’s go” I’m trying to get the crowd on my side. I raise my arms encouraging the crowd. I feed of it. It makes me feel like everyone is on my side. They are urging me on. I can feel the energy and it’s electric. It gives me goose bumps. Then I have Donovan yelling key words to help remind me what to do. On squats he’s telling “speed” so I won’t go to slow into the hole. On bench he is telling me “take down” to bring the bar down as fast as I can, not to baby it. On deads he yells “pressure” to remind me to build as much as I can.
My attempts are so that my opener is an easy one-I think of it as the last warm up. I know I only have two huge lifts in me. My second is always the biggest weight I know I can get for sure, but it gives me a good read on what I have left. My third is always on the edge. I very rarely miss a second, it’s usually a third and at that point there’s not much you can do about it. If I do miss a second, I will most likely repeat it maybe go up a little depending on the competition. When I miss, Donovan will hit me with encouraging words. While I’m waiting for my next go at it, I keep the negative thoughts out of my head with visualization, and I’m anxious, anxious to fix my mistake.
Developing a winning mindset is something we can all learn to do-the same way you are consistent with your lifting and the physical cues, repeat the mental cues and practice them over and over again. I can’t promise you that you’ll always win the competition, but you can develop a more positive growth mindset and learn how to overcome when you fail-failures are for growth not discouragement.
Having a winning mindset doesn’t just happen you have to develop them over time, so don’t wait until meet day to flex that mental muscle, instead practice these cues the next time you’re in the gym-Visualize, self-affirm and stay in the moment.